From Drab to Fab: Transforming Found Objects with Enamel

From Drab to Fab: Transforming Found Objects with Enamel

Found objects offer a treasure trove of possibilities for enamel artists. Applying colorful enamel designs can turn dull, everyday items into unique art pieces brimming with new life. Whether working with vintage kitchenware, discarded metal fragments, or thrift store finds, enamel provides the perfect medium to give cast-offs an eye-catching makeover. Follow these tips to start rescuing forlorn objects from the scrap heap and transform them into fab enamel creations.

Preparing the Found Object Surface

The first step in any enamel project is ensuring you have a properly prepared metal surface. While more uniform metal blanks are ideal, it’s still possible to work with found objects as long as some preparation is done.

Cleaning and Degreasing

Remove any dirt, grime, rust or oily residues from the object’s surface through cleaning. Some ways to clean:

  • Scrub with soap and water.
  • Use a degreasing solvent like acetone.
  • For stubborn grime, let objects soak in a degreaser bath.
  • Remove rust and corrosion with metal polish.

Proper cleaning lets the enamel adhere directly to the metal.

Filing and Sanding

Filing or sanding smoothes any rough areas and removes peeling finishes or paints. Start with coarse grit sandpaper or files and work up to fine grit for polish.

Be sure to:

  • Hand sand curved areas not reachable with power tools.
  • Smooth any pits, bubbles, or irregularities in the metal.
  • Get into crevices and detailed areas with needle files.
  • Avoid over-sanding thin metal pieces.

Checking for Holes and Gaps

Inspect your found object closely and use sealants like clear nail polish to plug any small holes or gaps in the metal. Liquid enamel leaks through openings during firing, leaving bare spots.

For larger holes, options include:

Applying Metal Screening

Very thin or delicate found objects may require extra reinforcement with metal screening to support the enamels.

Some ways to add screening:

  • Cut screening strips and wrap tightly around slender metal pieces.
  • Place screening over large thin areas and solder edges down.
  • Use metal glue or adhesive mesh tape on tricky areas.

The screening provides a strong foundation for the enamel while letting details show through.

Optional Patina or Texture

At this stage, consider adding patinas or textures to the prepared metal surface before applying enamel.

Some ways to impart surface interest:

  • Heat patinas with a torch.
  • Brush on chemical patinas.
  • Scratch or etch designs into the metal.
  • Add light hammer or shot peen textures.
  • Apply oxidizing agents for antique effects.

This provides extra dimension and contrast under the translucent enamels.

Selecting the Right Enamels

Once your found object surface is prepped, the next step is choosing your enamels. The enamel formula needs to complement and adhere to the metal surface.

Choosing Enamel Compatibility

Match enamel compatibility to the found object’s composition. Options include:

Incompatible enamels won’t properly fuse and may flake or peel. Ask suppliers to recommend compatible formulas.

Considering Enamel Opacity

Found items with existing patinas, textures and details look best with transparent or translucent enamels rather than highly opaque formulas. This allows the underlying textures to show through subtly.

Some enamel opacity options ideal for found objects:

  • Sheer transparent enamels tint the metal’s natural tones.
  • Translucent enamels impart a glow while letting details peek through.
  • Slightly opaque enamels softly mute the metal’s patterns.
  • A mix of transparents and opaques adds depth.

Choosing Enamel Colors

Select enamel colors that will complement or contrast nicely with the found item’s existing colors and finishes.

Some color selection tips:

Considering Special Effect Enamels

Special effect enamels like crackles, lusters, opals, and bubbles add amazing visual interest to found objects. Their irregular effects contrast beautifully against worn vintage items with existing character.

A few effect enamels that work with found pieces:

  • Iridescent colors reflect rainbow hues.
  • Bubbly transparent enamels appear light and effervescent.
  • Lusters shimmer against oxidized backgrounds.
  • Crackle finishes complement crazed ceramic items.

