Category Archives for "At the Studio"

1 Shrines & Fossils are Heather Mikkelsen’s Theme

Some of Heather's research and elements for her first Shrine

Our Tuesday night group is still working with their themed project, we’re getting a little side-tracked occasionally, but still keeping the core theme in mind. Today I want to show you the work done by Heather Mikkelsen.

The project started with a little shrine which would be the display that will hold the individual items. The theme Heather choose for her first project centres around Fossils, both Botanic and Fauna specimens. Heather is an accomplished artist in other media, such as fabric and fashion design and has a strong background in art, drawing & print making among them.

Crinoids inspired plant forms

Crinoids inspired plant forms

After some research and exploring the possibilities she selected Crinoids, a Botanic fossil and Trilobites, an ancient beastie as her main subjects. The forms in which these are translated into metal varies, plant forms have been cut from the metal that will make up the shrine, this is quickly said, but an enormous job to do!! Working with these large pieces of metal has been a challenge in itself, even requiring a special saw, our normal jewellery ones are just not deep enough!

Heather sawing a panel for her Shrine

                                       Heather flat out sawing a panel for her Shrine:)

The Trilobite has a corrugated look about it, so crimping metal was a technique to simulate this. Copper and enamel can be manipulated to look very old and Heather is having a lot of fun with that, using muted colours in the enamel and heat patinas with the metals she’s selected.

Trilobite Specimen & Copper before enamelling

Trilobite Specimen & Copper before enamelling

The smaller enamel pieces are turning out to be precious objects fit for a shrine, the materials and colours working together and unifying the total look of the project. Exploring new applications of old techniques is one of Heather’s special strengths, she loves to play and push the boundaries, inventing beautiful new combinations for her ‘fossils’ along the way.

Some of the Walls for the Shrine - a variety of Pierced and Etched metals

Some of the Walls for the Shrine – a variety of Pierced and Etched metals

It’ll be a while yet before we see everything come together, but it’ll be worth waiting for, the journey is an exciting one and a few of the forms and techniques could possibly translate into a new jewellery range should she decide to explore that direction.

Enamelled Mesh Crinoid Forms

Enamelled Mesh Crinoid Forms

The War Years Inspire a New Enamel Project for Jan Brown

Copper Poppies with Letter and photos from the war

We’ve been busy at the studio, lots of great work being done by the students and some experimenting by me:)

We’ve started a longer project a month or so ago, not jewellery, more of an installation of small objects on a theme of the student’s choice. The idea vary from Fossils, to Light, to knitted lace, I’ll be sharing more of these a bit later on.

Today I want to show the work of Jan Brown, Jan’s grandmother has kept a lot of memorabilia from the war years, correspondence with relatives in the trenches and post cards of people traveling around England and Europe at that time, all beautifully kept in albums, an amazing record of the time.

Copper Poppies with Letter and photos from the war

Copper Poppies with Letter and photos from the war

Jan also wanted to work in the ‘Feminine Factor’, how women’s lives changed here at home. They had to adjust to life without their men, on farms, in factories, women took up the slack and ventured into jobs not generally held by them before, this changed their thinking about what they COULD do and had enormous long-term effects in itself!

To symbolise this Feminine factor, Jan decided to use the inspiration from a large crochet tablecloth, made for Jan by her Grandmother. This lacy design is used in the copper Poppies she’s made so far (Poppies are symbolic for the region in Belgium where the men werte fighting)

Jan forging out the Copper Poppy shape

Jan forging out the Copper Poppy shape

The first poppies were copper, forged to thin and shape them.

Copper Poppy with punched lace pattern

Copper Poppy with punched lace pattern

The Lace tablecloth pattern was applied by punching with a simple nail punch, the poppy is made up of a double layer of petals.

Copper Mesh Poppy - note the lovely lace effect punched into the mesh

Copper Mesh Poppy – note the lovely lace effect punched into the mesh

Poppy petals were cut from fine copper mesh and the lace pattern punched in, the photo is lovely I think, but you should see this in real life, it is gorgeous!


Mesh Poppy Centre and Copper Stamens ready for enamelling

Mesh Poppy Centre and Copper Stamens ready for enamelling

Jan made a centre from a slightly larger mesh size, made the stamens and is now ready to start enamelling. I’ll update this post when more work is ready!

