Enamelled metal automata with John Grayson

Ref: S4D29711

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About this course

Make a small individual automaton. Learn about using simple mechanics, fine metal forming and fabricating methods, and wet process enamel decoration techniques.

Course Description

You will make a small individual, enamelled metal automaton, approximately 100mm wide, 50mm deep (base) and 200mm high (base and moving parts). The project aims to give you skills and confidence in three-dimensional designing and making and allow you to explore personal creativity through automata making. You will learn simple mechanics, fine metal working processes, and wet process enamel techniques for decorating copper surfaces. This is an intensive course and requires some prior experience in automata and/or fine metalwork skills.

A design template for the automaton and its mechanism will be provided that can either be reproduced (for beginners) or adapted (for experienced automata makers) depending on your existing skills set. An outline of the automata mechanism will be sent to you prior to the course, over which you draw your own design ideas of scene you want to automate—the diorama.

The course will combine a series of process workshop demonstrations with tutor-supported student independent making time. On the evening of your arrival, you will have a course introduction, followed by a workshop to review and trouble-shoot your initial drawn design ideas. Through this, you will develop an understanding of mechanical principles needed to create movement in your object and will adapt your design accordingly in readiness for the first workshop day.

The first full day focuses on creating the automaton’s metal base and the mechanism housed within it. You will use a template supplied by the tutor to cut, form and assemble the base; and start to fabricate the mechanism in brass tube, rod, wire and sheet. You will learn to use a piercing saw and files and other equipment to shape metal, and how to drill accurate holes and solder components for the mechanism.

Day two concerns completing the metal mechanism and making the decorative diorama for your automaton. You will use your design drawing to create, in thin copper, the static and moving components of your diorama. You will learn to use hand tools—saws and tin snips to cut, and punches and hammers to emboss and form the thin sheet copper, and the methods of assembling these components, once enamelled, to the mechanism and/or base using micro-engineering techniques.

Day three will focus on decorating the copper using wet process enamel methods. You will learn how to apply and kiln fire it, exploring mark-making techniques including painting effects, stencilling, sgrafitto, to create painterly illustrative decoration.

The final day concerns bringing the automaton to life! In the morning you will assemble the base, mechanism and enamelled components. After lunch you will have an opportunity to demonstrate the automaton to peers before you depart at 3pm.

Please note: You must be able to move around the studio freely and unaided for health and safety reasons due to the nature of the hot work. If you have any concerns, please raise this at the time of booking.


Arrival Day - this is the first date listed above

Courses start early evening. Residential students to arrive from 4pm, non-residential students to arrive by 6.45pm.

6.45pm: Welcome, followed by dinner (included).

8 - 9pm: First teaching session, attendance is essential.

Daily timetable

Classes 9.15 - 5pm, lunch is included.

From 6.30pm: Dinner (included for residential students).

Evening working - students may have access to workshops until 9pm, but only with their tutor's permission and provided any health and safety guidelines are observed.

Last day

Classes 9.15am - 3pm, lunch is included.

Residential students are to vacate their rooms by 10am please.

(This timetable is for courses of more than one day in length. The tutor may make slight variations)

Course Materials


  • The tutor will supply most of the materials for the project, including copper sheet and tube, wet process enamel, and sundry materials needed.

What students need to bring

  • Design stimulus in the form of images and themes to inspire design ideas for your automaton, this could be birds in flight to ships on a choppy sea. A design concept drawing using the design outline which will be supplied to you once your place is confirmed by the Bookings Office.
  • Workshop appropriate clothing is essential apron/overalls and covered footwear wear during the enamelling process, with ties for long hair
  • Sketchbook for ideas development
  • Scissors, drawing pencils, craft knife, rubber, ruler

Available to buy

  • Available from shop:
  • Piercing saw blades
  • Paper and drawing materials for ideas development

Additional information

Please wear appropriate clothing/aprons for working in the metal/enamel workshop and studio, this includes stout covered footwear i.e. no open-toes or sandals. If you have long hair bring a hair tie/clip to hold hair back when enamelling and using the kiln.


John Grayson - Maker in workshop

John Grayson

John Grayson has 30 years of experience in making and teaching craft. His automata and narrative objects have been exhibited internationally, led to numerous commissions and feature in UK collections including the Crafts Council.  


Residential option available. Find out accommodation costs and how to book here.

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