Champlev'e Enamel Flower Plate
Cathy does beautiful enamel work called Champlev'e ("shomp-lev-aye"), a French word that means "raised fields." In this project, she makes a lovely enamel plate with a floral design.
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Project by Cathy DeYoung of New Orleans, La.
The French word Champlev'e (pronounced "shomp-lev-aye) literally means "raised fields." This refers to the areas of metal that are left intact after other areas of the metal have been carved out and filled with enamel. Champlev'e is the result of enamel fired to metal after it has been hand-applied into the recesses.
Materials and Tools:
16-gauge copper sheet
ferric chloride acid
vitreous enamel (powdered glass)
Klyr Fire (gum tragacanth and water)
wet packing glass *
liver of sulfur
Minwax car wax
fin Sharpie marker
Dremel tool with diamond bit
* Glass to make wet and slushy for "wet packing" the enamel into the etched out areas.
Note: The metal can be gouged in several ways: cast with recesses, marred with an engraving tool, punched in with a hammer and a pointed punch tool, or painted with asphaltum (liquefied tar) and put into acid until the exposed areas of metal have been eaten down. The acid etching champlev'e method is the one Cathy uses most frequently.
1. Begin with a flat sheet of copper, approximately 3 to 7 inches square and 1/16-inch thick. The copper needs to be somewhat thick in order for the piece to be able to structurally handle the etching down of large areas.
2. Draw an image onto the copper. The more simplified the drawing, the more clear and bold the image will come out after it is enameled. Use an image from memory, another drawing or from an actual object in front of you. Draw with pencil first; then go over the lines with a fine Sharpie marker.
3. When the drawing is final, paint asphaltum thinly over the line drawing (figure A). All areas that are to be colored in with enamel are left unpainted. All the areas that are to be raised, unenameled lines, are painted with the tar, in effect protecting the copper lines from the acid. The tar must air dry for about 2 hours.
4. Put the piece in ferric chloride acid for about 2 hours. The piece must be checked from time to time to be sure no air bubbles are blocking the acid from doing its etching. After it is finished etching, the piece is taken out of the acid and any excess acid is rinsed off with water.
5. Turpentine is used to dissolve the tar off the copper. The piece must be thoroughly cleaned with a scrub brush and pumice powder mixed with water. Now the piece is ready to be enameled (figure B).
6. Colorless, clear enamel called flux (about 1 oz. for this size piece) is mixed with water and a liquid water-soluble gum called gum tragicanth. The mixture is a glass "slush" which is picked up one little (approximately 1mm round) glob at a time with a pick-like tool and set, or "wet-packed," into the recessed areas (figure C). This time-consuming process is done with the flux until all recesses have an even layer of enamel. The enamel "slush" dries and remains in place, due to the gum tragicanth in the mixture.
7. Fire the piece at around 1450-1500 F degrees. The firing only takes between 2 and 5 minutes. The enamel is essentially flash-fired onto the copper. The gum burns off without harming the enamel. After the piece is taken out of the kiln, set it on a steel plate to cool. The piece must be cleaned up with sandpaper.
8. Spray a water-gum solution on the back. Sift dry powder enamel onto the back, sticking to the water-gum that had been sprayed on. This important step is called "counter-enameling" your piece (figure D). If you don't apply a layer of glass to the both sides, the enamel will be unstable and crack and possibly pop off unpredictably.
9. When the counter-enamel is dry, fire the piece the same as before. Again, the exposed copper areas must be sanded after cooling in order to remove the burned copper ash or "scale."
10. Wet-pack the final colorful layer of enamel over the flux (figure E). The colors of the last firing can be blended to give the effect of shadows and shading, color gradation or bold contrast.
11. After this layer is applied, dried, fired and cooled, the raised fields of copper are sanded one last time and patina is created with an acid solution that tints the exposed copper a very dark brown, almost black. The darkening of the raised copper areas allows the lighter enamel to visually stand out.
12. Rub the piece with a thin coat of wax and sign the back side using a diamond bit on a Dremel tool.