by Jean Beebe

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Do you have Lusterphobia? Are you timid or nervous about trying lusters? They really aren't some mysterious material that you always have to be "so careful" with. They can be applied much easier than paint. If you are doing a ground with lusters, they can be a bit touchy, and you must be careful about the dust.. But for most of the time you can be pretty free and easy with them.. I have two very easy projects to get you started using lusters, one of the most beautiful materials available to us.

Less than thirty minutes total working time and only two fires will reward you with lustered jeweled boxes, paperweights or jewelry.

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This first photo shows how E-Z Structure Powder looks before firing. Mix it with milk and daub it onto the porcelain with the edge of a palette knife to create a relief design. Just gob it on , it should be uneven in height as well as width. You can see that I anticipated where I wanted jewels and left open spaces where they would be placed. Remember to keep your design a little to one side of the china so that you are not "cutting" the china in half with the structure.

  Allow the structure to dry, which will take 10 minutes or more, depending on the climate.

luster2.jpg (8208 bytes) Now cover a little over half the china with opal or MOP (Mother of Pearl) luster. Apply it with your finger and it will have more color in it. Cover the rest of the china with a halo luster..... halo gold is what I used - Apply three coats, allowing about a minute between coats. Then dip the brush into the luster and touch the tip of the brush to the piece and it will form the circles, each one encased in a fine gold line. Let some of the halo bleed onto the structure and also into the opal luster. Fire to cone 017.

NOTE: You can use base for gold instead of E-Z Structure, but you will have to fire it before you do the lusters because of the oil in the base. It will also give a slicker surface. The structure is more porous and when you put liquid bright gold over it on a later fire it will be a softer color because the structure has more of a matte surface..

luster3.jpg (11724 bytes) This is how the china will look after the first fire. Notice the deep purple color on the structure. That is where the halo gold touched the unfired structure. You can leave this purple when you apply the gold, or you can cover it. Also a third color was produced where the halo seeped into the opal luster.


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This shows the second fire, and finished box. Cover the structure with gold, do some penwork if you wish. I did a cobweb to draw the design out so the box wasn't cut in half by the luster. I obviously didn't follow my own advice or I would have let the halo gold bleed more into the opal at the bottom of the box. Select your lump jewels and hold them in place on the china with a drop of f using flux. The second f ire is to cone 018 to melt the lumps into rounded jewels and to fuse them with the porcelain.

NOTE: If you choose to use Dichroic glass, you should prefire it and then use E6000 Adhesive to attach them... Or you can plop them in a gob of structure or base for gold on the first fire, and they may or may not hold. If not, just use the adhesive after the china is finished.

Now, you have completed a jeweled and lustered piece that looks like it took much more time and work than it did. If you want to do some painting or design as I did on the boxes with the butterflies and hummers, you will need only one additional fire. Began by painting the butterflies/ hummers with china paint, and only enough penwork to establish their shapes. Fire, then do your two basic steps. Omit the spider web, and do any detailed penwork on the butterflies/hummers on the last fire. When you apply the opal luster, use your finger and go right over the fired china paint. Pearl lusters are not opaque, so you can put them over fired china paint, or you can put china paint over fired pearl lusters.

bflydish.jpg (17401 bytes) humrdish.jpg (13762 bytes)

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This also is an easy luster project. If one luster color runs into another on the bird, it not only doesn't matter, but you often get a prettier effect.

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Begin by transferring the hummer to the plate and painting it with the lusters. Note on mine that some of the luster didn't quite reach my tracing lines, and some spilled over the lines in places, but that did not trouble me since I would be establishing the design in another fire. Had I wanted to keep the luster within the pattern, I could have removed the excess easily with alcohol.


prehumr.jpg (13345 bytes) This plate shows how a hummer will look after one fire but before penwork. You can use this bird on any number of other pieces, not just this plate.


humrplat.jpg (18319 bytes) That intense plate border with its intricate circles is halo luster, probably the easiest of all lusters to use. The above shows the finished result after the third fire.


