Research Fellowship for Innovation in Vitreous Enamel Surfaces in Jewellery
AWARDING BODY: Arts and Humanities Research Council
AWARDED TO: Jessica Turrell
(Featured image is Jessica Turrell’s hollow form brooches, vitreous enamel, electroformed copper oxidised silver, 2010)
The research project is based on the premise that there is huge and largely unexplored potential for innovation within the field of enamelled jewellery. By taking both a practice-led and theoretical approach the aim of the project has been to identify factors that might hinder innovation and present a series of alternative approaches that encourage a more experimental and open-minded approach to enamel.
The practical aspects of the research project were underpinned by theoretical and contextual research into the place of enamel in contemporary jewellery practice. This included a wide-ranging visual and literature survey. Web-based research combined with a series of visits to individual practitioners in the USA and Europe as well as to significant exhibitions and collections in Europe, the UK and USA, provided a broad overview of current enamel jewellery practice. This contextual research led to the identification of a number of contemporary jewellers for whom enamel forms a significant part of their practice. A methodology was developed by which the output of these jewellers was analysed and then allocated to one of three distinct categories. These were as follows:
Skilled (fine) – broadly work that concentrates on traditional enamelling techniques to create work for a mainstream or commercial market.
New – where the work itself engages with contemporary ideas but where enamel is used simply to add a paint-like layer of colour to the surface of the piece using only basic techniques.
Innovative – where the two practices overlap and the artist is able to demonstrate knowledge of both.
A selected group of individuals, identified through this process as falling into the Innovative category, were then invited to submit images and supporting written material to the new Innovation in Vitreous Enamel Surfaces in Jewellery database that operates alongside (and is complimentary to) the existing International Contemporary Vitreous Enamel Archive (ICVEA) currently held by the Enamel Research Unit at the University of the West of England, Bristol.
The contextual and theoretical aspects of the project are examined in depth in an article for Craft Research, entitled Surface and Substance – a call for the fusion of skill and ideas in contemporary enamel jewellery.
A variety of approaches have been taken in order to stimulate debate and comment regarding the place of enamel in contemporary jewellery practice. The first of these was a discussion forum entitled ‘Innovation in Enamel’ which has involved a number of internationally prominent enamel artists all of whom demonstrate a non-traditional approach to their enamel practice. The central aim of this forum has been to highlight the potential of enamel as an innovative medium and to stimulate debate about the aesthetic, conceptual and practical considerations that govern the use of enamel in contemporary jewellery practice. The forum has operated as a members’ only project, meaning that the site can only be accessed by registered members and they alone are able to view the content and submit comment. The rational for this was to encourage those involved to freely discuss their ideas without the constraints of operating within a public arena.
In addition to the forum site, Jessica has initiated a discussion strand: ‘Surface and substance: the place of enamel in contemporary jewellery practice’, which appears on the International Art Jewellery Online Community, Klimt02. These two discussion strands have informed the written and theoretical aspects of the research and the production of a number of case studies.
The case studies feature artists who were chosen as representative of a broad and diverse range of approaches to enamel:
In order to promote innovative enamel jewellery to the widest possible audience Jessica is currently curating a significant international exhibition that will feature a group of jewellers identified for their innovative use of enamel. The show will begin its tour at Contemporary Applied Arts in London in late 2011, and will then travel to a number of venues across the UK including to the Ruthin Craft Centre in Wales.
PRACTICAL AND TECHNICAL RESEARCH
The focus of the practical element of the research has been an investigation into the use of innovative and experimental enamelling techniques in the production of contemporary jewellery. Methods and approaches more usually associated with large-scale and panel enamelling and industrial processes have been adapted for use in wearable pieces. This investigation is supported by the development of a range of techniques that allow for the creation of three-dimensional forms that can be successfully enamelled.
The practical and technical aspects of the research fall into two main categories, these are the production of three-dimensional forms capable of being enamelled in the round and the development of enamelling techniques suitable for application to these three-dimensional forms.
THREE-DIMENSIONAL FORM TRIALS
Initial research involved investigations into the use of three-dimensional forms created using traditional forming, construction and joining methods. The most commonly used joining technique is the use of high melting-point (or hard) silver solders. The received wisdom is that it is not possible to enamel directly over a soldered joint as the solder will discolour the overlying enamel and can in some cases cause it to come away from the soldered joint. In order to test this theory, extensive investigations were undertaken into the use of a group of silver alloy solders, which were tested for their stability and the effect that they had on the subsequent layer of fired enamel. Although some solders gave better results than others they all visibly interfered with the enamel they were directly in contact with in some way. Link to Solder – test and outcomes.
As an alternative to the use of solders, fusion and laser welding were investigated. Both these methods use high levels of accurately directed heat to achieve a fused joint that does not require any additional solder. Although, to differing degrees, both of these techniques created a satisfactory join over which enamel could successfully be applied without too many problems, the equipment required was not easily accessible, needed outside assistance and was expensive to trial. For these reasons this avenue of research was not pursued.
It seemed that a seam free object should prove the ideal form over which to apply the enamel. There are a number of small-scale silver and copper-smithing techniques that can be employed to raise a seam-free hollow form from a flat sheet of metal but such methods are technically demanding and particularly difficult on a small scale. Thus this avenue of research was also rejected. Instead, the technique of electroforming seemed to offer a versatile and accessible method for the creation of 3D forms, and it became clear that a detailed investigation of the technique would prove to be the most productive strand of research.
