Flight of Fancy

You've seen most of these pics before, but I thought it might be helpful to put them in the correct order and make a little narrative that illustrates my process...

My primary goal for this piece was to capture the fluid movement and glittering color palette of a dragon in flight. I made many sketches and finally settled on a two-piece design whereby the dragon's wing would be separate from the body. This would add both an additional element of motion to the piece, as well as make it comfortable to wear.

The first step in the process is to create the base in which to inlay the cloisonne enamels. I cut out the design from a sheet of 20 gauge fine silver and then fused it to another sheet of 20 gauge fine silver.

Figure 1: Fusing the Fine Silver to create a base

I don't use solder, because the enamels would react to the materials in the solder and the purity of the colors would be lost. This was the largest design in silver that I have ever fused, and it was a little tricky. I heated it from below using a torch until the silver just started to shimmer, then backed off the heat, let it cool, and hammered it flat again. After the base was fused, I again used a saw to cut the design out of the silver base, filed the edges, and shaped it with a soft mallet to be slightly convex in shape.

Figure 2: The finished base and the wires

I use fine silver wire of various gauges (22, 20, 18 gauge) and mill them by hand to create the cloisonné strips. I like to use various thicknesses to add dimension to my designs.

Figure 3: The wires have been fired into place

After applying counter enamel to the reverse of the piece, I sifted some clear enamel and then carefully began the process of laying in the wires. I did this in several stages, starting with the main shapes and then slowly adding the rest of the wires, firing in stages to keep things from shifting.

Next comes the best part of all- adding the colors! By far, this is my favorite step in the whole process. I use leaded enamels, and wash them thoroughly at least 10 times with distilled water. I chose a color palette of greens, blues, and aqua for my dragon. I used a brush to add the grains of enamels in between the wires, and fired in between each coat. After many firings, the enamels were flush to the top of the base and I added a coat of clear enamel for good measure.

Then I ground down the enamels using diamond files and various grits of sandpaper until the piece was completely flush with the base. I added more clear enamels to the areas that weren't quite flush and fired the piece again. I worked my way by hand through the various grits of sandpapers – 220 through 4000, then fired the piece one last time to give the glass a perfect brilliance.

To finish, I fabricated a chain of 18 gauge fine silver links that were shaped like flames to compliment my dragon and add a little whimsy to the final design.