Usually modern glass enamelling or cloisonné work consists of applying powdered glass to metal, often silver or copper. The artisan cleans and prepares the base and quickly fires it with a transparent layer of vitreous enamel then coats it with a solution of gum tragacanth.
This temporarily holds the wire cloisons or partitions, which have been fashioned with pliers using fine silver or gold wire and arranged on it, until they are fired in place. The wire usually has a square or rectangular cross-section shape so that it will adhere well to the metal base.
The back of the piece is often counter-enameled, to balance the stress on the metal.
Successive firings build up layers of coloured enamel (glass) inside the cloisons, usually mixed to a paste with gum tragacanth. Each colour (which may be transparent or opaque) requires different firing temperatures, according to its composition, so the artist must start with colours which require the longest firing time and progress to those which have a lower melting point. Sometimes a transparent enamel is fired over an opaque one but rarely the reverse.
Enameling or cloisonné work requires great skill and patience as the layers are built up until they are above the level of the wires. The whole piece is then ground back level and given a quick final firing to restore its sheen.
There are different styles of enameling technique, including champlevé, where the silver metal is carved into with tools and the depressions filled with enamel. Plique-a-jour uses transparent enamel and silver or gold wire without a metal backing – assembled and fired using flat sheets of mica, which do not stick to the enamel.
This ancient art with a modern twist is practised by artists from many cultures, resulting in beautiful and diverse objects and artwork.
A contemporary perspective is given to this traditional art by Australian artist. Beat Urfer, who inserts jewel-like enamel details into his acrylic paintings to create a delightful little surprise the closer is one's inspection.
His subjects are often stories from his birthplace of Europe or those from Australia, his adopted homeland. Aboriginal stories as well as those of the early explorers interest him, as do the indigenous animals and plants of this ancient land.