To this end bespoke electroforming equipment was researched, designed, and built, and a series of tests undertaken. Research and trials were carried out to establish the most suitable materials and methods of production of base forms upon which metal might be deposited during the electroforming process. Link to Substrate materials – test and outcomes
Discussions took place with colleagues from the 3D Research Laboratory within the CFPR into the possibilities of creating mandrels using rapid prototyping techniques, and the indicative trials that were carried out to ascertain the suitability of the RP process to create electroforming mandrels and the potential for the medium with which the object is printed both to withstand the process and be easily removed as a core prior to enamelling. As a direction for further research these initial trials hold a lot of promise. This collaborative strand of research was documented in a poster presentation given during the IMPACT 7 conference in 2009.
In order for the electroforming process to occur it is necessary that the surface of the object to be electroformed is able to conduct an electrical current. As a number of non-conductive materials had been identified as appropriate to this research it was therefore necessary to undertake a further series of trails to establish the most suitable electro-conductive coatings for the purposes of the project. Link to electro conductive coatings tests and outcomes.
The final experiments in the production of the underlying electroforms was to trial all the variable of the electroforming process itself to establish the best method for the creation of a smooth and stable form of an appropriate surface and structure that would withstand the application of enamel.
In order to develop methods for the application of enamel to the three-dimensional forms resulting from the first strand of investigation, a comprehensive series of tests for the application and adhesion of jewellery and industrial enamel to 2D and 3D surfaces was undertaken. Stilting and firing methods for 3D objects enamelled in the round were also investigated. Methodology for the recording of technical tests has been developed and trialled and a standardised format has been developed, informed by these trials, which has been used to record the results of all tests undertaken. Link to Enamel sampling – tests and outcomes.
Project Outcome: Showcasing a New Collection of Enamel Jewellery, exhibition by Jessica Turrell
On completion of the practical trials a group of jewellery pieces were created using the methods established as most appropriate in the realisation of a defined personal aesthetic. These pieces were exhibited at Contemporary Applied Art in London during June and July 2010:
The intimate scale of jewellery is a central factor in my practice. I strive to create work that has a tactile delicacy and that rewards the wearer’s close attention with an intricate and detailed surface. Over recent years I have developed an experimental approach to enamel by which I seek to create work that moves away from traditional jewellery enamel practice in order to achieve a more ambiguous and expressive surface quality.
In 2007 I was awarded a three year Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Fellowship in Creative and Performing Arts based at the University of the West of England, Bristol. The focus of the fellowship, entitled Innovation in Vitreous Enamel Surfaces for Jewellery, is based on my experience of enamel as an innovative, expressive and contemporary material. The project uses both practice-led and theoretical research methodology to investigate the potential of new and experimental techniques and processes in relation to the constraints and requirements of the use of enamel in the production of contemporary jewellery.
This showcase exhibition features two bodies of work made during the fellowship. In the first I have used etching techniques to create delicate layers of barely legible handwritten text and repeated marks that reference handwriting practice. These etched pieces are often made up of multiple layers with overlays of monochrome mark or text uppermost allowing for glimpses of underlying enamel in bright jewel-like colours. By being partially concealed and protected the underlying colour is imbued with a preciousness and intimacy that it might not have if more boldly displayed.
The second group features vessel forms that are the result of an investigation into the use of electroforming as a method for the creation of seam-free three-dimensional forms that can be enamelled in the round. These pieces used layered enamelling that is built up and then selectively removed to re-expose underlying marks and concealed colour.
The practical and theoretical outcomes of the project were disseminated by a number of methods throughout the period of the research.
A symposium was held at the Bower Ashton Campus, University of the West of England in July 2010. Read a review of the symposium here.
Addressing an audience composed of professional makers, academics, researchers and students, the symposium examined the place of enamel within contemporary jewellery practice, celebrating its potential as an exciting and innovative material. At a time when increasing numbers of contemporary jewellers are rediscovering enamel this event offered a timely opportunity for the sharing of information and ideas plus a chance to network and take part in debate.
ELIZABETH TURRELL – Senior research fellow – enamel, UK
Elizabeth delivered a talk entitled Reinterpreting Glass on Metal in which she examined the potential for widening the vocabulary of enamel and its innovative opportunities for makers.
CHRISTINE GRAF – Enamel artist, Munich, Germany
Jeweller and enamel artist Christine Graf discussed the central role that enamel has played in her studio practice over the last decade.
PROFESSOR ROBERT EBENDORF – Jeweller, USA and visiting professor, UWE
Robert Ebendorf led a lively discussion session on the current status of enamel in jewellery education.
In addition to the speaker presentations the day included an opportunity for delegates to visit the Enamel Research unit and to view the practical experiments and finished pieces resulting from the project Innovation in Vitreous Enamel Surface for Jewellery. Lunch and the studio tours provided delegates with important opportunities to exchange views and to network.
A paper was presented at the Association for Contemporary Jewellery conference Crossings, held at West Dean in July 2010. This paper will also be published on the ACJ website in due course: www.acj.org.uk
The ultimate aim of the project has been to demonstrate the potential of enamel as an exciting and innovative material and to thus affect a change in the commonly held perception that enamel is a medium not readily associated with contemporary jewellery practice. It is anticipated that the dissemination of the outcomes of the research project Innovation in Vitreous Enamel Surface for Jewellery will go some way towards the creation of an environment where the innovative potential of the material is more widely recognised, both by the jewellery community and within art education, thus allowing a more ambitious and rigorous enamel practice to flourish.