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Archive for category Antiques signs

How porcelain enamel gets it colour

Coloured enamel can be produced either by grinding highly friable coloured glass, or by adding specific minerals – usually oxides – to clear glass.

The most often used minerals are metal oxides such as cobalt (blue), praseodymium (yellow), iron (green), tin (bright white), gold (red) or neodymium (which can give differing hues from violet, to wine red, to warm grey).

Coloured enamel can be opaque, transparent or translucent, the latter getting more and more “milky” the longer it is fired.

Unlike paint, different colours of opaque enamel do not mix, so you can’t, say, use blue and yellow to make green.

Instead, mixing enamel colours results in that beautiful “flecked” look – blue with yellow flecks or yellow with blue flecks, depending on the amounts of colour used. Although, a clever artisan can grind the two colours so finely that the eye is tricked.

Also mixing opaque and transparent enamels in combinations of two or more can produce some amazing effects.

For example, an opaque yellow, overfired with transparent blue would produce a green affect – but a close look would uncover that the eyes are, once again, being deceived.

Designers often mix and match various techniques and bring out lovely colours in their enamel artworks.

Getting the best colours from enamel requires specific skills that are, unfortunately, being lost in these modern times.

Types of Enamel Used Throughout History

imageMany people do not realize that the modern porcelain enamel signs and house numbers that they look at today actually have their basis in historical enameling techniques that have been in use for hundreds upon hundreds of years.

Many people are familiar with cloisonné pieces. The word cloisonné actually means “cell”. Wire was used to separate different areas into cells that could be enameled in different colors. The enamels were applied to the piece after the wires had been applied to the surface. It is still a technique that is very popular today and is used to make jewelry and other intricately patterned items.image

Limoges enamel is also well known. It gets its name from the city in France where many of the pieces were created. Limoges was a center for enamel work as early as the 12th century. Several different styles of enameling were used at Limoges. In the beginning, champlevé enamel pieces were produced but these changed to grisaille enameling techniques.

Champlevé enamel involves carving out the metal into pits. These pits are then filled with enamel and the piece is fired. The original metal is visible on the finished piece. Grisaille enamel pieces feature a dark background. Translucent enamels are then painted on top. The result is a monochromatic piece with areas of lighter and darker enameling.

Modern enamel techniques can be used to create a variety of different signs such as name plates, address plaques and house numbers. While the finished result may not be as intricate as a piece of cloisonné jewelry, the pieces that you can place on your house are still works of art in their own right.