Thoughts on Plique-a-Jour and other such nightmare techniques

by Sandie Bradshaw

Having done plique a jour for a quarter century now, I thought I would share my thoughts with you on my love /hate relationship with the media.

Unlike other forms of enameling, plique a jour is a demanding mistress. All cells must be under 1⁄4 inch to maintain transparency. You can make them larger and pay in transparency. They will take longer to fill and will not climb the side. A bit like a non-transparent water color. Hardly worth the effort. The production formula is 1/3 of the time is in the soldering, 1/3 is in the filling and the final 1/3 in in the finishing. If you cheat on any of the steps , the next step takes longer. It is truly a balancing act. To like to do it you have to be sick, and I am!

Tips on soldering: solder against a kiln brick. It will re-radiate the heat and make it so you only need a pinpoint flame to solder. Less melting, less bother, and finally less mess to clean up.

For ultimate clarity, hand grind your enamels from lump. If you are on the edge of a bowl, the last thing in the world you want is clarity. It is going to crack there. Use opaques, the cracks are internal and won’t show up that way. Look at all of Valarie’s bowls and you will see around the top edge threes are opaque designs. Now you know the reason.

A small demitasse cup takes approximately 40 hours to make, so for heavens sake pre-design well. You don’t want to spend all that time and have a clunker on you hands!! I personally rely on Japanese kimono designs. They are compact, well thought out and do very well. You will be repeating the design ad nauseum so make it pretty. The world and work has no more need for ugly things. Design well.

Less color is better in general. It is more dramatic and contemporary looking. Grinding is accomplished on the flex shaft and roll lock diamond pads.They are quick and efficient and if you are well oiled, the vibrations won’t crack the enamels. Finish off the smoothing with a heatless mizzy wheel and an agate stone or a steel stone pusher. I have found that little bits of enamel come off easily with the graver tool that is nice and sharp. It mars the metal the least as well.

Doing a bowl, I shape the kiln brick as a support for my soldering. I used bent dress-makers pins to pin down the design. I know that this is hard to believe, but I use a pin point flame to solder and powdered solder I acquire from My Unique Solutions ( It works like a champ. Paint it on with a nice sable brush and go!

I will be happy to show anyone who comes to my studio how to do this. It is easy!

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