Here are the three easy steps to do the plate:

  1. Transfer a circle, the chains that suspend the jewels, and the bird to the plate. Using a small palette knife, string E-Z Structure Powder prepared with milk along the circle and the chain. Apply the lusters to the hummer. I used yellow, carmine and blue. Fire to cone 017.
  2. Cover the inside circle with opal. Don't be concerned if some spreads over onto the lusters of the bird. Cover the outside rim with halo copper. Apply three coats, allowing about a minute between coats. Then dip the brush into the luster and touch the tip of the brush to the piece and it will form the circles, each one encased in a fine copper line. Fire to cone 018.
  3. Again transfer the tracing over the luster and pen the bird in black. Cover the structure with liquid bright gold. Place some lump jewels along the chains, using household glue to hold them in place. Fire the plate FLAT to cone 018. The glue will burn off and the lumps will form rounded jewels and fuse to the plate.

If you suffer from lusterphobia, begin your treatment with these easy projects. Lusters are exciting and beautiful and nothing to be frightened of.

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I have never taken instruction using lusters, but through reading and experimenting and using lusters more than china paint for the past 8 years, I find the following tips work for me.

  1. Shake lusters well before using. (This does not apply to metals; gold, copper, silver, palladium or platinum)
  2. Clean china with soap and water (rinse, of course) or alcohol and let
  3. dry. Work in a ventilated room as the fumes are strong. Do not smoke when using lusters. Try not to put your fingers on the area where you will be applying luster.
  4. Keep the jar tightly closed except when in use; luster evaporates very quickly. Be especially careful to cap Halo lusters immediately after use, because they are chemically balanced to give the halo effect and cannot be thinned with solvent.
  5. Always apply lusters in a thin coat. If you put on a thick coat, some material may brush off your work after firing.
  6. Lusters can be patted with silk over cotton to get a smooth coverage. This does not apply to halo lusters, nor to opal, mother of pearl or other pearl lusters. The "pearl" lusters are best applied with your finger. If patted, some of the rainbow effect will be lost.
  7. Most lusters are designed to fire out a good solid color with one-coat application. Halo lusters are the exception.. You will get good results by applying 3 thin coats, (waiting about 30 seconds to one minute between coats), then dipping the Q-tip into the luster and touching where you want
  8. the "halos". I find that a Q-tip as applicator for halos works better for me than a brush. The lusters will not go on smoothly, but will streak as you apply one coat over the other. Do not be concerned, and do not over-brush. These streaks will appear metallic or darker colored and are part of the effect you are seeking. If they appear as long streaks, or the pattern is not to your liking, just touch with your Q-tip and a circle will form, eliminating the under pattern. You also can apply only one or two coats and then touch to form the halos; however, you will of course get less color or metallic. You can get some very interesting effects from the halo lusters, especially the halo metallics. You can also use a base coat of solid color luster and then touch it with a halo. I do this with halo mother of pearl most often, but any halo can be used over a solid color. Apply only one coat of the solid luster color, then immediately touch with the halo.
  9. Remember that lusters applied over an incised surface will have a matte finish versus the high gloss when painted over a glazed surface.
  10. You can dry luster more quickly by placing the china on a hot plate, or in a warm oven. If drying naturally, try to do it in a relatively dust-free place, or you might put it in a cool kiln. Lusters do not have to be dry before firing. Once the luster is dry, you can handle the china easily, but do so gently, keeping fingers off the covered area as much as possible. You can pick up a jewelry blank or other small piece by slipping a palette knife under it, or slide the blank onto a tile using a brush handle to push with.
  11. It is very easy to dip your luster applicator into the wrong bottle if you have more than one bottle open at the same time. I suggest you use only one luster at a time; when you are through with that luster, make sure to cap it and keep the applicator with it if you are going to use it again before cleaning. I clean my luster brushes immediately after use by dipping them first in Acetone and then washing in Simple Green.. rinse in cold water and let dry.
