I’m a slow learner. Back when I first learned to enamel, I used unleaded enamels. Unleaded is what the school offers, they are readily available and they are safer to use. But, in the world of enameling, they suck. Unleaded enamels are ok, sure, but they are nothing compared to enamels containing lead. My friend and instructor Sarah had been telling me for years to use leaded enamels because they are so much better. I always used the excuse that I already had so many unleaded colors that it would be wasteful to switch until they were gone.
I have now changed my mind. Leaded enamels are awesome! In my last post I mentioned that I was going to attempt (for the third time) to fix my piece. Sadly, I had the same crappy outcome as before despite several changes in my technique. That’s when I knew Sarah’s next piece of advice would be to use leaded enamels. She had quite a few reds she was willing to share so I picked them up from her studio and started making samples. I was immediately struck by the weight of the enamels. Probably because they contain lead, huh? I found a perfect match for my original color and got to work.
Because I was wet-packing the enamels, I didn’t have to worry about airborne particles so I didn’t need a mask. Working with lead means taking some precautions, but most of my studio work requires careful thought so this wasn’t much different. I packed enamel onto the back of the piece and let it dry before firing. As I picked it up to move it to a trivet, I dropped it. In the unleaded enameling world, this would mean all the enamel would fly off and I’d have to start over. In the leaded enameling world, I only lost a tiny bit. I was impressed so far. I fired the back, let it cool and got to work on the front.
Red enamels are touchy because there’s a fine line between firing them completely and burning them. Once they’re burnt, they can become a real pain. Plus, the edges get black. I had made a sample of the red on silver and it looked good. Besides, I didn’t mind a little black because the piece was supposed to look old. The first firing was good, the second was better and by the time I reached the third, I knew I was going to be ok. I even handled the piece a little roughly just to see if it would crack. It didn’t.
It’s been sitting on my bench for two days and it looks terrific. All I have to do is etch it and place it on the front of the piece and it’s done. Again. Now I need to find a catalog and place an order for some leaded enamels. Of course, Sarah was right all along in that I should be using leaded enamels. I was just too dumb to catch on quickly!