An interesting side note here: Jan has never seen a real Poppy!!! Her research was done on Pinterest, I had NO idea Poppies were so popular until I saw the searches there!

Starting with Metalwork for Enamelling

Hand cut Copper Shapes

Anyone hoping to make jewellery has to tackle basic metalwork techniques at some point, even the most rudimentary skills can create attractive and original pieces of art. The basic tools can sometimes be found inexpensively in second-hand shops, at markets, or online. An aspiring gold or silversmith can start work even on a kitchen table, as long as they remember not to mix metal work and food and clean up thoroughly after all jobs.

Hand cut Copper Shapes

                        Hand cut Copper Shapes

Jewellery can be made from a large variety of metals including gold, silver, brass and copper. The metal comes in various forms such as sheets or wire. Sheet metal is flat and is available in various gauges, or thicknesses. It can be bought in sheets or in ready-made shapes such as squares, ovals or round discs. The wire is can be round in cross section but is also available as square or rectangular.

Pure gold and silver are very soft metals and usually are alloyed with other metals such as copper to make them harder and more workable. Copper is usually available in its  pure form, or it gets alloyed with zinc to form brass.

The first step in designing jewellery is drawing a layout, take the time to make an accurate, detailed drawing. For complex pieces, you could use paper or thin card to make a model of the piece of jewellery. This is good to help you decide how different parts will fit together and whether they’ll be soldered, riveted or connected in another way.

The initial tools required are a good scribe, callipers, machinist’s square and ruler. The scribe has a carbide steel tip that is hard enough to mark metal. Callipers take precise measurements of the metal, including the gauge of the sheet metal and the size of stones or other inclusions.

The standard tool for cutting is a jeweller’s saw. It comes as a frame and a number of blade sizes are available for different gauges of metal. A lubricant might be needed to keep the saw moving smoothly, beeswax or candle wax works well.

The next piece of equipment is a bench pin where the sawing will be done. These are usually made of wood and can be attached to a table or bench top.

A variety of files are needed to remove the rough edges of the metal after sawing. Following filing the piece is sanded, use different grades of fine wet & dry emery on a sanding stick, start with #400 – #800 and finally #1200 – the piece can then be polished.

Using Metal Clay

An alternative method of making silver jewellery is to use precious metal clay. The clay is a mixture fine silver particles held together with a binder. You can model it like clay into the shape you want, such as earrings or a pendant. When fired in a kiln or with a small torch, the binder burns away and leaves the silver shape.

You can design with surface patterns, like leaves, which will enhance your work further. When using Cookson Gold precious metal clay you will be able to make a pendants, earrings or brooches. Just polish the fired metal product with a brass brush, followed by a jewellery polishing cloth to add lustre.

How To Enamel a Beautiful Gradient – It Pays To Have a Plan!

Colours to use for a gradient

Enameling is all about adding colour to your work and it doesn’t matter what your preferences are, you might love subdued neutrals or a carnival of colours. But once in a while, when you’re working with a just a few colours, there might come a time when a flat colour just isn’t enough!

Cloisonné or champlevé can keep your colours separated in different cells, this makes it much easier to use several colours together and have them work together beautifully. But things get a bit more complicated when you want to make one colour flow into another, or fade a dark colour to a lighter one, in a nice, smooth gradient.

Water color wash


You might even have planned your design on paper, put lovely water colour washes in your drawing so you know exactly which colours you’ll want to use and where they will go…… but….

Enamel Does Not Work Like Paint!

The problem is that enamel does not work in the same way as paint, so to apply it like that will not work either. To understand fully how a perfect enamel gradient is achieved, we’ll have to go right back to what enamel is and how it is manufactured.

Enamel is Glass

In the manufacturing process the glass that will become an enamel is formulated to fit certain metals, have a certain melting point, colour, transparency and more. Once this formulation is perfect the enamel is ready for breaking up into lumps, or grinding into the different types of powders we can buy. Then enamel goes through a sifting process where it gets split by particle size into the different types of enamel we can use for various techniques like painting, wet packing and sifting.

