Soft enamel production work

"But this is what I DO!" OK - if what you DO doesn't MOVE then you
need to change what you DO....... 

Treat it like the business that it is. People in your area don’t
like bittersweet chocolate so offer them milk chocolate, it’s not a
difficult concept. Except that so many people don’t get it and pound
their heads against the wall." Well put John.

I have a major gripe with a local Arts College. They charge about 55
grand for a BFA in Metals. They say that they “Specialize” in
teaching how to make a living as an artist. When I asked students
what they learned they said “Well we had this class in how to write
Grants.” I looked at one of them and said “Well if you are any good
at this you don’t need to write grants. People pay you a living
wage.” They looked at me like I was smoking crack.

I love to make art for arts sake. I don’t expect it to sell.
Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. That’s OK with me. I support
my madness with the things that do sell.

Have fun and make lots of jewelry.

Jo Haemer

Hi if you are in this to make money then I think this still stands
From a business viewpoint jewellery is what sells, what does not
sell is crap. 

It does not matter how well made and the quality of the materials,
if no one buys it it is a commercial failure.

BTW my wife and daughter love my crap, “That’s not selling, you
should give it to me!” LOL

I think this may be a case of semantics between US English and
Australian English.

In Oz crap is not an extreme pejorative.

On another point made by Thomas

I am not sure what other people read into what I post, but the main
point was to give quality enamelers the respect they are due.

I work in resin and in no way would I compare myself to an enameler.
They are so far beyond the skill level of resin makers.

Sorry kiddies but the skills to enamel are far more high level than
resin making. Resin can look as beautiful as enamel but it is a
different medium that requires a much lower level of skill.


Hi all, hope you had a lovely holiday. There has been a reply to my
comment regarding “soft enamel” production work and I need to

First, I’d like to remove from this discussion any hint of what you
refer to in various ways as expressions of snobbery or academic
unworldliness. My creds to do so: I’m entirely self-taught in enamel
and, with the exception of a weekend stone setting class at Revere
Academy (very helpful) entirely self taught in metals. I started
selling my work at 17 and have moved up from the streets(literally)
to high end craft shows. I have supported myself solely on my own art
work since I was 20ish. My husband is also an artist, so no “real
job” supporting a dilettante.

“Soft Enamel”? Many words in our language have more than one meaning
or use. In jewelry use ENAMEL has meant vitreous glass. “Enamel” is
used to label a type of house paint that is hard and shiny because it
looks like glass/enamel and is harder and more durable than other
paints. Your iron bathtubs and sinks ARE vitreous enamel. just like
jewelry, only bigger. In fact Kohler manufacturing has had many
enamel guest artists work at their facilities. Newer technologies
have invented resins/plastics that can be used to produce jewelry to
mimic the look of enamel. But they are NOT enamel, any more than a
cubic zirconia is a “CZ diamond”. We would all agree that to use such
a term is misleading. A diamond is a diamond. Any of the excellent
diamond substitutes are fine to replace a diamond in any applications
as long as it isn’t misrepresented to defraud.

There are several large jewelry companies using resin in designs
that look like enamel. The designs are fine, but they are not enamel

They are resin or plastic or ___ whatever they are using. Vitreous
enamel is one thing; plastic/resins are another. There is nothing
wrong with using resins as they are much easier for production work,
much less expensive to produce, can be applied in designs where
vitreous enamel could be more delicate and certainly more expensive
and requiring specialized skill sets and different equipment. In my
opinion, labeling such as enamel is as incorrect as selling cz’s as

What is the reason for using the term “enamel” to describe
resin/plastic/paint jewelry? “Enamel” has a certain cache’ or

It means something specific in jewelry. The only reason to call
resin jewelry “enamel” is to borrow/use that association of what real
enamel encompasses. One can make very attractive costume jewelry
using gold-plated metals, faceted blue glass and resins but to call
it “fine jewelry” or “gold, sapphire and enamel” would be misleading.
Call a spade a spade and a hoe a hoe, as the old expression goes.

Marianne Hunter.

This is in reply to two different posts that touch on several
different issues. what is art, who is an artist, going to art school,
making a living, pleasing ones-self, doing commissions. Etc.

Going to art school neither makes you an artist or prevents you from
being an artist. Some artists do, some artists don’t. Some people, no
matter how much they study, do not become artists. Some people, no
matter how much they produce, do not make good art.