Design Concepts for Found Objects

Carefully consider your overall design vision for repurposing a found item with enamel. The enameling should enhance, not overwhelm the original item’s unique qualities.

Balancing Enamel with Exposed Metal

Don’t cover the entire object with enamel. Leave some of the original metal textures and patinas visibly exposed within your design. This creates an interplay between your additions and the underlying character of the object.

Highlighting Details

Observe interesting quirks and detailing on the found item and highlight these through your enameling. As examples:

  • Accentuate decorative molding lines with contrast enamel in the recesses.
  • Draw out embossed impressions with matching enamel shapes.
  • Make hardware, knobs, or handles a focus by enameling around them.

Maintaining Functionality

If repurposing functional items like flatware or kitchenware, ensure your designs don’t obstruct functionality. Consider:

  • Keeping handles free of enamel for grip.
  • Allowing vessel rims to remain unenameled.
  • Outlining the form but keeping key surfaces bare.

This retains the original purpose while giving it new life.

Creating Cohesive Stories

Let your enamel additions visually communicate the item’s history and new purpose. For example:

  • Nautical or beach motifs on salvaged boat parts.
  • Botanical designs on old gardening tools.
  • Calligraphy on antique typesetting trays.

This merges old and new in a natural way.

Application Techniques for Found Objects

Applying enamel to irregular found items requires adapting some techniques to ensure good adhesion and properly melted finishes.


Use small specialized tools like enamel needles and fine sable brushes to carefully apply enamel around intricate Found object details. Work in small controlled areas.


Build up thin wires of enamel that can be placed into crevices and corners. Use a specialty plunger wire tool to push enamel into recessed decorative areas.


For broad flat expanses, pour enamel through a sieve rather than painting by hand. This creates an even layer quickly. Use a wafer sheet on top to smooth it out evenly.


Fire smaller areas of enamel individually when working on a large multi-dimensional object. This prevents enamels running together across surfaces with different angles and thicknesses.


Prop pieces on stilts, tripods, or specialized firing racks to prevent enamel pooling unevenly. This allows proper heat exposure all around.

Finishing Considerations

The finishing touches you add put the perfect polish on your enameled found object creations. These details make the pieces into professional artworks.

Integrating Mixed Media Accents

Consider complementary mixed media elements to provide contrast against the enameled areas. For example:

  • Incorporate heat-set wood veneers around enamel sections.
  • Affix patinated copper foil details.
  • Add hand-etched embellishments in silver or brass.

Applying Protective Coatings

Use specialty sprays and liquids formulated to protect enameling on metal. This prevents chipping and wear, especially on jewelry and functional repurposed items.

Some topcoat options:

  • Clear enameling spray
  • Epoxy resin
  • Urethane

Creating Displays

For found object wall art or sculptures, integrate professional mounting, framing, or display settings. Some options:

  • Custom wood shadowboxes.
  • Steel wire wall hangers.
  • Pedestals or stands for 3D items.

Quality presentation elevates your finished pieces.

Professional Photography

Invest in compelling, well-lit professional photographs to share your found object creations online or at shows. Dramatic angles and backgrounds let the unique artistry shine.

Finding Inspiring Found Objects

The creativity begins with choosing which found items to transform in the first place. Keep an eye out for objects that spark design ideas.

Great places to find potential pieces include:

  • Thrift stores and garage sales.
  • Antique shops and flea markets.
  • Salvage yards, junkyards, and demolitions.
  • Your own home! Raid the attic, garage, and storage areas.
  • Hardware and building supply clearance sections.

The more unique and imperfect, the better for creative enamel repurposing. Let your imagination run wild as you hunt for forgotten items ready for their chance to shine again.

Breathing New Life Through Enamel Artistry

With some vision and skill, you can give discarded objects renewed purpose. Enameling provides the perfect medium to reinterpret and revitalize the worn and unwanted. Take pride in your ability to see beauty in the overlooked. Found object enameling is a gratifying way to practice resourcefulness while making each piece one-of-a-kind.

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