We sometimes forget how difficult it is to make something until we actually go through the process ourselves. The artistry of porcelain and its intricacies are not well known and is mostly learned in the educated or the well heeled circles, and isn’t really known to the masses.
Powdered enamel is complicated to apply as it is difficult to be precise with colour and application.
In our blog we try to give information that we find is hard to find on the internet, as these methodologies of art are so difficult to research that some of our seasoned 30+ years Lladró collectors have not even heard of them.
Enamelling is hard. Why would an artist use enamelling, especially in porcelain when it achieves what can be done by using paints? The reality is that although enamelling does add colour onto a porcelain piece, the effect is very different to using regular paint. It has depth, translucence, texture, colour saturation and a richness that is not possible any other way. Making successful enamelled pieces is complex, however, it adds a beauty that is irreplaceable by other decorative forms.
WHEN DID ENAMELS START BEING USED IN PORCELAIN?
Enamelling is a technique found around 1600BC by some glass and metal artisans in Mycenae and Cyprus, when they discovered a glass material that could be melted on gold, silver, bronze and copper to create a layer that can be decorated with colour. The technique spread quickly to Persia, Russia, Greece, Italy, Germany and sparked a new wave of creativity and decoration.
The skin colour of Subtle Moonlight is the natural colour of gres porcelain, a porcelain mix with clay which gives the natural earthy tones.
The technique started appearing in Chinese ceramics much later in the 13th century, which progressed to use on porcelain in that same century. Firing glass on porcelain wasn’t easy as both have vastly different melting points, porcelain fires at approximately 1400°C, whereas enamel fires at 750°C to 850°C. Enamels were still used sparingly on porcelain until the 17th and 18th centuries when more enamel colours were available for use. This was also when the Japanese kakiemon ceramics gained popularity. In Europe, this was a technique used only on expensive porcelain as it was a fussy process but resulted in brilliant works of art.
It wasn’t until a new technique from 14th century France, ronde-bosse was developed when enamel was used on irregular shaped sculptures. Until this point, enamel was always used on flat surfaces. It is just easier to apply and coat in multiple layers when the thickness of the enamel layer is similar throughout the piece. When the enamel layer is thick, pits and bubbles form, an effect in which is impossible to repair, making that said piece defective. Enamel is usually applied in powdered glass form and can be messy unless you have a lot of experience with the material. It is also difficult to apply because what you see in powdered form isn’t the end colour - making it complex when applying multiple colours in the same area, or when making more intricate pieces with delicate lines or relief.
At first, they were used on small sculptures, but still on a metal base, and it is easier to apply and predict how it will behave in the kiln. Ronde-bosse was a step ahead from other methods like champlevé and cloisonné. The method was used a lot in religious decorations at first, but once people start seeing the results of this they were amazed at the effect it brought to figurines and sculptures, they started experimenting with larger figurines and adding it on with other media.
On porcelain, enamels give a deeper depth and colour. If there is a need for opacity or depth in colour, enamels add richness in that section and a textural interest compared to other finishes of the piece.
HOW LLADRÓ USES ENAMELS IN PORCELAIN
Lladró’s limited edition Koi is so realistic you’ll feel like you’re swimming underwater to see them.
Lladró uses enamels to bring their sculptures to life where paint isn’t capable of. For example, the seaweed of the Koi piece on the left is finished in blue and green enamels, which bring out the depth and illusion of it being underwater. The slimy and fluid characteristic of seaweed is also highlighted, a look that glazes aren’t able to achieve.
99% of porcelain pieces are made of white porcelain, which is also convenient for artisans to paint and decorate. However, the earthy tones of gres porcelain makes it difficult to decorate, as its colour is strong and any effort to add paint is futile. With all gres pieces, enamel is the best way to add opaque colour and texture. It is a much more delicate process than adding enamel to a white porcelain piece, discover more by reading it here. The enamel coupled with gres porcelain also means a more delicate firing process, and these pieces spend approximately double the amount of time in the kiln compared to a piece in white porcelain.
The painterlike and almost Ukiyo-e-ish scales of Lladró's Great Dragon Sculpture Blue Enamel Limited Edition is only achievable through an elaborate enamelling process on the alreadt textured porcelain.
The technicalities of porcelain is sometimes lost as there aren’t many people using highly artisanal techniques today. The process of making a piece is arduous and unpredictable which makes it unviable for most ceramic artists. Lladró is committed to keeping these traditional techniques alive by championing them in their High Porcelain pieces.