Making jewelry can be an art form, but it isn’t necessary to have a
successful jewelry business. There are 2 very different things we
are talking about here. One is a skill set. To me, soldering a head
to a ring shank is not ones “art”; it is ones skill. One can be a
very skillful, even masterful craftsman, but that does not make one
an artist. Using Tom Herman as a continued example, Tom is both
artist and master craftsman. It is his concepts that makes him an
artist, it is his skill set that makes him a master craftsman. To
clarify further, a master craftsman could copy Toms work, but without
the internal artistry, he could not design an ORIGINAL art piece.
Some can design a fabulous jewelry artwork, but could never pull it
off. One is an artist, the other is a craftsman. Some people are

I don’t think that setting someone’s stone into a decent ring is
necessarily an art form. It can be so, but a competent,
straightforward setting is just that.competent craftsmanship. Taking
a commission to copy is not art any more than being weird for the
sake of weird is necessarily art. Taking a commission that is against
your standards or beliefs is a choice some may need to do for one
reason or another. I don’t do it and am lucky that I don’t have to.
(No one could pay me enough, for example, to create something to tout
racism etc)

I don’t think one should hold back one ones inspiration. I don’t
think giving in to ones imagination is self indulgent by definition.
If what you design is what truly moves you. make it. If you fail, you
just may not make it as a jeweler. These are all decisions of degree.
what do you want? What is success to you? Do you want international
recognition for your art; do you want to live your art no matter
what; do you want modest success to live on; do you want a chain of
stores; do you want to be rich? What would you give up to achieve
these desires? What would you hold tight to achieve them? Are you
willing to hire help, take direction, follow trends, give your pieces
to famous people, sell your work for less than it’s worth? How hard
are you willing to work? What is your tolerance for compromise? What
areas would you compromise, which would you not?

Work with integrity. Work with heart. Do your best. If you are an
artist in your jewelry, grand. If you are a master craftsman,
wonderful!! If you are a competent jeweler, fine. If you make funky
stuff that you’re content with and sells, fine. If you’re an
international phenom starting a house that lasts for generations,
wow! As long as you are able to live on and with your work and are
honest with your customers, more power to you! Chose the path that’s
right for you and I hope it works out.

Time will tell how much of what we do is considered art by others
than ourselves. Marianne Hunter

I would, just at a guess, think that among many in this forum I am
just a mediocre craftsman. As an example when some retail prices
were being tossed around recently, I realized that I have only
made one piece that went over 20,000.00. 

Well, Thomas, I wouldn’t let that little statistic determine whether
you are a fine craftsman or not. I’ve seen plenty of real garbage
that had six figure price tags. At the same time, some of the finest
craftsmanship I’ve ever seen has been priced in the low four digit

It also seems to me that being a fine craftsman is kind of like
being a war hero. If you have to tell everyone how good you are or
how brave you are, you really probably aren’t. It’s the ones that say
they wish they were a better craftsman or “I just happened to be
there when it started and did pretty much what anybody else would
have done” that usually are at the very top of the heap, once you
finally learn the real deal. So you’re not fooling me, Bro.

As long as you brought up Van Gogh the starving artist and John
brought up the business of art, one aspect of the business of art
that is seldom brought up is the concept of “perceived value”. Van
Gogh was a starving artist because his work was perceived to have no
value at the time he was producing it. There are a lot of different
theories as to why that was, but my opinion is that it was Vincent,
and his abrasive nature that turned people off to his work. People
that knew him just couldn’t put the words “fine art"and"Vincent Van
Gogh” together in one sentence without gagging or giggling. It was
inconceivable that someone so personally detestable and ugly could
produce anything of any real beauty. So reviled was he to almost all
that knew him, that his reputation preceded him and consequently
de-valued his work whenever it was shown. He poisoned his own well,
so to speak. It took the better part of a half-century for the
personality of Van Gogh to be separated from the art of Van Gogh. Now
we’re putting them back together, but in a way only possible because
Vincent’s not around to screw it up.

At the other end of the scale, Van Cleef and Arpels just oozes
value. Doesn’t matter what it is, if it has their stamp in it, it’s
worth a lot. A lot more than if it has my or your stamp in it.
Perceived value.

