Saturday, September 10, 2011

Fired with Inspiration (book review)

Immediately upon reading Barbara Lewis’s brand-new book, I can honestly say that I was all-fired-up (if you’ll excuse the pun) to try my hand at her techniques. Torch-Fired Enamel Jewelry is one of those rare art/craft books that actually delivers on the two most important qualities I look for: useful information and plenty of inspiration to fuel my own creative endeavors.
I say “useful” because I was able to put Barbara’s techniques into practice immediately, and I’ve already made several small pieces of enameled jewelry components without any experience previous to reading her book. I’ve really enjoyed making my own copper and silver enameled headpins, small disks, hammered copper washers, and metal beads. I’ve learned from Barbara’s book how to properly set up a map-gas torch (butane will melt the enamel, but it turns all your colors into grey mush!), safety issues, types of enamel best for torch firing, and how to torch-fire enamel the metal itself.
She also explains related techniques such as balling up wire to make a “heat rivet,” how to etch copper sheet, and basic wire-working methods. From there, it’s on to the project section, which is where I find so much inspiration.
Barbara favors the trendy “messy metal-smithing” style that is so popular these days, so if you prefer perfect, pristine enameled jewelry (which is almost always achieved via kiln-firing), you are better off with Linda Darty’s classic text, The Art of Enameling. But if you emulate the artists of today who are working in mixed media, alternative metals, fibers, daring color combinations and texture without perfection, you will be inspired by Barbara’s book.
For example, some of her metal pieces are deliberately cut into odd shapes, forged imperfectly, burnt, and appear to be a bit wobbly and off-kilter. I love it! You may or may not. A good example of this is the “Achilles’ Shield” bracelet on page 48: A piece of metal is cut out with an organic shape, holes punched randomly, and torch-fire enameled in such a way as to deliberately cause the copper oxides to bubble up to the surface. This instantly creates an aged look to an otherwise brand-new piece, but enamel purists will point out that it is not perfect. That’s the whole point! I LOVE this look, and after reading through Barbara’s process I was able to achieve a similar appearance on some metal I’ve been working with.
Another great thing about this book is Barbara’s use of color. She is gifted in this area, and her brightly colored beads, baubles and jewelry components reflect this. She has experimented with overlays of opaque and transparent enamels to achieve various effects, and challenges the reader to try it too. She also incorporates other items into her mixed-media jewelry pieces such as yarn, leather, fabric strips, beads, chain, threads, brass parts, watch parts, nuts & bolts, even horsehair!
If you make every project in Torch Fired Enamel Jewelry, you will not only learn how to torch-fire enamel. You will learn basic soldering skills, cutting and forging metal, texturing techniques, bead stringing and knotting, wireworking, riveting, dapping, even cutting fabric strips on the bias (useful for jewelry artists).
To sum up, Torch Fired Enamel Jewelry is a content-rich resource, perfect for the home-based artist/crafter eager to get started in this exciting art form. I recommend it highly!


bwheather said...

Sounds like a great book to get hold of. Thanks for the review. ;-)

Barbara Lewis said...

Sharilyn, I'm humbled by your comments ... thank you. :-)

Alice said...

I've had this book on my wish list since it came out. Thanks for the great review!

KayzKreationz said...

What a wonderful review. I just got her book and am up to the project part now. I'm loving it. I love non-perfect assymetrical designs. And I love metal and color, so I'm thoroughly enjoying her book.
I've also got several of your books and LOVE them. I love the easy way you teach how to do the projects and components in your book. I've used them over and over. Thanks so much.
I'm a follower of your blog, too.

moonlitfantaseas said...

great review! I have the book and love it! Took the class loved it too!