Enamel Stays True To Itself

For the most part the enamel will stay true to that formulation even when we apply it to our metal and fire it smooth. This is most apparent in opaque enamels, where you might sift one colour onto a contrasting background, black on white for instance. No matter how well the enamel is fired, the colours stay separate in a speckled kind of way, this of course is part of the beauty and appeal of this medium.



Sometimes however, we might want our colours to ‘flow’ smoothly into each other as a gradient, and this is where things get a little more tricky. The enamel particles will always stay true to themselves, they can’t be mixed and blended like paint, so another approach is needed to create a gradient.

Planning a Perfect Gradient

It doesn’t matter what your gradient colours are, the way to apply them will be the same, whether you want to go from a very dark blue to the palest version of that colour, or go from orange to green, a smooth transition between these colours must be made somehow. And the planning for this starts before you even buy your enamels, when you colour your final design on paper.

Colour Pencils

If you use colour pencils instead of water colours you kind of simulate the way enamel will behave, the particles of a colour pencil also stay true to themselves and have to be blended by layering the colours. This gives an optical effect of a gradient, where the eye blends the tiny specks of colour. So when your design is finished you will have a set of pencils laid out and they will give you a good starting point to selecting the enamels you’ll want to use.


Dark to Light Gradient

The easiest gradient to create is going from a dark to a very pale version of the same colour and the planning for this starts at the colour chart of the enamel supplier, like these from Enamel Emporium.

Japanese enamels

Japanese Enamels


Here you will find the colours grouped, not only by their colour, but also by their ‘Colour Bias’. Colour Bias is the type of any colour for instance:

  • Blue might lean toward Green and give you Peacock blue, Turquoise blue or Aqua
  • Or it might go toward its other neighbour on the colour wheel; Violet. Then it will give you a violet blue such as Ultramarine or Lilac.So when you are planning the perfect gradient you going to have to stay within the same bias of your chosen colour, putting a green blue in the middle of a violet blue gradient will jar badly and be very noticeable.


How Many Shades of Grey?

So when you organise your colours from darkest to lightest in the same colour bias, how many shades you will need depends on the size of the area they’ll have to cover.

  • For a small area, an inch or so in length, just three colours could work if the transition from dark to light was not too great
  • Larger pieces might need 4 – 5 or even 6 shades eg. 
Dark Blue – Deep Blue – Mid Blue – Light Blue – Palest Blue – Clear

The more shades of the same colour you can practically apply in a given area, the smoother the transition from one colour to the next will be.

Colours to use for a gradient

This is easier to achieve with Japanese leaded enamels, as they have to greatest range of colours to choose from. When you are working with sifted opaques you might have to make up a few blended colours yourself to get a better gradient.

Mixing Your Own Colours

When you first start out, it is not always affordable to buy every shade of all the colours you might want to use one day. Buy as many as you can afford in any give colour, keeping the colour bias in mind of course. Over time your range will automatically increase as you order more colours to suit your designs. In the meantime a great alternative is to mix a small quantity of two enamels that are close in colour already in a separate container to use as ‘in between’ colours.

This is a bit gentler on the budget too, you can get away with buying a few less colours to start with, you can always add to your palette later. The mixed colour should be clearly labeled so you know what you’ve mixed down the track.

Blending Contrasting Colours

To blend colours that are opposite each other on the colour wheel presents the greatest challenge, colours like that can become muddy looking and not very appealing in a beautiful enamel. To counteract this problem we have to be smart and keep them separate where they would normally meet.

Butterfly Champlevé Enamel by Maggie Bergman

The simplest way to do this is to include a thin area of clear in between the colours.

So the gradient would look something like this:
Deep Orange – Mid Orange – Light Orange – Clear (flux) – Light Green – Mid Green – Deep Green
The Light Orange and the Light Green would be blended a little into the Clear enamel and so they would meet nicely in the middle, job done!

Beautiful, luminous colours can be achieved when you give your colours a little thought beforehand. Enamelling can be a long process so a little time spend planning your colours is well worth it. If you do happen to get some colours wrong and end up with something unexpected, all is not lost, in a future article I’ll explain how to modify colours without you having to remove them (except in extreme cases)

So have fun with your designs! Love that colour!
If you have any more questions please use the comments below, I’ll do my best to get back to you quickly!

