The art of colouring metal

The art of colouring metal

The ancient craft of cloisonne requires plenty of patience and dedication. Our junior reporters learned that first-hand at a special workshop

Chinese cloisonne, also known as jingtailan, is an ancient art form used for decorating metalwork objects. It was once used for the benefit of royals, but the rare technique has been falling out of use. Only a few artisans practise it today.

Recently, our junior reporters took part in a cloisonne workshop, where they made their own pendants. Here they share their experiences ...

Ruby was our mentor at the workshop. She is a jewellery designer with a keen interest in Chinese industrial art. She first started working with cloisonne while taking a course in jewellery design in the US. She went on to further study the technique in Japan. She now holds cloisonne workshops in several secondary schools.


Tutor Ruby Man Kam-fung guides the junior reporters at the cloisonné workshop. Photos: Chris Lau/SCMP

"Handmade cloisonne is unique and more expensive, compared to items manufactured by moulding," Ruby said. That's because cloisonne requires a lot of effort and patience. One problem is that objects may change or burn after being heated. So she may need to change her design from time to time. That could mean turning an original red-transparent design into one that is deeper red and green.

SHeidi Kwan and Janet Tam

The process of enamelling involves applying different colours to a piece of metal, which is then placed in a pre-heated furnace for five to 10 minutes. This method can be very tricky. Different colours have different heat capacities so the temperature has to be carefully controlled.

When we tried to make our own pendants, none of us managed to do it in one go. Several times we ended up burning our pendants, and the colours did not come out right after a period of heating. So we had to repeat the process several times until we gained the desired result.

Photo: Chris Lau/SCMP

Here's a tip if you want to try enamelling: refer to colour charts available on the internet or in books. This way, you can find the right temperatures for different colours as well as for different metals. This might help you get the best results.

Kent De Jesus and Arjun Sivakumar

Many people associate cloisonne with China. However, the craft originated in ancient Egypt. People put tiles of different colours into pieces of silver wire formed into shapes, then heated them in big furnaces at high temperatures. Cloisonne was also popular in medieval Europe and the Middle East. It was used for decorating small accessories and staining glass windows in churches.


Photos: Chris Lau/SCMP

During the Yuan and Ming dynasties, cloisonne wares spread from Europe to China along the Silk Road. Local artists soon began developing their own designs. During the Jingtai period of the Ming Dynasty, cloisonne became known as "Jingtailan", meaning "the blue of the Jingtai era" thanks to the popularity of turquoise blue in local designs. The technique was used to make expensive gifts for emperors and to decorate temples and altars.

Tayce Hong and Minnie Yip

Young Post organises regular activities for its junior reporters. If you wish to join, please go to Reporters Club and follow the instructions to send your name, age, school and contact details to reporters.club@scmp.com with " jun rep application" in the subject field.

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