I don’t remember how I originally heard about Barbara Lewis and her book on torch-fired enamel, “Torch-Fired Enamel Jewelry: A workshop in painting with fire.” It was probably on another jewelry designer’s blog that featured Barbara and the book. However I found out about Barbara, enameled beads, and the torch-fired method, I’m just so glad that I did. I started reading Barbara’s blog and learned that she was planning to open an enamel supply shop in St. Petersburg, Florida, and offer classes there. OMG! How perfect. One of my goals for 2012 is to take some classes to expand on my jewelry skills and here was one almost in my backyard (just a three-hour drive). It wouldn’t require an airplane to get there, a hotel stay, exorbitant workshop fees, and fattening food. (Oh, wait. I like fattening food.)
So on Superbowl Sunday, I made the trek from Melbourne to St. Petersburg (Florida that is. Not Australia or Russia.). The class was four hours long and there were seven of us (Marilyn, Kitty, Marlyn, Debbie, Sharon, Diane, and me) taking the class. A couple of the ladies had taken Barbara’s workshop previously and some of them had previous torch experience. I will admit that working with fire initially had me a little bit intimidated but soon I didn’t even flinch when turning on the gas and pressing the self-ignition button. Or even when the packing straw hidden in a bead caught fire. I just thought the bead was on fire! Now working on my own at home might be a different story. I’ll make sure to keep the fire extinguisher handy. Note to self: check the expiration date.
To give a short, very simplistic summary of what torch-fired enameling is, you stick a bead on a mandrel and heat the bead in the flame until the bead is red hot. Then you dredge the bead in the enamel powder, heat the bead again, and repeat the process a couple more times. How many times you repeat the process depends on the look you’re going for. Initially, I liked the beads to be completely covered so that the metal doesn’t show through. But then I kind of (because you never know if I’ll change my mind again) liked the metal showing through for a more rustic, organic look (see the biggest green beads to see what I’m talking about).
Then the bead gets dropped into vermiculite to cool. Doesn’t sound too difficult, does it? And it’s not really but there is some skill in getting the timing right. Like in the initial heating, if the bead doesn’t get hot enough, the first layer of enamel won’t adhere well and will chip off. (Been there, done that.) Or the bead can get so hot that it will melt or be distorted. (Been there, done that.) Or if the bead is dropped too soon in the vermiculite, some of the vermiculite might stick to the bead. (Been there, done that.) Or if the bead isn’t dropped soon enough into the vermiculite, the bead sticks to the mandrel. (Oh, you know what’s coming!)
But I loved, loved, loved it! I wasn’t ready to quit and would gladly have kept enameling for another couple of hours. Because I knew our time was limited, I restricted myself to just three colors of enamel so that I would have enough of each to use in jewelry without having to worry about when I would be able to make more. For those of you who would like to know what the colors are: foxglove (purple), aquamarine (blue), and willow (green). All are Thompson Enamel opaques.
I liked enameling so much that I bought supplies so now I have everything I need to get started except for the propane. Barbara also sells a kit that included her bead pulling station, the torch head, some enamel powders, mandrels, and more. Note: If you have Barbara’s book, she says that propane is not ideal because it can make the colors muddy. However, because of the MAPP gas recall, we used propane instead and paid special attention to where the bead was in the flame. As you can see from my beads, the colors don’t look muddy at all.
These are the enamel colors I bought: foxglove, aquamarine, and willow in case I need more of the beads I made in class; mocha, nut butter (very light tan), and pumpkin for some earthy colors; white because it’s just good to have (thanks to Kitty who let me have the last one); and nile green transparent to layer over the other colors. Supplies are also available online at Painting with Fire Artwear. So look for enameled beads to start appearing in my jewelry. Not any time soon mind you. There’s bookkeeping to get done for tax time and posting existing jewelry in the shop first!
Meeting Barbara for the first time felt like meeting a celebrity. After all, she does have the number 1 craft book for 2011 on Amazon. I even took my book with me so that Barbara could autograph it! But by the end of the class, it felt like she was an old longtime friend. Hopefully, I can take another class with her. Hmmm, maybe an intermediate class could be added to the roster. I’d even take this same class again.
It was truly a joy to get together with others who share a love of jewelry and creating. I sat next to Michelle and she was a big help with torch advice and I wish she lived closer. Kitty has said if I’m in the area again that I could stay with her. Marlyn lives in my area and we’re talking about getting a beading/crafting group together. Hopefully, this won’t be the last time I see everyone.
I do have one regret and that is I wish I had taken more photos! I wish I had gotten a group photo of all the lovely ladies in the class and one of Barbara and me (you know—the “look at me posing with a celeb” photo). I was hesitant to take away from anyone’s torch time but I think they would have gladly accommodated my desire to preserve the day.
So what about you? Have you taken any jewelry workshops? Worked with fire? Played with enamels?