Gold and silver foils are used under transparent enamels to achieve
special effects. Foils can lend an iridescent effect, add brilliance
through the reflective quality or increase an appreciation of delicate
tints. Foils are generally applied to copper, either as an entire
background or cut into shapes or small “paillons” to fit into either
cloisonnE9 cells or in champleve recesses.
Use of foils is less expensive than using the pure silver or 24K gold
sheet metal, but for success, a “fairly secure knowledge of enameling
techniques” (1) is required before using it. Foil usage requires cooler
firing temperature. Too high a temperature may cause a eutectic
response, where the silver foil melts & combines with the copper metal
beneath. Experience and careful notation of temperature and amount of
time for each enamel color is essential. Colors that fuse completely
only with high temperatures can still be used, but taken only as far as
the “orange peel” stage. Stoning the piece will remove the granular
texture or it may diminish during subsequent firings.
American foils are fairly thin, although slightly heavier than leaf.
Ginbari foil from Japan is heavier and should always be “pierced” before
use, or bubbling of the foil is sure to occur. Two methods are
recommended for “piercing” foils. One: Using a tweezers, lift the foil
carefully (never touch the foil with fingers!) and place on a 1 grit
sheet of sandpaper. Place a piece of felt on top & roll over the felt
with a rolling pin once or twice. Or you can set another sheet of
sandpaper facing the bottom layer & roll over that. Remove the cover
sheet & peel the foil. If held up to a light source, you should see
perforations. Two: using a clean brass “pin” brush, lightly tap over
the surface of the foil. In this case, set the foil on top of a clean
piece of tracing paper. You can add another piece of tracing paper over
the top afterwards, if you intend to cut out a shape from the foil.
Always sandwich the foil between paper to cut or for storage.
Decorative paper punches can be used to cut the foil, but you may find
sandwiching the foil in thin bond paper a bit easier to manage. I often
use a larger piece of paper & merely fold it over. The crease helps to
keep the foil from moving about.
The foil can be annealed before use, helpful when covering a curved
surface. Place the foil between two clean pieces of mica. “Anneal at
600 F to 1400 F for a few minutes. You know it is annealed if it drapes
easily…”(2) Another option is to sandwich several small pieces of foil
between the mica. The edges may melt together during annealing. (2) I
have experience with silver foil only. If strips of foil are set
edgewise or overlapping & fired onto the base coat of enamel, the hint
of lines will stay. You may like the effect. Depends on your overall
As with any silver metal, reds, oranges, pinks & yellows can’t be
applied over the bare metal. A layer of clear flux must be applied
first or you will experience color degradation.
If applying silver foil to copper, first prepare the metal, firing a
coat of counter enamel to the reverse & a layer of enamel to the face.
The face can either be an opaque (white is useful) or a transparent.
Prepare the foil. Wet the enameled face with a mixture of water &
binder (Klyr fire works well), transfer the foil & burnish with a paint
brush lightly to remove any air pockets. Allow the binder & foil to dry
completely before firing. In cloisonn technique, you may only want
to foil some of the cells, so you would first apply & fire the wires.
Harlan Butt has made some cloisonn pieces where only the cells have
silver foil. Cut a rough shape of foil to go under the design. Fire it
to the piece, apply a flux transparent, fire, apply the wires. To cover
the uneven edges of foil, the surrounding area is covered in an opaque.
The contrast is quite striking. Remember to handle foil gently, as it
tears easily. After the foil is fired to the enamel, you can burnish
any pockets or wrinkles with a glass brush. Careful, careful!
More and other techniques on working with foil can be found
in " A Manual of Cloisonn & Champleve Enameling" by J. Patrick &
Judith Lull Strosahl and Coral (Barnhart) Shaffer (1) and by requesting
"Working With Foils" (2) from Coral through Enamelworks, 1022 N.E. 68th
Street, Seattle, WA 98115, line: 6-525-9271. Enamelworks
is a wonderful supplier & resource for enamelists. Just my humble
This will be the last “issue” of Enamel Bits for a month or so. The
movers come this Monday to pack up all my stuff for our move to England.
So, I’m packing up the portable workshop (only slightly portable!) &
computer on July 6. I’m looking forward to meeting Orchid pen-pals &
learning & sharing my travels & experiences. Enamel On!
Snow Goose Designs
Medford, MA ( for a few more days only!)
Look out London, here we come.