My first finished enamel portrait was of our family cat Benja Blue which you can see in the enamel section. Benja sadly died of old age, and my parents decided to get a Maine Coon a year or two later. His name is Oscar Fox and for my mam's birthday I decided I would paint her a miniature enamel portrait of him, much smaller than the one of Benja: a whole 32mm wide in fact!
Oscar is much less of a lap cat than Benja was, but he has his own way of showing affection. He loves playing with my dad, although the term 'trying to remove his hand' probably better suits what actually happens during playtime! Currently he is obsessed with a shoelace and likes to carry it around with him. He has such mischievous eyes.
To make the base for the portrait I use premade copper domes. I coat the front with Soyer Opal 101 enamel and the back with Scalex (a firescale inhibitor) for the first firing. After each firing I grind the bare copper edges to remove the firescale that forms after each firing.
After the first firing I remove the Scalex and put a layer of Soyer Finishing Flux on the back and fire for the second time. After that I add more coats of Soyer Opal 101 on the front and Finishng Flux on the back until I have about four or five coats on the front and three on the back.
At this stage I use a carborundum stone to get the surface somewhere near flat, and then add another thin layer of Soyer Opal 101 over the surface.
I mostly use Ferro Sunshine onglaze/overglaze enamel paints available from Vitrum Signum and Clayman Supplies in the UK. WG Ball also sell British Professional onglaze paints and Ceradel also produce a range.
When I first started I learned a lot from reading Gillie Hoyte Byrom's brilliant book on enamel painting. I highly recommend it for anyone who is interested in this technique. Other than that I suggest reading Linda Darty's book on enamelling which will give you a very good overview of enamelling in general.
For these tiny paintings I use a size 0000 brush and I find a magnifying glass on a stand helps immensely. I also use a 'wipe-out' tool create texture or to remove any errors before firing.
To transfer the image outline onto the white base I simply dab plasticine over the surface to provide a little bit of 'tooth', and then I transfer the image using tracing paper and graphite pencil. The plasticine burns off in the kiln but the graphite remains behind. It is quite possible to do a graphite-only drawing on enamel using various grades of pencil.
Below is the first painted layer after firing, showing Oscar's general outline and features.
For the second firing I added in the background and continued working on Oscar's features. In my parents' garden there are some gorgeous Geranium magnificum which have been there for over 36 years. They flower for only a few weeks in early summer but they are amazing and the bees go wild over them. Their flowers are dark purple and I thought they would make a nice contrast to Oscar's orange fur.
I continued working on Oscar's fur and added in some shadows and fired the painted layer for a third time. At this stage the piece has been in the kiln anywhere between 10-15 times.
Once the painting was finished my talented husband turned a beautiful little frame for it.
I'm pleased to say the painting got my mother's approval!
Until next time.