Sunrise over Carrara

Sunrise Enamel Palette

We’ve been having a LOT of rain here in Queensland over the past month or so, I’m not complaining though, I have just planted a new garden so the rain is good for my new babies!

We’re lucky that our area of the Gold Coast didn’t experience any of the floods that have devastated other areas of Qld. I feel so sorry for the people in those areas, some of them have been flooded twice this season and that would just be too much to deal with I think.

A few mornings ago I woke up to this brilliant sunrise, worth getting out of bed for to take the photo!


With Autumn just arrived the colours are perfect for the season, I think they would make a gorgeous enamel!

Please use this palette for your own work, share it with friends, on Pinterest & Facebook (follow me there!)


Flower Lines to Enamel This Week!

Flower - Line Drawing for Enamelling - by Maggie Bergman


I love flowers! I love plants in general; seeds & pods, trees, bark and the silhouette of foliage against the sky.

Roots and vines, leaves on the ground, all dried up and turned into mini sculptures……

But this week’s ‘I Love Lines’ is a detail of a cactus flowering, no idea which one, but it was a spectacular bloom!

It would look great on silver I think, cloisonné perhaps? With Japanese transparent enamels! Yes!

Download the image to your computer if you like it, just right-click and ‘save as’. You never know it might come in handy one day:)

Flower - Line Drawing for Enamelling - by Maggie Bergman

Enameling on Textured Copper

Miranda Simmiss - Etched Copper - Underglaze - Clear Enamel

You know when you get on a roll? Well, it’s like that at the studio on Wednesday nights.

A few weeks ago some of the students started working with etched plates, applying underglaze and clear enamel, like Heather’s pendant I posted about a couple of weeks ago.

Last night we had more fun! Miranda, who started all this excitement with this etched plate, to which she applied a little underglaze and covered with clear as usual, then she decided to change things up a bit and ground the top layer back to copper, the result was beautiful! (my photo really doesn’t do it justice!)

Etched Copper - Enameled - by Miranda Simmiss

                                         Miranda Simmiss – Etched Copper – Enameled

Another piece of etched copper Miranda had been waiting to tackle was this one, done about 18 months before. The design was hand painted which made it even more special.

Miranda Simmiss - Etched Copper - Underglaze - Clear Enamel

                                     Miranda Simmiss – Etched Copper – Underglaze – Clear Enamel

It seemed a shame to cut it up so a few weeks ago she decided to enamel it, which was a dicey decision because the copper was a bit too thin after the etching. But Miranda is game for just about anything and we decided to give it a go……

We started with the counter enamel, you should have seen the plate bending in the kiln!!!! It was amazing:) Then getting it straight again after firing! It was a hairy operation! The top coat stabilised things a little, but not enough to keep the plate flat, so we had to straighten it after every firing, with all the snap – crackle & pop that goes along with the process!

The first coat of flux was a little cloudy, so I suggested to refire the piece to clear the enamel, which worked fine. But all these firings were making the copper react to the enamel, giving it a beautiful green tinge here and there, while the copper turned a lovely golden colour! We liked that……

Miranda Simmiss - Etched Copper - Underglaze - Clear Enamel

                         Miranda Simmiss – Etched Copper – Underglaze – Clear Enamel

So we decided to give it another firing, you notice it became a ‘we’ project by that stage….. (it took 2 people to get the piece of the stilts and quickly pushing it into shape)

Anyway, long story short, we played all evening, had some laughs, some adrenaline moments, and a thoroughly fun night!
The resulting plate is beautiful, a bit Wabi-Sabi which really adds to the design. What it’ll be when it grows up is yet to be decided, Miranda will take it to NZ next week, het grandfather is a talented woodworker and might be talked into framing it, or making a box whith the enamel on top, can’t wait to see!

But wait…. there’s more!

Jan Brown, who’d just come back from holidays and was still jet-lagged, decided to enamel some fold-formed pieces she’d done a while back. So the underglaze was employed again, with flux on top, fired as usual, but Jan’s pieces took on a whole different colour!

