Thursday, May 1, 2008

May Day! Mayday! M'aider!

Oh frabjous day, calloo, callay!  It's the first of May and I'm in the mood for a micro trivia history lesson. Half way between the winter and summer Solstice's, ancient Pagan people noted the day with celebrations and festivals, later it was retained as a more secular holiday with dancing 'round the May Pole.  Today many countries around the world will honor the achievements of the labor movement.

Another version of the well known phrase, Mayday, was coined in 1923 by an English radio communitions officer who was asked to think of a word to indicate trouble or distress.  He adapted it from the French phrase venez m'aider, which means "come help me".

I spent the final days of April with friends - who generously answered my own m'aider call - learning to cloisonne enamel.  Cloisonne is the art of bending very thin, flat fine silver wires into an intricate design and then filling the spaces between the wire with vitreous enamel. When these cells are set on a backing it's known as Cloisonne, meaning "to partition". When they are open it's called Plique A Jour - "open to the light" or "open to the day".
As I said in a previous post, I hadn't prepared anything special for our play date and I ended up bringing a box pendant that I had made as a class project sample many years ago and never really liked.  The original project focused partly on the technique of resist patina, where you draw a design on metal with a resist material (we used nail polish or Sharpies), apply a coat of patina and then remove the resist so the color of the metal shows through.  You can download pdf instructions on this technique here.  
I had long ago re fired the box to remove the patina design and had never been able to think of anything else to do with it.  Well, things happen for a reason and just because something has been sitting on your bench or thrown into a drawer for years doesn't mean it's life is over.  I'm loving this piece now.  I shaped some cloisonne wire into the outline of a woman with a headdress similar to one worn in the 15th century and used double stick tape to temporarily tack the wire in place onto a piece of cardboard as I completed the design (thanks for that idea Michelle).  
Joining the wire to the surface of the box was the challenge.  Michelle and I both used the traditional method of applying a layer of clear enamel called "flux" to our base pieces, then tried to stand the little wires up with nothing to hold them still while we moved them into the kiln to be fused in place.  This is a really tricky process and we discovered that we had better luck attaching the wires in more than one (or two or three) firings.  If we had had some pure gum tragacanth we might have been successful, but we tried to substitute Klyr Fire (a solution of gum mixed with water) instead with less than brilliant results. Paige uses the new technology of Oil Paste by ACS to lightly tack the wires in place in a single firing before starting to add the colored enamel into the cells, which helps to further secure the cloisonne wire.  I'll definitely use this technique next time.
Since it took so long to simply make the design come alive, I only had time to fill one cell area with color.  We'll have another play date next Saturday to complete our masterpieces.  You can read a great overview of the cloisonne enameling process here.
So what are you going to do for your May Day celebration?  It's a bright, clear day in sunny Venice California and I know I'm going to get myself outside and sit on the little patch of grass outside my apartment building and enjoy myself.  If I could, I'd find a May Pole and boogie oogie oogie.  Let me live vicariously through you and dance as if no one is watching!  Then leave a comment and tell me all about it. 

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