Enamelling: The Complicity of Fire & Art by Andreu Vilasis
Full Colour Hardback Book
This extremely comprehensive book was first published in 1982, but the new edition has been revised and updated so, although it refers to the past and explains traditional techniques very clearly, it brings things up to date with High Firing (called Overfiring), Raku, Decals and some experimental techniques. Originally written in Catalan, it was updated and translated into Spanish in 2008 and is now re-updated and in English for the first time.
Beginning with the essential requirements for an enamelling studio, it continues through enamels, tools, materials, application of enamel, firing, finishing, traditional and modern techniques and much more. Safety, advice, tips and trouble-shooting are to be found throughout the book, always related to the subject being described; not relegated to a short appendix as they so often can be. This allows these topics proper space, allowing them to be fully explained and putting them where they will be of maximum use.
It is very well illustrated, with not only examples of beautiful historic and modern enamels,
but also coloured illustrations of equipment, processes and stages in the production of
finished pieces. Photographs of the ideal enamelling studio/workshop make one’s mouth water. Of course this example is for an artist or professional enameller; as clean and organised as an operating theatre, with plenty of space for each stage of the enamelling process. Clearly it knew it was to be photographed so had spent some time being beautified – but one can dream.
The fullest explanations and instructions are devoted to the traditional highly skilled techniques closest to his heart; such as Cloisonné, Champlevé, Basse-taille and Painting. It was a delightful surprise to find a vase by
Phil Barnes as one of the illustations here and also a recommendation for his book.
Plique a Jour, on mica and combined with cloisonné to form a cup, is very well described, but doing it ‘on air’ gets only “the skill to do this is acquired with practice”.
After withering remarks on some of those who choose to sift rather than wet-lay because it is easier and faster, the author goes on to give an excellent description (page 99) of how to apply counter-enamel so that it can be fired at the same time as the enamel on the right side.
Although the section on Stencils is quite short, it is full of good advice and many ideas which may not have occurred to the reader.
Page 184 reveals the history and purpose of Finishing Flux. Pages 221-3 explain Decals and how to apply and fire them. Other books do not generally mention these topics in any detail. Wet process enamels are not mentioned, except for passing references to industrial enamel products, so sgrafitto is described using only powder enamels. Although Metal Clay is given a page the translator, realising that the information on it was
out of date, has added a footnote to this effect.
Removal of unwanted enamel covers the usual suggestion to heat it up and drop it into cold water (with ice cubes), using Hydrofluoric acid (very very dangerous and one has to have a special licence in the UK to get it) and using Potassium Hydroxide (an ingredient in soap making). This is available as a powder, not a bar as mentioned in the book, from a number of sources on line at a reasonable cost.
Near the end is a particularly sensible and useful chapter on restoration and conservation of enamels. When one is asked to repair a treasured enamelled object, this is the chapter to study. All the good reasons not to do it are given and explained, followed by what can be done with safety.
This is not a book for absolute beginners as it assumes some previous experience which can be used and extended. For example it states that that it is useful to have several different sizes and gauges of sifter, but not which should be chosen for a particular situation.
Even though you may already have an extensive enamelling library, this book should certainly be added to it.
The Guild of Enamellers
Thanks Dorothy for your very thorough and thoughtful review!
As a note, I’d like to add that Andreu’s workshop was ALWAYS in the pristine condition that you see in the photos, ready for a morning’s enamelling (or a whole day on some holiday or weekend), and tidied up before lunch followed by teaching enamelling class at Llotja in the afternoon 🙂