BSOE at The English Bridge Workshop, Shrewsbury

Workshop Report by Jane Ball

The English Bridge Workshop in Shrewsbury, Shropshire hosted two days of BSOE workshops held on May 9th and 10th May 2009.

Day one saw 11 keen enamellers with a range of backgrounds coming together to learn about and take part in “Experiments with high firing and corrugated copper shim” facilitated by Van Long.

Van began by displaying a range of test pieces and final pieces showing how from one enamel it is possible to get a range of colours depending on:
· how high the firing temperature is
· how long you fire for
· how thick the enamel is
· how thick the metal is

Whites and ivory enamels give a wide range of colours such as gold, blue, green, pink and of course white. Enamels Van used on the pieces she had on display were:
SOJE 159 White
SOJE 88 Ivory
SOJE 157 White
SOJE 0141 Hard White
SOJE 625 Super Soft White
LJE 0137 Rose Pink
LJE T214 Ochre
LJE 0100 Soft White

All give different colours at different firing temperatures [820-850 degrees] from those gained at lower temperatures as intended by manufacturers.

Samples of opaque white and ivory enamels, high fired - Van Long

Van showed a range of 2D and 3D pieces using thin copper shim often corrugated to allow a combination of colours to emerge from 1-2 enamel coverings.

Test pieces and experiments - Van Long

The group then spent time crimping and shaping copper shim and experimenting with white and ivory enamels on their own 2D and 3D pieces. Van was on hand to guide and support these personal experiments, sharing her knowledge and expertise with each person in turn. Group members ended this inspiring day with ideas for future “experimentation” and designs.

Samples of experimental shapes - Van Long

Day two saw the group eager to learn from Ruth Ball about how she uses Riso screens and other methods to build layered images in her work. She started by showing a slide show of her work involving Riso screens. She supported this stunning display of work with insights into her thoughts/design process as well as technical information on how the various effects were achieved.

Ruth explained she uses a range of techniques within each project (Riso screens, cloisonné, foils, transfers, painting enamel, sgrafitto, stencils, stamps, etc). Her designs are inspired by a wide range of elements from architectural structures/urban features to nature and textures. Click here to view examples of enamel panels on her website.

A quick ‘run down’ on how ‘Adobe Photoshop’ can be used to create Riso screens followed, though I got the feeling a specific evening course would be required to fully understand the extent of what could be achieved using this software tool. A free version can be downloaded from, Ruth explained, which could be used to gain negative and positive images as well as ‘stamp’ and ‘line’ effects. More of a 3D image can be obtained when a series of screens are created from one picture and enamels built up one upon another using these various effects.

Applying riso image with sponge

Then Ruth demonstrated her method of using Riso screens. She uses repositional spray adhesive (the more expensive type she finds better than cheaper versions) sprayed very lightly over the piece, lays the screen in place on the piece and smoothes it down. Enamel is sieved onto the screen and rubbed across using a dry sponge. (Boots make-up sponge wedges were shown to be a valuable part of the enameller’s toolkit!) The screen is then gently removed.

She initially counter-enamels the metal by spraying the back with Klyr-fire or diluted wallpaper paste. A layer of enamel is then sieved over the metal, another spray of Klyr-fire made (the more Klyr-fire, the better the enamel will ‘set’) and left to dry. The piece is then turned over and enamelled on the front before the first firing. When ready to be fired Ruth places her pieces counter-enamel side down on a ceramic fibreboard tile slightly larger than the piece.

The piece made during the workshop demonstrated how Ruth builds her designs layer by layer. It was initially counter-enamelled, two separate Riso screens laid on opposite sides of the bare metal (care was taken not to lay the second screen over the enamel laid by the initial screen) and additional sieving of enamel over the piece, where some pieces were masked, using T6 white only. The fire-scale was used for effect (creating different coppery hues of green) within the second and consecutive firings. Blythe’s T6 Medium White was mostly used with a couple of other colours. The repeated firings and gradual build up of white gave interesting colour effects. Consecutive firings involved building on the Riso screens, using stencils and areas masked off using paper or wet newspaper. A useful tip when using paper stencils was to spray them before use with a fine spray of water. This traps the sieved enamel and allows the enameller to remove the stencil without enamel particles falling unwanted, back onto the piece when the stencil is removed.

An instructive 20 minutes was spent ‘rifling’ through Ruth’s stencil and stamp collection. She has a unique collection of all types of materials and objects, anything which can create a pattern in some way.

It is not necessary to use a frame with the repositional spray adhesive method of working with Riso screens. However if liquid enamel is to be used a framed screen is advised. The spray adhesive is easily rubbed off the screen when dry. Riso screens have a finite life and it is therefore prudent to make additional photocopies of the original images sent to create the screens if you wish to use them for a series of pieces.

A huge thank you needs to be given to both Van and Ruth for such an inspiring weekend.

Additional Report:

Rosmary & Jill - Veronica & Maureen - Ursula & Melissa

A convivial group of twelve: Ruth Ball, Van Long, Hilary Bolton, Melissa Rigby, Rosemary Zeeman, Carol Griffin, Hilary Lawler, Jill Leventon, Veronica Matthew, Dyana Symonds, Maureen Carswell and Ursula Taylor (recruited from the Guild, together with Jane Ball) gathered together on the Saturday evening for a sumptuous Chinese meal and lively conversation at the popular ‘China Rose’ restaurant. Many thanks to Jill Leventon for organizing this, and to her and Maureen Carswell for so generously giving B&B to members over the weekend (Jill had 5 to stay on the Saturday night!)

Melissa Rigby (workshop organizer)