Friday, August 6, 2010

An Interview with Barbara Lewis of Painting With Fire

Welcome Barbara! Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions for our readers here at Art Bead Scene.  Barbara is the founder and owner of Painting with Fire, an original technique that uses a torch to melt enamels onto metal.

ABS - Personally, I am enamored of your enameling technique, as it brought something that had been out of my grasp closer to me. I had previously tried torch firing and burnt my pieces to blackened crisps. Once I read your tutorial, I was able to set up my station properly and immediately started to see improvements in my enameling. Now as I see more and more artists begin to expand their skills into enameling, I know that you are the woman behind this. Could you share with us how you first thought of using a torch to fire enamels onto metal?

BL - I loved the look of torch-fired work … its rustic appeal is what hooked me.  But, I had no idea how to go about doing it.  I did an internet search and found that the developer of the immersion process lives in Clearwater, not far from where we have a second home.  Joe Spencer, 85 years young, gave me a private workshop.  He’s a wonderful teacher, but all the while I’m in the workshop my mind was racing with ideas of what I wanted to do with this new art form. My degree in ceramics has been a stepping stone to my exploration of surface color and texture with torch-firing. Oh, btw, blackened crispy edges have a special appeal to me!

ABS - I was relieved to see you started carrying enamels. When shopping on the Thompson website, I am easily overwhelmed and I have often purchased the wrong thing. With your easy going way and clear descriptions, I am able to see exactly what I need to complete an enameling project. What are your best selling enamels and do you have personal favorites that you like to work with over others?

BL - It’s easy to become overwhelmed with all of the selections at Thompson.  It’s a good thing that they have such variety … but it’s hard when you’re first starting out.  When I took my workshop, Joe gave me three colors to work with: red, white, and a red, white, and orange mix.  I left with the basic technique but no idea of the range of colors of enamel.  My best selling enamels are Robin’s Egg Blue and Nile Green (transparent) … probably because they are my favorites!  I recommend these because they are reliable and give gorgeous colors. Robin’s Egg Blue with Nile Green (transparent) on top gives a beautiful turquoise. Robin’s Egg alone is beautiful. If you add White to your inventory, you can put Nile Green on top and get a color I call, “Aqua Ice.”  I also like White by itself.  I know you’re thinking, “This woman is crazy!  White?”  Oh yes, because with torch-firing you can do controlled over-firing where you get some smoky hazes and very mottled surfaces where green, pink, and orange bubbles break through to the surface.  It’s very exciting!

ABS - I think that does sound crazy..... Crazy Beautiful! I have found the finished beads, pendants and headpins surprisingly durable. In fact just last week I discovered that I could shape and bend a 20 gauge headpin that had been enameled into an ear wire and hammer the curve!  Are there any limitations to enameled jewelry components?

BL - Enamel can be susceptible to chipping if used in “highly trafficked” areas. I don’t recommend its use in areas where there is a lot of friction and areas that are exposed to knocking.  For instance, in my rings with stacked components, the largest disc is usually etched copper.  The enamel discs are smaller and the edges are sheltered by the larger unenameled disc.

ABS - Do you wear the jewelry you make with your enameled components?

BL - I absolutely wear my enameled pieces.  They are colorful, lightweight, and work well with jewelry that incorporates fabric/fiber into the design.  Fabric is so hot right now in jewelry design and I’m enjoying coming back to my roots.  I started my college career as an apparel design student so fabric has a special place in my heart.  I also am crazy about the head pins and things I call “twisty tendrils” which are 5” lengths of 22 gauge wire that have enameled heads at each end.  These are very whimsical and come in handy in “dead” spaces, such as where you might have the hardware for a clasp.  They are easy to bend and are appear as unexpected spots of color.

ABS - I noticed you have a teaching schedule; could you tell us where you will be teaching for rest of 2010?

BL - For 2010, I have three remaining workshops, which are all in October.  October 2, Morean Arts Center, St. Pete, FL; October 16, Annmarie Garden, a Smithsonian Affiliate, Solomons, Maryland, and October 23, Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, Annapolis, MD.  In 2011 I’ll be teaching at my first Art and Soul Retreat, which will be in Hampton, VA and I’ll be teaching and selling beads and supplies at To Bead True Blue and Tucson Bead Show in February.

