Glass + Metal.

Photographic Champlevé

Describes how I photo etch a grayscale image into copper, then fill the etched areas with glass


Photographic Champlevé

See the Center for Enamel Art blog for an illustrated step-by-step explanation of my photographic champlevé process.


Champlevé (“shomp-leh-VAY”) is an ancient technique that uses enamel to fill recessed areas in metal. I create these recesses by photo etching halftone dots deeply into copper. Then I fill them with several layers of enamel, firing between each layer.

After each firing, I grind off the excess enamel from the high points of the copper. I repeat this whole process until I have a bare copper surface embedded with a glass image that’s flush with the metal. I then blacken the copper with a patina.

“Pebbles”, champlevé enamel on copper, with glass stain colors, 4” x 6”

“Pebbles”, champlevé enamel on copper, with glass stain colors, 4” x 6”

Photo with halftone screen applied

Photo with halftone screen applied

Original pebbles photograph

Original pebbles photograph

Sometimes I will shift the colors of the enamel surface with “glass stain colors”, as in the “Pebbles” piece. This is a centuries old stained glass technique that uses special metal oxides painted and fired onto the glass.

However, the pinkish coloration in the “Salt Point” series is due to the color of copper glowing through white translucent glass.

The biggest challenge in doing these pieces is to keep the white enamel in the tiny dots - some as small as .25mm - “whitish” over 4 or 5 firings. To control the discoloration from copper oxidation, I formulate the enamel recipe and carefully control the firings.

“Salt Point Tafoni #7”, detail

“Salt Point Tafoni #7”, detail

 

When I apply this technique to a realistic photo made up of halftones, the image takes on a mysterious three dimensional quality. Someone likened the pieces to being “there and not there”. That seems to fit with the timeless, other-worldly quality of the landscapes I’m drawn to.

See the “Salt Point” champlevé series

See Basse-taille, the other process that uses etched metal