We have more to do with the value that people perceive our work to
have than anything or anyone else. If people perceive your work to be
the work of a starving artist, they will be more than happy to help
you continue to starve and also to help you continue to spread your
reputation as an unappreciated starving artist. If they perceive your
work to have value above and beyond its component value, they will
pay you for the difference. You (Neil the Jeweler’s editorial ‘you’)
control that perception far more than you probably know, and probably
far beyond the people you personally interact with.

What this has to do with enamel, I’m not sure, but I do so love the
detours threads sometimes take!

Thomas, thank you for your service. People that haven’t experienced
it don’t realize how much that short term of service (and at the time
of yours, its incongruent aftermath) affects virtually every aspect
of your life for the rest of your life. So when I say thank you, it’s
for the service you are still rendering. I for one, will never

Yeah, I know. You just did what anybody in your shoes would have

Dave Phelps

So John, I have already said I agree with most of what you say.
Your life sounds like the one I dreamed of. I wasn't there, j 

I’ve enjoyed our little chats here too, Thomas, and I don’t think we
disagree about anything. I’ve been involved in art since I was about
5, and I’ve led an unconventional life until recent years. Was a
time I was the definition of counterculture, even before tattoos
became the rage. Your friendthe artist is no doubt a fine person and
a fine artist. My thoughts on this topic are not artist bashing,
it’s just about the realities of making a living at it. And Ted
posts a thoughtful article this morning about another POV - I wasn’t
always where I am either. I’ve tried selling at flea markets and all
sorts of things before I really go my feet under me. Jo-Ann is going
to teach her casting class next January at an accredited art college
here. I’ll go there likely more than once and offer encouragement.
There is background curriculum but at the same time the focusis
essentially “You’re artists, so make art!” with little if any real
guidance. Last year they latched onto casting bones and insects,
which isa fascination but I tried to urge Jo-Ann to try to curtail
it - she didn’tand it’s her class. Picking up sticks is art in the
art school sense these days, but it’s not craft and personal design,
which I think is far moreuseful. But it’s her class and I don’t
meddle. You know - actually making something. Instead of casting a
bee, why not just make a bee? Which is another conversation for the
coffehouse set.

I’m not just pulling these thoughts out of my imagination, I deal
with the young people in jewelry here locally all the time, socially
and business and in between, anda great many of them are just not

Let’s get a brand new single edged razor blade. I’ll make a fine
ring with it, mounted blade up. I’ll carve the shank with some sort
of Dante’s inferno thing of turmoil and pain and title it something
about suffering and it will be a wonderful, topical, work of art.
Seems like lots of pain in art the last few decades… I might
even sell it. It’s not like it’s difficult to do that sort of thing.

One of Jo-Ann’s most worn pieces that I’ve given her is a mokume
cuff bracelet. A strip of mokume set on a plain, sleek cuff, very
simple, very elegant, and very saleable if you can do the mokume

So, the question, the topic, the point, is which one are you going
to spend your time on? All - absolutely all - of the makers who I
know making razor blade rings are either teachers or something
elsebut they aren’t making jewelry for a living. I think that what
many young people miss is that they are people. What I do as a
designer is reachinto the pain one time, into the joy another time
and into any of the facets of who I am as it pleases me in the
moment. I can make the razor blade and I can make the bracelet
without grief or angst because I’m a jeweler. If you can only do one
thing then maybe some training is in order…

Everybody gets into this jewelry thing and wants to play with allthe
cool new toys and methods. I was no different. All I’m saying - all
I’ve been saying here - is that there comes a time to grow up and
realize that the bills have to be paid. Some people can do that by
making and selling jewelry. That’s all…

John D.

Marianne Hunter has stated it perfectly. If one makes a piece of
jewelry using vitreous enamel, it is rightly called an enamel. If
the product one uses is a resin, then the finished article is
resin—not enamel. To call a product made from resin an enamel is
deception. Alma

Marianne Hunter correctly said " Call a spade a spade and a hoe a
hoe, as the old expression goes. " A large part of perceived value
in jewelry has to do with materials - no one is going to pay the
same price for a CZ that they will pay for a diamond, regardless of
what the entire piece looks like. Same with enamel. I have seen some
really stunning work in resin - but it should be clearly called
“resin”. Nothing wrong with that at all! But resin is NOT enamel
anymore than the CZ is a diamond. Sorry.

