Screen Printing Enamels

I took a little trip out to the Richmond Art Center today to take a class screen printing designs onto my enamel jewelry.

I began the day in the screen printing studio with the knowledgable instructor Joyce, who’s been screen printing since the 60s, where I constructed my screens out of craft frames stretched with mesh, held together with staples and tape. Next I coated them with red emulsifier in the dark room and taped the designs I created in illustrator printed on transparencies before exposing them in the light box. Four minutes later, I took a water gun to the screens and rinsed away the emulsifier where the designs had been and my screens were ready for printing. 

For the second part of the class, we headed down the hall to the metals studio where instructor Ed showed us two techniques for enameling with our screens. The first technique involved pulling dry powdered glass enamel through the screens. Since I mainly work in dry enamels at my studio, I could try this out in my studio, I focused on the second method.

The second technique was a wet method, where we used ceramic pigments mixed with stain base to produce a liquid about the consistency of screen print paint that we used an old hotel door card to pull though the screens. It was challenging getting an even print with clear definition, since you only had one pull to do it, but a little more forgiving than actual screen printing, since if you didn’t like it, you could always wipe off your piece and start over after cleaning out your screen. Once we got a print we liked, we popped them in one of the four kilns they had onsite to fire the patterns to the enamel. I fired mine a couple additional times with a clear coat of enamel on top to bring out the colors and integrate the pigments with the enamel to leave a smooth surface. I definitely hope to explore screen printing more in my studio.

My finished pieces. 

Falling for Enamel - A journey from Santiago to San Francisco

After taking a few classes in metal arts, I was growing tired of the limited color palette of copper, silver and brass and was intrigued with the enchanting rainbow of color possibilities enameling offers. So when I stumbled across an ad for jewelry classes from a Chilean jeweler while living in Santiago, Chile, I jumped at the chance to try my hand at enameling for the first time with the lovely Carolina Hernandez Joyas


Santiago street art in Barrio Bellavista near Carolina’s studio.

Carolina is a talented and knowledgeable jeweler, but between my broken Spanish and her limited English we stumbled through my lessons in a strange middle land of English for directions interspersed with a workshop full of tools and techniques refereed to in Spanish. Needless to say, I learned a lot from watching and imitating her.


My jewelry projects from Santiago, Chile. Sterling silver organic triangle ring set with granules and wire pressed copper triangle earrings. 

After making a few silver rings and copper earrings, Carolina offered to show me how to enamel. Carolina didn’t have an enameling kiln in her workshop, so we attempted the torch-firing method. First I used a jeweler’s saw to cut copper sheet metal into shapes and then I sifted powered enamel onto copper pieces and used a torch to fuse the enamel to the copper pieces. It was fun to play around with, but I encountered numerous problems from overheating the enamel, to the enamel pulling away from the copper to pitting and bubbling in the enamel. I was beginning see just how many variables can affect the enameling process! 


Torch-fired purple enamel earrings from my class in Santiago, Chile.

However on a trip in Buenos Aires at the famous San Telmo flea market, I wandered past a lovely booth filled with enameled jewelry by the talented, Delfina Allende. The earrings and pendants looked like miniature, modern art paintings and the sight renewed my desire to learn the art of enameling, but this time with a kiln. 


My trusty little enameling kiln. 

After returning to San Francisco and playing around with kiln-fried enameling in a few classes, I decided to set up my own studio. Through a stoke of luck, I found the perfect enameling kiln from an artist in my neighborhood that was downsizing his studio. You can check out my kin-fired enamel work on my etsy shop, IrisWillow.