Saturday, August 8, 2015

Laurel Scroll of Dame Estelle de la Mer

Long, long ago a dear friend said "If I ever get elevated, I want you to do my scroll." It was a tremendous honor, considering she is one of the best scroll makers alive. Suddenly a few months ago Baronessa Estelle de la Mer was put on vigil and it took two days for the panic-screams to abate.

For the design, Estelle said she wanted something fairly simple, her device and a laurel wreath. No calligraphy (she wanted to make it painless on the scribe). She found a wreath she particularly liked (the border in the below picture) and I started working on understanding the shading of the pieces:

For the border I chose a green glass that looks like healthy vegetation. I think of it as a "living green"

I ran into one snag at this point. The pattern I had cobbled together had a somewhat indistinct cutline, and I tried to make it work. I do this too often, and I know it's a terrible idea. I then spent hours trying to grind all five pieces into complacency, and the results were terrible. The gaps were large, irregular. As minor as it seems, I was pleased that I eventually realized the right course was to transfer a clear cutline to new paper and scrap the first five. I was unhappy at having to scrap a square foot of clear, but I would have been infinitely unhappier to give my friend crap work for her elevation to the Laurel. The above picture is the recut pieces.

For the center roundel featuring her device, I could only come up with a few ways to do it. The first and obvious way is just piecing it together. Because her device has a complex line of division (a chief engrailed) and a charge over a line of division (a mullet of nine points) I thought the lead lines would be too much. Discussing it with Molly here at Pennsic, she suggests that it would have been fine, and that the mind would ignore the lead lines altogether (particularly if they were not straight "industrial" lines, a tip she received from my Laurel). I'm going to sketch out a few ideas for paint-less designs and see how I feel about them.

Another alternative (suggested by Kirsten, my laurel) would have been to use flashed glass for one of the two colors, and enamel in the other one. With the terrible lesson I got about this green enamel (See below), I would definitely use green flashed glass and put in the blue with enamel if I had to recreate this piece today.

My past experience with Reusche enamels has been hit or miss. The first time I used the sapphire blue enamel the results were amazing. I've previously done Estelle's albatross badge with it, and they worked flawlessly. The greens I've tried (two different ones) did not give me the results I desired at all. I did some research and found Fuse Master enamels that claimed to have almost the transparency of stained glass sheet and their sample pictures showed the vibrant colors I wanted. I ordered two and did some test pieces:

When I do a test chip for a new paint, I try it spread thin, and applied thickly to try and get a feel for the range of possibilities. They do turn out quite transparent; I couldn't get a pleasing picture of the heavy green test with my phone camera, but held up to the light it was comparable to a dark green piece of glass. The blue picture here shows it well (I used a bit of waste cloth/aida to get a pattern for demonstration, placed below the chips. Just know that the green at full-color is more transparent than this picture lets out).

I mixed these colors with Fuse Master's recommended "Water based medium" for painting, because I wanted to eliminate as many variables as possible. Oddly the ingredients list alcohol, and when I used the "few drops" suggested, it had almost no grip whatsoever. In the future I may try this with gum arabic, and I have an unfired test chip of the colors on opaque glass.

I started with the green half, for no particular reason, and applied the paint and blended with my badger blender. Then I began scratching out the clear and blue areas. I fired two layers of green, trying to build up to the emerald tone I was looking for. I switched to blue at one point, and simultaneously realized I could likely get sharper lines by using a mask to block out the design. So I did... mid piece.

Two layers of green enamel, just before I laid out the blue.

Lifting the mask from under the blue enamel

Unfortunately I realized one problem too late: the lines on the green portion are less clean, and the rays of the mullet (star) are shorter on that end. I scratched them out by slowly easing out to the edges of the shape and looking for the tracing template beneath the glass. It caused some inexact shapes. The rays created with the mask (which was copied directly off the template) were sharper and longer (more exact to the pattern) but thus different. The differences are a bit more apparent in some pictures. This is the piece going in for a firing:

You can see that the blue-side rays are stronger than the green side's. Here is another shot, while I was cleaning up the blue enamel before firing:

I worked on the laurel wreath at this point. I took the original image Estelle liked and tweaked it so that the cut lines would be evenly on the 45 degree marks. The original had an irregular spacing I don't care for. Here are the leaves painted, before firing:

The one on the right hasn't been cleaned up yet.