And “soft” enamel entirely distorts what enamel is - which is
inherently hard! Has been for thousands of years…

So if you want to make resin jewelry go for it - no reason not to!
But in doing so celebrate your material! When you call something by
a name/term that really doesn’t accurately fit it, you leave the
impression you are trying to pass off something bogus - you are
trying to make it something it isn’t. And the clear implication is
that what it IS is less than the “real” thing the term refers to. So
if you call your work “soft enamel” you have just told me you don’t
think highly of your material, you wish you could do it in “real”
enamel, and you are essentially trying to fake out your customers.
Leaves me highly unimpressed.

Also remember that manufacturing terms and jewelry terms do not
always mean the same thing. you may have to learn more than one
“language” if you are going to have things manufactured (which is,
if I’m remembering correctly, part of the problem with the beginning
of this thread).

Beth Wicker
Three Cats and a Dog Design Studio

These are all decisions of degree. what do you want? What is
success to you? 

I’d like to comment on Marianne’s very thoughtful post, and some of
that is just to say that it was a very thoughtful post.

I wrote about enamel because an innocent lamb walked into
theslaughter and was promptly reamed, through no fault of their own.
That’s a topic I don’t care (don’t care being the operative words)
to discuss.

Jo-Ann has done contract casting for years for a very fine goldsmith
who carves waxes for stones, all different, all very contemporary
and stylish.

But the - what amounts to angst that Marianne talks about ismore in
agreement with what I’ve been getting at than maybe she realizes. As
I’ve said many times, I pointed this topic towards business - it
doesn’t mean it’s for everyone, it doesn’t mean that hobbyists are
bad or misguided or anything like that. And it absolutely does NOT
mean that everybody should start making Jared jewelry. I would hold
up Michael Goode as a good example, and there are many others. I’m
utterly progressive, not only do I acknowlege where modern jewelry
design is going but I embrace it.

It is just that simple, and it’s amazing how many people are unable
to grasp it - if you want to be in the jewelry business you have to
sell it - your skill and/or your designs and/or profit on precious
materials. And you do that by making things that people want to buy
and you do that by working on the winners and dumping the losers, no
matter how you feel about the work. You have to make it for the
buyers, not yourself. The hard thing to grasp is that this is not
optional. They don’t want, they don’t buy, you have no business and
there ya go. It’s just not the same world as making whatever you
want to make for yourself and screw them if theycan’t take a joke.

After going through the issues Marianne talks about, then you decide
if it’s for you or not…

So, it’s been said and others have said other useful things - I just
liked Marianne’s post. BTW, I never use the word artist in life, I
use it here because so manylike it and respond to it.

John D.

I have a major gripe with a local Arts College. They charge about
55 grand for a BFA in Metals. They say that they "Specialize" in
teaching how to make a living as an artist. When I asked students
what they learned they said "Well we had this class in how to
write Grants." I looked at one of them and said "Well if you are
any good at this you don't need to write grants. People pay you a
living wage." They looked at me like I was smoking crack. 

One of the first jewelry making classes I took was at Arrowmont. One
of my classmates was a young lady who was in a metals MFA program.

The instructor mentioned the basics of pricing items based upon how
much time and materials one put into them. The young woman was
horrified as the kind of items she liked to make would then be priced
way above what people were willing to pay for them. He advised her to
make things that would sell at a profit if she wanted to make a
living at her art.

She couldn’t grasp the concept and kept bringing it back up. He
would try to explain it again. It was kind of like the movie
GroundHog Day with Bill Murray, only she didn’t ever learn.

I was appalled that folks were coming out of an art program without
very basic business skills like that. Then again, I’m appalled that
people come out of US high schools without the ability to write a
coherent paragraph or do simple arithmetic, so I guess I shouldn’t be

I sent off to a number of universities for info on their graduate
MFA programs in metals and ceramics. I got some very fancy booklets
back, which often lacked fundamental like what classes
one had to take or could choose from. Their websites often lacked
that same too.


One of the programs included 10 postcards announcing solo student
graduate exhibitions. Each postcard featured one of that student’s
pieces. I assume it was the piece they considered “the best”. (Why
would one advertise using any other choice?)