Fold-formed Copper with underglaze and clear enamel by Jan Brown

                         Jan Brown – Fold-formed Copper with underglaze and clear enamel

Instead of the deep green, there was a silvery, blue/aqua tint to the enamel, just gorgeous! Now Jan is not precious about her work, so back in the kiln it went, controlled over-fired and more green developed:)

The process is not predictable, which really adds to the excitement. When things go wrong another colour can easily be fired on top, or maybe you could even think up some other ‘abuse’ that might lead to another serendipitous result! That seems to be the spirit of this class, it is such a great group, Miranda suggested we should do an all-nighter soon…… Hmmmm…. still thinking about that one…. 🙂

Etched & Enamelled Pendant by Heather Mikkelsen

Etched copper & enamel pendant by Heather Mikkelson

We were having some very interesting enamelling in last Wednesday night’s class!

Miranda took the plunge and started enamelling one of her etched copper plates, this was a large piece she has earmarked for a box top or wall art. It behaved very strangely in the kiln, we abused it and refired it many times and the results are exciting! I’ll get some photos of that piece and tell you all about it later on this week.

Etched copper & enamel pendant by Heather Mikkelsen

Etched copper & enamel pendant by Heather Mikkelsen

The other excitement was because of Heather’s pendant. It was also made using etched copper plates.

The pendant is made up from 3 pieces, all etched, the front and insert were domed, underglaze and flux applied before firing, to bring out the texture.

The smaller domed piece is held in place by some sterling silver mesh with a hole burne out of the centre to hold and frame the setting. This was riveted to the tabbed backing plate, which then holds everything prefectly in place.

It was interesting to see the different colours using the same technique, the centre piece is quiet red, while the front is a copper colour.

This pendant looks great on, the photo is not too bad for a workbench shot, but it doesn’t do the piece justice, this often happens with enamels!


Welcome to My New Design & Enameling Blog!

Sterling silver chain with enamel elements by Jan Brown

The weather is warming up, not so good for enameling, the kiln is going all day while the temperature outside is soaring! I’m lucky to have airconditioning in the studio, so I’m able  to keep going, which is just as well, I’m having fun and don’t want to stop!

My classes here on Queensland’s Gold Coast are small, my studio is in the back of my husband’s little factory, he’s a cabinet maker and is very supportive of my creative efforts, always has been:) My students are great, happy to play and try new things and share their findings with the group.

Enamel on Copper workshops on the Gold Coast

Over the winter months we have been enameling on copper and all my students got involved! Working on copper has a few advantages from working on silver:

  • It is quick! – Making between 5-10 pieces in a 3 hour night class is easily done! Instant gratification!
  • It is inexpensive – Copper is cheap and we are working with opaque enamels mainly, these are also cheaper to use than the Japanese transparents I usually work with.
  • It is colorful! – No doubt about it, opaque enamels make a statement! Bright and cheerful, or neutral and restrained, there is a color palette for every mood!
  • It is Fun! – Trying out colors and techniques is so much fun, learning how to combine colors, take a little risk sometimes, if it all goes pear-shaped it is not a big deal, you don’t have hours or even days invested in the piece, you just learn what didn’t work and play with what did!
  • It’s Addictive! – Who knew…. working with simple copper shapes, more often than not just quickly cut with the shears, enamel on and see what happens next…. and then again… oh and what happens if I add this…. Before you know it the hours have gone and it’s time to go home!

I’ve been very lucky with the students I’ve had in these classes, all willing to play and share their triumphs and disasters with each other, learning as we went along.

Stencils for enameling

Brand new techniques were used, things I’ve never even tried! Decals printed with special toner in a laser printer, very exciting! Some screen printing got started but needs more time for experimentation….. we tried using glass paints, enamel is glass on metal so it will take a lot of things you wouldn’t associate with enameling at first.

Now with summer fast approaching, and the heat and humidity that comes with it, I think the hot work will slow down for the classes, we’ve all made lots of stuff and it’s time to get them made into finished pieces and out of the UFO (UnFinished Objects) box!

Sterling silver chain with enamel elements by Jan Brown

Sterling silver chain with enamel elements
Jan Brown

Jan wearing her new chain!

Jan wearing her new chain!

I can’t wait to see how everyone is going to use their enameled bits & pieces! Check back regularly, I’ll post updates as more work gets finished!

Do you work with enamels? Or haven’t you been game to try yet? Please leave a comment below, I will try to respond quickly:)