ABS - What do you envision the future holds for Painting with Fire?
BL - What do I see as the future for Painting with Fire … you mean besides taking over the world?!!! I want to expose more people to torch firing and especially the immersion method. I’m finishing up my projects for a North Light Book on torch-fired enamel jewelry, which will be released in Summer 2011.  I am proud of my work for the book … but it’s been very difficult not being able to share it with you right now! When I see so many happy people leave my workshops, their enthusiasm is addictive!  I know that they can achieve success with very few tools and with no experience. I love bringing people to the “dark side” … one by one!

ABS - I am definitely going to get a copy of that book!
Barbara, thanks again for answering questions for our readers. I, like many others, am excited about this technique and we appreciate you being so generous with your talents and experiences!

To shop Barbara’s Painting With Fire supply store, visit here;
Painting with Fire.
To shop for her gorgeous jewelry, please visit her jewelry store;
Barbara Lewis.
To read more about new things Barbara is playing in fire with, visit her
And stay tuned for Barb's new web site unveiling on August 17th;
Painting With Fire Art Wear!

Much Love & Respect,


mairedodd said...

excellent interview - thank you for sharing this with abs readers... barbara is an incredibly talented woman who we will all be hearing more from... and shan, you asked terrific questions...

Alice said...

I've been in love with Barbara's enameled beads for some time now. It's not a pretty sight--me drooling over the computer keyboard and the mere sight of the beautiful colors!

I'd love to someday learn this technique. If I'm correct, it is done with a lampworking torch and not one of those little butane torches. I don't ever see that happening in the near future.

Thanks for a great interview!

Mary Harding said...

Wonderful interview Shannon. All info I did not already know about this wonderful artist. Thanks for doing this in-depth interview.

Pretty Things said...

LOVE Barbara. I've already taken one class with her and just registered for her October class in Annapolis, MD (only one seat was left after I was done, a testament to how popular she is!)

Jeannie said...

Love the interview. She has some gorgeous jewelry and enameled pieces. I hope she would come to the Twin Cities to teach

Unknown said...

What beautiul enameled pieces!
How cant anyone be in love with them!
I am smitten! This is a wonderful article thank you Shannon and Barbara.

Judy said...

An amazing lady...such a great interview!

Gardanne said...

Thanks for the interview Shannon. This is such a fun and exciting technique, it has added a whole new dimension to my supply shop. I like this technique because like glass there are unexpected surprises in the flame. Can't wait for the book Barbara.

TesoriTrovati said...

I sooooo wish that I lived closer to Barbara or where one of her classes would be. Torches scare me (in a good,exhilarating kind of way) and I would love to explore the possibilities. I contacted Barbara to see if she would like to join me in my 'Inspired by...' exhibit and she heartily said yes! I had her create a little bit of everything inspired by the colors in one painting and I have used them liberally throughout my gallery exhibit. So versatile. And I love that she was so open to the collaboration, and me inviting her to 'play in my sandbox' as she put it! Barbara is a marvelous artist and mentor. Thank you Miss Shannon for sharing her with us!
Enjoy the day!

song sparrow said...

Thank you for the interview with Barbara! I bought some of her beautiful enameled filigree balls on Etsy. I love how they add size to my pieces but are still light as feathers. I have a pair of robins egg blue beads that i simply put on earhooks because they are so beautiful on their own. I would love to learn this art form from day! I will be keeping an eye out for any Canadian dates!
Edmonton, Alberta

Artist said...

Thanks for the interesting interview. Her art work is amazing. I like the colors. I am painting through synesthesia which makes me see colors when I hear names and numbers. These colors I transform in paintings. Colors are my life.

Cindy said...

What a wonderful interview with Barbara. I've had the good fortune of taking a class with this master. Barbara and her husband make a great team. :-)

Eve Smith said...

What a great interview, i also love barbara's work and she also got myself into torch fired enamel beads. She is a wonderful lady

Barbara Lewis said...

Thank you for your wonderful comments and for Shannon preparing a great interview. When I read her questions, I thought that she was reading my mind. She allowed me to get the most important information about the process out to the public. Although I would love to have you all in a workshop, it is definitely easy to learn on your own with the help of the tutorial. Just ask Gardanne!