I thumbed thru all 10 of them. Crap. Crap. Crap. Crap. Technically
proficient, but still Crap. Crap. Crap. Technically proficient, but
still crap. Crap. This might be good in lifesize, in person.

So, out of 10 items, 7 were pure crap. 2 were technically proficient
(i. e., well made) but still crap, and 1 was maybe a cool piece of
art. As an example of some of the crap, one student had stripped an
old car and put the leftover vehicle frame up on concrete blocks.
Hell, my redneck neighbors here in the south do that in their yards
with their broken down cars and trucks, and they sure as heck don’t
need an MFA degree to learn to do it.

I’ve kept those postcards so that if I’m ever able to financially
afford to enter an MFA program, I can use them as part of the
pre-signup negotiations.

I want to learn to make things of beauty using fine craftmanship
that people and their heirs will cherish for generations. I stand
with William Morris and his advice to keep nothing in one's home
that is not beautiful or useful. So, are you going to require me to
make crap like the items on these postcards in order to graduate?
Because if you are, I have better things to do with my time.

I don’t know whether I’ll be able to financially afford to enter an
MFA program until after I retire from my day job, but I know I won’t
do so until I get the right answer to my question.

using vitreous enamel, it is rightly called an enamel 

Why not just call it vitreous enamel? That shouldn’t offend anyone,
and will distinguish the product from whatever your customer calls

Al Balmer

Art and/or craft

I’ve found some of the discussion on quality recently and the thread
on soft enameling interesting, although I confess I could not read
through all the twelve paragraph philosophical musings so many seemed
to have on the theory of Art. I’ve been taking a ceramics course in
the Art Dept. at the local University, so I have been exposed to some
art students and some “Art” thinking lately.

My favorite story is that I saw a group of art students standing
around a work in the very large atrium where term projects are
exhibited. Now to me this particular project looked like angle iron
from a bed frame soldered into two slightly mis-shapen crosses that
were then set horizontally on a variety of legs made of tubing. On
this was hung various pieces of what looked like several pieces of
fur straggling off the framework.

The conversation about this piece seemed very earnest as I passed by
on the way to class. About a half hour later I had to return to my
car to retrieve something and they were still standing in front of
that piece talking.

Obviously there is something I am missing here and I also miss it
when people (not referring to anyone specifically) publish long
lyrical artist statements here with photos of their work. It’s nice
to know that you are inspired by nature or natural forms or falling
water (who isn’t?) but it seems to me either your work speaks for
itself or it doesn’t. I have a minimal idea of what the Etruscan
goldsmiths were inspired by, but their work speaks to me across the
centuries, as does their craftsmanship. Ditto Tiffany and Bulgari,
Vever and Lalique, etc.

Along with some of these artist statements I see rings that no one
in their right mind would wear to anything but a costume party and
bracelets which you could not get through a workday wearing. It may
be great art or not, but it still is not functional jewelry. Why is
it that the art world works like this? I’ve been very lucky that the
little jewelry and pottery training that I’ve had has been very
practical and sensible. Don’t make prongs that will break off, don’t
overheat your silver or you’ll never get the firescale off, don’t
make a pitcher which you can’t get your hand into to clean, don’t put
a handle on a cup that is uncomfortable to hold, etc.

Craft skill is rather obvious to those who take the trouble to
educate themselves a little about processes. Balance and grace and
harmony are easy for anyone esthetically inclined to see. Why all the
mumbo jumbo?


It’s not the skill differences between true enameling and using
resins, etc. It is the deceptive terminology being used to describe
the use of non-vitreous materials that troubles me.

And yes, the deception is deliberate, because the perceived value of
vitreous enameling governs the use of the incorrect terminology; an
attempt to hitch a ride on the back of the perceived value of
vitreous enamels.

Enamel has traditionally been used to describe vitreous enamel,
period. Anything else is simply not the same, not as valued, and, if
it is intentionally described as enamel, it is, yup, let’s call it
by it’s true name, fake, sham, fraud, imitation, and hoax. In other
words, it ain’t enamel.

For example, the beautiful work that polymer artists are doing
creating imitation wood grain, ivory, bone, turquoise, coral, etc.
those artists would never try to pass their imitations off as the
real materials. It would be considered deceptive to do so. So, why
must the term enamel be applied to materials that are patently
(literally) not enamel? What these resins, etc. are by themselves is
fine, as long as they are not being presented as something they are

Linda Kaye-Moses

(Local Colleges)

I read Jo’s post about the local colleges and had to reply because I
have the same issues with them in the UK.