  12. Firing: Bring the heat up slowly with the lid off, or cracked, to allow the fumes to escape. Close the kiln only after all smoke and odor have disappeared. I fire most lusters 018 to 017. Firing at different temperatures will produce different shades of colors. If fired to 014 or 015 the halos, and some other lusters, may fire to a violet color. Luster color is affected by many conditions besides firing temperature: where it is placed in the kiln, what is fired along with the lustered piece, etc. If you have a choice, fire your luster piece near the center of the kiln rather than against the side near the coils.
  13. If you don't like the results, luster Whinks off very easily. Whink it, wash it with soap or alcohol to stop the chemical action, and give it another go. Whink is diluted hydrofluoric acid.
  14. Luster thinner and luster essence are the same thing. Hanovia makes Luster Essence for thinning regular lusters, and Gold Essence for thinning the metallics, such as liquid bright gold, liquid bright copper and palladium or silver. Halo lusters and halo metallics can never be thinned, since the solvents are present in exact proportions. Keep your bottles tightly capped and in a cool place when not actually in use and you should have no problem. I have used luster dispersant on occasion, and have also used alcohol as a dispersant; it's fun to experiment with all these things. One note of caution on thinning: Hanovia says to add Essence one drop at a time to avoid over-thinning.
  15. I'm often asked how to resurrect lusters that have jelled or become grainy. This is a real problem and just grinding with luster thinner or lavender oil doesn't really do a satisfactory job for me. I've had the most success by pouring (or scraping if it is really thick) the luster onto a clean tile, then adding some lavender oil to the bottle. Shake it to dilute the residue and add it a drop at a time to the luster while working it as best you can with your palette knife. When it gets soupy, discard any liquid in the bottle, and place a piece of silk over the neck. Poke it into the bottle to make a little cup and secure the silk with an elastic band. Now, scrape some of the luster into the cup and stir it to get as much into the bottle as you can.... Continue with the rest of the luster. When I do this I have a supply of freeforms I have made and/or incised pieces at hand. Use the saturated silk to pat luster on the back of the freeforms and to pat or rub over the incised work. If some grains get on the incised areas it only gives it more interest.
  16. Add opal or mother of pearl luster to your empty gold bottles. You will get shades of opalescent blues, from iridescent light blue to midnight, depending on how much luster you add and how much residue of the gold remains in the bottle. You can add some opal or MOP to other empty luster bottles to get various and often surprising colors. If you apply the luster with your finger, you will have a lot of iridescence. If you want your home made luster, or indeed any luster to be a solid color, pat it with silk. Twist a piece of plastic food wrap, or a piece of a plastic bag over a cotton ball or sponge, then cover with a single layer of silk. Twist to make it tight and pat. The plastic wrap will prevent the cotton or sponge from soaking up your luster. Work quickly, and if the silk begins to pull, stop.
  17. Add a drop of liquid bright gold to your opal or mother of pearl for more rainbow color.. you must be careful to add just a little or it will turn your pearl gray.. I'd stir a toothpick dipped in gold into the 1/4 ounce bottle. More of course for the ounce bottle.. dip your brush in some gold and scrape it on the rim of the pearl bottle.. shake well. If you do add too much and get a gray, I'd add a little more until it turned a bluish shade..
  18. One more thing about lusters. If you like the way the halos bleed into the opal as on the 2 fire covered box, but don't have halo, use two colors, spotting them in the area you want the halo effect, then touch with a tiny bit of luster dispenser or alcohol. It will make them bleed into each other and the opal.
  19. I hope this is of some help to you. Good luck with your experiments; you always learn something from them... and you will usually get a surprise.. often a very happy one.. Don't hesitate to email me if you have questions or problems..

Jean Beebe
Jean Beebe Originals

P.O. Box 17
Brookings, OR 97415

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