Not only is enamelling superbly decorative and absolutely beautiful, it is a centuries old and highly skilled technique in which coloured glass is fused to a metal base with heat, creating vividly coloured objects that can withstand the ravages of time and wear. Most famously practised in Limoges, France, a new wave of artists in late 19th and early 20th century Britain saw interest in enamelling renewed as a means of artistic expression under the influence of the Arts and Crafts movement.
Encouraged by organisations such as the The Guild of Enamellers, which, for the past forty years, has dedicated itself to the encouragement and promotion of the art and craft of enamelling, there are new generations of enamel artists keen to explore this ancient craft in ways that reflect its historical importance and also take it in new, exciting directions. But first, a little foray into some enamelled treasures of the past: Archaeological finds such as this medieval (late Anglo-Saxon) copper-alloy cloisonné enamelled disc brooch (late 10th - 11th century), constructed from a base-plate of copper alloy and set with a cloisonné enamel pattern, demonstrate the longevity of this art form. Although elements of the brooch have corroded away, the enamel work is intact. Cloisonné enamels became popular in Japanese culture in the 16th Century including the decorative elements of weapons, both ceremonial and those designed to be used in combat. A tsuba is a sword guard and part of a sword mounting. It is mounted between the sword’s blade and grip to protect the user’s hands.
Edith Dawson was prominent in the Arts and Crafts movement that emerged in the United Kingdom in about 1860 and she worked very much in collaboration with her better known husband, Nelson Dawson. Nelson designed metalwork objects and Edith created and produced jewel-like enamelling to decorate them. They developed a particular style of the Arts and Crafts movement that embodied its core characteristics: a belief in craftsmanship which stresses the inherent beauty of the material, the importance of nature as inspiration, and the value of simplicity, utility, and beauty.
"So late as twenty years ago very little was known by people in general on the subject of enamelling; only the connoisseur and the antiquary in this country knew anything of what enamel meant … Now the word is in everybody's mouth, in all the shop windows." - Edith Dawson (1906)
Alexander Fisher (1864 – 1936), who was at the forefront of the revival of enamel work, was the son of a potter who had won a scholarship to study ceramics at the South Kensington School of Design in 1884. Fisher quickly turned his attention to enamelling, travelling to France and Italy to learn more about traditional techniques and, looking to the past for inspiration, produced many exquisite works. Historically, there are three principal enamelling techniques. First, champlevé, in which parts of the surface of the plate are cut away to leave a solid raised pattern. The hollows are then filled in with colours, and the article is afterwards cleaned, smoothed and baked. Next, there is cloisonné. In this case thin strips of metal are soldered onto the object, producing a pattern, with the spaces between being infilled with enamel and the whole object fired in a kiln. Finally, there are painted enamels, a technique for which Limoges was famous and which later was embraced by Alexander Fisher and his enamelling counterpart Sir Hubert Herkomer. Painted enamels are usually copies of pictures, applied to a flat or slightly curved surface such as a shallow dish, invariably made from copper. The article is first coated all over with a continuous layer of plain enamel, on which the design is added with successive layers of colour. And so to CraftCourses maker and enamel artist, Katie Sanderson.
"Over the past 14 years I have explored enamelling through experimentation. After first being introduced to it by my mum, who packed me off to Nottinghamshire with a kiln and a box of enamel powders. I then became mainly self taught through embracing the freedom of the kiln. I’ve expanded on that first box of enamel powders, and now bring in many techniques to my pieces and my teaching." - Katie Sanderson
When and why did you start practising your craft?
It’s my Mum's fault (love her for it)! In my late teens, I’d poke my head around the door of my mum's workshop and see her enamelling, then in my early twenties my then boyfriend (now hubby) and I decided to relocate from Wiltshire to Nottinghamshire for work, and my amazing Mum and Dad packed me off with a kiln and enough kit to get me started. I knew no one in Nottinghamshire and it was a good time to have a hobby, so I started playing with the kiln and now and again attended workshops my mum was teaching. But over the next 10 years, I treated it as a hobby that I did alongside developing my career and getting stuck into life in a new area.
But then it all changed after having my second child and being made redundant twice. A friend, who also ran a gallery, suggested I try selling my work. That, along with a realisation that I loved to teach and wanted to share my passion for enamelling, spurred me on to take my craft much more seriously. That was 6 years ago and I haven’t looked back.
Tell us about your workshop space.
I’m very lucky to say my workshop that sits alongside my home is in the heart of the gorgeous Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire. I have up to 6 students at a time; everyone has their own working space, set of enamels and kit to use during the workshop. I have one to two kilns running, depending on numbers, and invite everyone to enjoy the forest after enamelling with me.
What do students learn on your courses?
My workshops always give everyone a great introduction and fairly extensive experience of enamelling techniques. These always include sieving enamel, adding glass decoration, stencilling and wet packing. Depending on whether I have students coming back to expand their skills or if they’ve seen a technique they want to try, I also often cover working with silver foil and transparent enamels, high firing, Swirling, Sgraffito, etc.
Tell us about your team.
It’s me and the dogs!
Describe a typical month as a maker.
No month is ever the same, but I’m generally always teaching a few days from my studio and a few days at other venues across the country. I’m then busy working on commissions or pieces for a gallery and shops I put my work in each month. I might have the odd craft fair and days working in the gorgeous Boathouse Gallery in Tintern. We’ve also just started offering our Airbnb guest house which may come in handy for students travelling to the area so I’m busy with that too.
Do you still craft in your spare time?
"I don’t have any spare time" would be my first answer but, to be honest, when I’m not enamelling or doing all the other jobs that brings such as the marketing and the administration, and then also looking after the family, I’m generally found out in the Forest walking the dogs. But that often brings with it inspiration: this month I was collecting fallen debris of the forest to use as stencils.
What other craft/s do you love apart from that which you teach?
I’ve painted, done some encaustic art, plenty of sketching which I love but right now I’m in awe of ceramicists and I’d love to get my hands on some clay!
Who or what is your biggest source of inspiration professionally?
This year I was introduced to the Ukrainian enamel artist Olga Komissarova just via Instagram. On her Instagram ok.enamel she shares a video of her work that in her words is about ‘cities that no longer exist.” It brought me to tears and I’ve followed her work ever since.
What advice would you give to other people looking to teach their art?
If you love it enough to want to talk about it endlessly, and you’re passionate about it to the point you just can't help but share everything about it because you want others to feel that joy too, then do it!
What is the funniest thing to ever happen on one of your courses?