I'm still working on good brush technique, but after awhile I got a groove while painting these leaves. I was pretty pleased with how the lines were taking the exact form I wanted, the paint was mixed right where I wanted it. And once I had applied mat paint and begun shading:

The central roundel had three coats of green, and two coats of blue. I don't know if the blue is stronger naturally, or if I had just applied it heavier, but I didn't feel the need to try for more layers of it.

I noticed that the template gave me some grief while blending. The paint could pool a little more right alongside the template, and various variations on blending didn't alleviate that. In a high quality picture or in person you can see a slightly darker outline right along the edge of the mullet/star's rays on the blue side. I came to two realizations; I need larger palettes to get my paint mixed appropriately, and I should try and use a stencil (a suggestion from Molly)

The 3-green and 2-blue piece. I noticed that the enamels appear significantly darker against the opaque stone than when back-lit, prompting me to prepare test chips on opaque glass. I suspect that will give a richer color with fewer layers/firings. Update to follow.

I used my typical silver stain, fired to 1000 as usual. I had washed my other silver stain-only badger blender to improve its performance. I blended the stain but I thought at the time it wasn't as even as I liked. I wasn't sure if I used too little oil (my preferred stain medium) or my blending was poor. Either way, the results were shocking on two fronts:

Firing the piece to 1000 yielded a green that was blotchier than before (the green looked fairly regular), olive, and almost opaque. I was very unpleasantly surprised. I was also unhappy with the uneven stain. I decided to add more stain to try and balance it out, but was unsure about the green enamel. The blue didn't react poorly. I suspected that the green did not like the lower firing, but I didn't expect it to change. Firing it back up to 1250 (This brand of enamels indicate they can be used anywhere above a given range, and may be used while slumping etc, so I used my normal vitreous paint program) would overfire the silver stain, but might fix the green. I decided I would rather have overfired silver stain than keep the green, which I considered a totally unrecoverable mistake.

I was right on both accounts. I couldn't fix the uneven staining with more stain, and over firing it did exactly what was expected and created a darker stain and the characteristic mother-of -pearl scum. It's only visible in reflected light, so once the panel is in her window hopefully it's not as noticeable. Someone has suggested they will hold the scroll up in Midrealm court during Pennsic--the thought is mildly horrifying :)

I had a good talk with my Laurel about how to install the glass into the frame, as I didn't have the framing buttons that came with the oak frame. I settled on caulk (which was handy as I later needed to repair a trailer mirror for a friend and used it again).

After I handed it to Estelle, she pointed out I had caulked it into the frame backwards. *SIGH*. Fortunately an easy fix.

The completed scroll. Click for super-big picture.

Lessons Learned
The haze. It's not purple.

  • A mask creates beautiful results, but needs to be used from the beginning for consistency.
  • Molly suggested that I try and use a stencil instead of a mask (covering the opposite portion). That hadn't occurred to me, but is worth a try! That would enable me to blend evenly and avoid the "dark halo" the mask caused.
  • Don't skimp on paint or stain and blend gently trying to conserve it.  Slather it on and blend it like a daiquiri that owes you money.
  • Center painted borders a bit better (that is, double-check the design you are copying :) )
  • Multiple firings might be changing the shape of the glass. Discuss with others...
  • Watch carefully when you are clearing away matted paint/enamel. I've never noticed this problem before, so I wonder if it might be tied to enamels/this brand of enamels/this brand of enamels' weird alcohol-containing "water-based medium" but after clearing it away there was a haze of it left behind. I caught it via reflected light at one point, and had to get Q-tips and start really cleaning the glass for fear it would fire in and be visible. If you look closely you can see it in this picture, near the top
  • A thought I had after is that, since the enamels say they mature somewhere around "1075-1150+" (I find it odd to give a range, and then 'or higher but...') with more time I could have tested firing the stain and enamel to a lower temperature that might not have treated the stain so badly, but which would have still given translucent enamel.
  • As if I needed another reminder, you can't use a poor cut-line think "I can just make it work" because then you recut the project :)

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