An Adventure in Cloisonee

Who doesn’t admire cloisonee, the art form of using wire to create cells in metal and then enamel the cells? I recently did my first cloisonee. The amount of work required is quite large, but the results are worth it. I’m not going to go through a step-by-step account, but I will give you the general outlines of the process.

IMG_0605The first step was to make photopolymer (that’s another topic, to be discussed later) plates of the forms. As you can see above, I started with two forms. Since I only finished the one on the left, I will focus on that one here. The one on the right is reasonably close to being done, but I decided not to wait to do this post. The holes in the plate are there to let air out. Without the holes, air is trapped when one pushes silver clay into the mold, and the edges are not as crisp. Crisp edges are very important for cloisonné.


This is the silver part of the piece, molded, cleaned, fired, and tumbled like typical metal clay. For cloisonee to turn out right, it is important that the walls of the cell be vertical. This was done during the greenware stage.

IMG_0609Here is the back of the piece, with the wires in place. I chose an abstract mountain landscape, because I was working in the wonderful mountains of North Carolina.


Here is the first layer of enamel. The translucent enamels should go down before the opaque ones. That way, the enamel will seal any gaps in the wire, and the opaque enamels can’t leak. The colors become more intense as repeated layers of enamel go down.


Here is the piece, fully enameled. The enamel is not yet smooth, and the wires stick up. That is corrected by polishing and grinding, making the enamel smooth and getting the wires to be at the level of the glass. There are a few errors of enamel on the silver. This is not serious, as that, too can be ground away. The shading on the hills was created by using multiple shades of green enamel and placing one shade atop another.


Here are both pieces. Both have been ground down so the enamel is smooth. However, the grinding process makes the glass rough. One could leave the piece that way, if one wished. However, I went one further step and fired the piece on last time. This melts the top layer of the glass, making the piece smooth.


The finished piece! The brown represents the fertile valleys of the Appalachians, the green mountains are the mountains themselves, and the brown mountains are the dark hills beyond. The opaque green circle represents the fertile green hills beyond — always another land to explore!! Finally, the sky is just that — the clear sky of North Carolina.

Cloisonnee is a very rewarding, but very labor intensive, process. I expect that I will do more of it, but only when I have the time to devote to it that it deserves.






Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s