Glass + Metal.

Metal foil glass colorants

Describes how metal leaf and foils are used to color a glass surface

Metal foil colorants

All colors in glass are derived from metals dissolved into the glass when it’s hot. In the mid-80’s I began to experiment with metal foils on the surface of white glass to color it. My glass beads were derived from this work, and when I began enameling, I wanted to try these same coloring techniques to the surface of enamels, to put them on a larger canvas than what a bead surface could provide.

“Geoscape”, with various compositions of metal foils, 8” x 5”

“Geoscape”, with various compositions of metal foils, 8” x 5”

The metals interact with the chemistry of the glass and with each other to form a variety of hues. It’s about chemical reactions, not about mixing the colors like paint.

Metal that’s already dissolved in the glass will further affect the color of the metals on the surface. Some metals in the glass will actually inhibit coloration by other metals.

I’ve made hundreds of test tiles with copper, silver, gold, palladium and aluminum foils on various leaded and unleaded enamels. It’s an ongoing exploration, where I control firing times and temperatures as well as glass composition. Below are just a few experiments illustrating various types of metal foil colorants on the surface of enamel. Each tile is about 2” x 3”.


I especially love how the results of this technique are organic and can never be completely reproduced. The visual textures are often like the natural surfaces I’m attracted to, something that’s “of the earth” rather than industrially manufactured.

When I started exploring these techniques on enamels, I was hoping to replicate many of the colors and visual textures I had created on my glass beads. But because I’m now working in a kiln, the results are very different from those I achieved in the torch. Enamel is still glass, but one that’s a whole ‘nuther beast!

See metal colorants on my flameworked glass beads