Bringing “Fioritura” to life and lighting it up – a journey through historical printing techniques

Those that have walked through a flower garden in full bloom at night will immediately understand the fascination of Ali Lanenga’s ”Fioritura” – the gentle glow of flowers in the moonlight – it delightfully captures the beauty of flowers in bloom as well as the mystery surrounding their glowing, phosphorescent appearance. As the artist, Ali Lanenga, suggests, it is how the summer bloom of flowers would appear in one’s dreams. If one were to then add the invigorating fragrances emitted in a summer garden, the image becomes perfect.

This image by Ali Lanenga has already been published as an art print – so why is it now being reproduced as an enamelled art panel? What is the “added value”? Enamelling adds something new and special. Enamelling gives clarity and a glossy finish – it allows the glow of the flowers at night to become more pronounced. Enamelling also allows to create contours – the flowers can be felt on the artwork. In short, enamelling brings “Fioritura” to life. Enamelling also transforms the art print into an enamelled sign. We all recognise the classic enamelled signs with the Latin names of flowers in botanic gardens.

The process of transforming the image into an enamelled art panel is a journey through the different techniques used in the past to make enamelled art panels. To prepare the art sign, we needed to use a combination of multiple techniques. Relief contours can be created through a stencilling and filling process. Stencilling is one of the oldest production methods used to prepare enamelled art panels. It is particularly well-suited for artwork with clear graphics and can also be used on curved signs. Interestingly, stencils are often “brushed out” in a negative process. One applies a layer of enamel and then brushes it away around the stencil. This way, the colours remain only underneath the stencil and can then be burnt onto what will become an enamelled art panel.

The filling method is a speciality of “Enamel Sign Painters”. Unfortunately, this craft is no longer taught and, currently, there are a limited number of craftsmen with the required skills. With this process, the contours of the print are first traced with an oil-based, water-resistant, top-layer and thereafter liquified enamel is "filled in". Subsequently, a sugar-glazed, embossed lettering can be achieved through a firing process. Our enamelled “emaille art” company sign was made this way. With “Fioritura”, however, the outline of each flower was too large in size. As a result, the picture had to be stencilled twice with white enamel and, subsequently, fired to make the contours of each flower visible and tangible.

Achieving a glossy finish on each of the different tones of blue was the next challenge. The first approach was digital or automated four-colour printing. We have successfully used four-colour printing to create the Cappiello “Cognac Monnet” art panel. However, this technique would not work with “Fioritura” because of its different blue colour tones. Enamel colours cannot be mixed. The colour effect, with raster printing, is generated through the presence of many small pixels. Furthermore, four-colour printing utilises two standard colours – cyan and magenta – which are not available for enamelling. As a result, not all motifs can easily be re-produced in the required colours with the desired clarity.

As a result, it was decided to revert to classic screen printing where individual enamel colours were applied. The screen-printing technique revolutionised the production of enamelled signs about 100 years ago, when stencils first started to be glued onto screens. Later, it was understood how to process these screens photomechanically. The process involves putting a light-sensitive material on top of the screen and following exposure to light, the exposed part becomes insoluble in water. One can then simply wash the unexposed part with water, and this will leave behind a very fine stencil.

In the prime days of enamel sign production, printing would have, most likely, been performed via lithography with a stone. In the art printing sector, this same process remains the “King’s Discipline”. This type of lithography was used in enamel sign production until the 1930s, because the stones were often used to prepare both posters and signs at the same time. Since then, however, lithographs have been prepared through the process of screen printing.

The goal was to light-up “Fioritura”, to bring it to life and to make it tangible. We have successfully achieved this goal, thanks to the craftsmanship of the team working at the enamel sign manufacturer Ernst Schmitt. We thank Markus Schmitt for joining us on this journey.

References and further reading:

Susanne und Alexander M. Zacke (1996) Emailschilder und Alte Reklame: Vom schlichten Werbeobjekt zum Begehrten Kunstwerk. München Wilhelm Heyne Verlag

Andreas Maurer und Koautoren (1987) Email-Reklame-Schilder von 1900 bis 1960. Museum für Gestaltung Zürich Kunstgewerbemuseum

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