A group of us from different companies involved in the manufacturing
of silver alloys (casting, rolling refining etc) have approached
different colleges offering factory visits and also to put on
seminars (no fee) to give students a feel of what real-life work is
like in the industry. So far, one factory visit of a dozen student
and no uptake on the seminars/lectures. We are offering this because
we want the next generation to have the understanding of how their
sheet and wire is manufactured and how large scale casting differs
from the small scale. Unfortunately there seem to be to many vested
interests with the colleges to actually allow people who do the job
for a living to be involved; much easier to produce non-commercial
designs and apply for grants.

How short sighted.

Charles Allenden

Dave Phelps and the jolly detour from soft enamels to perceived
value -

You are so right: perceived value is so important to our work (or
any artist’s work come to that)

I don’t make very high end pieces: I work, I like to think, in the
higher end of the craft-as-art market. Fortunately for me I don’t
have to make a living at this - a good profit to pay for my treats
and my horses suffices - but I do have to satisfy my deep-seated need
to create. So I create, and if others like my work enough to buy it,
that’s terrific, for it makes room for more creativity (and more

So where am I going with this as regards to perceived value? When
I’m at various shows displaying my wares, I naturally attempt to make
my booth look as enticing as possible, displaying my jewellery as
attractively as I can. I always do this, and I get many compliments
on my displays, and my work generally sells well. All good, of
course. However, I have found that when I dress myself towards the
"glamorous" end of my wardrobe, I sell heaps more than if I am
wearing simply clean and tidy casual clothing. Go figure! I began
years ago thinking that my work should speak for itself, but it
clearly doesn’t. It’s the whole package that does the talking. It’s
that perceived value thing.


Marianne has said it quite clearly, and my friend would be happy
with that. Should you be a person that believes in heaven, it
wouldn’t be hard to see a big smile on her face. Not just because of
the two posts here from Marianne, but for the ongoing discussion from
all the participants, because more than anything she was a teacher.
This forum offers much for a person who is even “just thinking” about
doing something creative for a living.

Here we are day after day with our wisdom and our flaws (with the
help of our unseen guardians of the flame), exposing ourselves for
who we are, in hopes of finding the answers for anyone willing to
join in. Some days it is just the thing to get me started thinking
about a particular solution for one of my own projects that just
won’t co-operate.

Going to work with a smile in your heart is what makes all the hard
work easy!

Thanks for the kind words, Thomas III

Yes Al. In order to avoid any confusion I always label and refer to
my enamels as “Vitreous enamel.” For my large wall enamels, the
label will read "High fired vitreous enamel on Copper."The other
termused is "Glass on Metal, which is the name of the publication
published by Thompson enamel Co. Still another term is “porcelain

As Marianne Hunter pointed out, it is the same enamel used on iron
sinks and tubs. It is also used on washing machines, and some
enamelists who do large wall enamels actually scrounge around for
washing machine lids which they then use for their enamels.


This whole enamel episode has turned into a soap opera of experts.
Let us get back on track and start contributing the really concrete
that we have worked a lifetime to learn. Chris

Craft skill is rather obvious to those who take the trouble to
educate themselves a little about processes. Balance and grace and
harmony are easy for anyone esthetically inclined to see. Why all
the mumbo jumbo? 

I blame the education system for all the mumbo jumbo. We were never
taught to write artist statements or apply for grants we were taught
to make real world pieces. The piece sells itself, up to a point. My
customers like to know how pieces are made.

But here in Oz the art jewellery comes with obligatory artist
statements, we call it bullshit in Australia.

Discussing the artist statements with art teachers at my school the
students take so long to do their work they don’t have time to write
"quality" artist statements. The students can’t see the point

When I was working for a government school I looked at the
requirements for jewellery courses. The students would spend most of
their time playing with words rather than making jewellery. That is
why our education system is going backwards.

At my school we make jewellery not paper work.

So a question for you. Then, why do you want to get into an MFA
program? You seem to know something of where you want to go, want to
make. why not skip the big program and learn what you need and go do
it? Just thinking out loud. Marianne