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Ceramic Painting Techniques

Updated on July 7, 2012

Make the Most of Your Ceramic Painting Experience

If you're like me, one look into a ceramic painting studio produces two emotions: Envy and dismay! Envy at the beautiful pieces painted by other people, and dismay at the idea of having to choose a ceramic, a theme, colors, and then trying to make something worth looking at once it's done.

In this lens I'll explore two ways to go about this, to either paint a pre-made ceramic figurine, such as an animal or seashell shape in a traditional manner, or to make up your own design on a platter or mug, or even a figurine, for that matter!

Choose How You Will Proceed

Paint a figurine, or make up your own design

To paint a figurine, have an idea for a color scheme before you begin. Get a palette with many spaces for paints and add your paints, lightest to darkest. It is helpful to write down on a paper the names of the paints and the order they're in, because sometimes one forgets exactly what color it is that was used before! This is especially true with ceramic paints, since when they're wet, they don't look anything like the finished color will be. Trust me, you'll be glad you have a reference when you go back for more paint!

Assemble your gear: Brushes, paints, water for rinsing, paper towels, and a small sponge.

Paint one color at a time, starting with the lightest colors - white for the eyes, for example, and flesh tones, if you're painting a figurine. (Of course, if you're painting a Martian, the flesh tones are whatever you make them!) Put a small dab of paint onto a round brush and paint the specific area evenly along the piece's natural shape. The paint dries quickly, so take your time and give it at least three coats! Why? The more coats, the more intense the color will be. If you mess up, wet the small sponge and wipe the paint away and start over! Ceramic paints are forgiving as long as they're not dried yet.

Also, it's easy to paint over lighter areas with darker paint, so don't worry if everything isn't within the lines! A thin liner brush is also good, though, for defining edges more accurately.

Wash your brushes as you go so the paint doesn't get all hard in the brushes. Dab them dry on a paper towel before proceeding to the next color. Keep your hands clean, too - it is easy to transfer paint from fingers to figurines by mistake!

Paint progressively from the lightest to the darkest colors, finishing with black and then metallic colors.

Finishing Touches: On your figurine, you can add jewelry, buttons, patterns on clothes, etc. If this is an animal figurine, how about a collar?

Now it's time to paint the eyes!

How to Paint Eyes

How to paint eyes: You’ve already painted the whites of his eyes, so choose a color for the iris, painting a circle with a round brush. You should cover approximately 80% of the eye area in the center of the eye socket. When you’ve painted this in enough coats to your satisfaction, add the pupil with black paint in the center of the eye.

When the pupil is dry, take the tiniest drop of white paint and place it off center on the top of the pupil, using the same direction for both eyes! (You don’t want light reflecting on the right on one eye and the left for the other eye!) Choose a side and paint light reflection the same way for a lively look.

Note: If you’re painting the eye of a cat, remember to give your cat a slit pupil for authenticity.

Your Own Design

If you are interested in painting something that does not have a specific shape to it that will suggest colors, such as a plate or cup, etc., it is good to have some kind of design in mind before you come. Sometimes it’s hard to get inspired looking at all the neat unfinished pottery, and daunting when observing other people finished creations.

If you have a design in mind, it is good to come with a picture of how you would like it to be, either the correct size if you know it’ll be for a certain item, like a mug, or at least have an idea that you’re going to be painting lobsters so you’ll be able to look at the pattern books when you get to the ceramic studio.

If you have a picture you like, you can trace a pattern onto a plate or other item with tracing paper; most ceramic studios have this on hand for your use.

The studio should also have stencils or patterns available for your use; you can trace through the stencils with pencils onto your ceramic item to help guide your painting. Don’t be shy asking for help in transferring your design to the ceramic.

Don’t worry about making smudges or going over the lines, because tracing paper and pencil marks burn off in the kiln.

Now that you’ve selected your ceramic item, settled on a design, and transferred your pattern, get ready to paint! Assemble your paint gear (see above), take a deep breath, and go for it!

Painting Tips

How to Get the Results You're Looking For . . . .

Color Wash: Blend a bit of water in with a color of paint to make a more subtle color. This is good for backgrounds when you only want a hint of color.

Intense Colors: A single coat of glaze will be transparent and brush strokes will be visible. Multiple coats will help smooth out the brush strokes during kiln firing and leave a true solid color. For the most intense colors, be sure to apply at least three coats of paint! Allow the paint to dry between coats; your studio may have a hair dryer available to make this go faster! Don't be shy about using it.

Dark over Light Colors: If you are overlapping colors, make sure the lighter parts have been painted first as the darker glazes bleed through the lighter ones . . . unless this is an effect you want to achieve!

What Happens if I Don't Paint a Spot? Unpainted surfaces will remain white. If your ceramic studio coats your item with a clear "overglaze," then the entire piece will have a glassy finish, the white parts glassy as well.

Don't be shy about asking the personnel at the ceramic painting studio for help; most of them are experienced painters and enjoy art.

For tips on special effects, see the Special Effects section below.

When your piece is finished, leave it with the studio to be kiln-fired. It will be ready to be picked up in a few days.

Read Up on Ceramic Painting

Special Effects for Ceramic Painting

The stuff I didn't know about when I went into the studio, sigh.

For a fun 3-D effect, try dry brushing! Use it anywhere you’d like to highlight any natural contours such as fur, skin, or clothes. Use black paint for shading; white and silver are great for highlighting. You can also get artistic by trying yellow over green, red over brown, light pink over dark pink, etc. What combinations can you think of?

Prepare to Dry-Brush: Choose a clean, DRY flat brush (MUST be dry!); pick up a tiny amount of paint with the brush. Now get rid of the excess paint by painting a paper towel or piece of paper until they’re barely any paint left on the brush. Remember, it’s supposed to be dry!

Dry-Brush Against the Grain: Drag the dry brush firmly against or across the grain; the paint should dry almost immediately. Continue dragging the brush over the pottery until the desired effect is achieved. That’s all there is to it!

Other Special Effects Worth Trying:

Make Dots: Use the other end of your brush to create dots! You only need one coat.

Splatter Painting: You can get a faux Zolatone effect by splattering a coat of very tiny dots of colored glaze. This provides a nice textured background appearance. Coat the bristles of a toothbrush or other very short brush with the colored glaze, and then slide your thumb across the brush while directing the spray toward your pottery.

Sponge Painting: Use a sponge to pick up a little of the glaze for a mottled effect; you can also take a sponge and make a “dry sponge” effect using a tiny amount of glaze over an area that has already been painted. This will give a great textured look after the piece has been fired; you can mix colors and vary the texture densities.

Straight Edges and Lines: Use masking tape to create straight lines and edges on your pottery. Place masking tape as desired, then paint over the tape edge. After the colored glaze is very dry, carefully peel off the tape. Make sure the tape adhesive does not remain on the pottery before painting over it, as it could cause the glaze to not adhere to the surface.

Want More Ceramic Painting Techniques?

Visit my lens, MoreCeramicPaintingTechniques for more tips!

Ceramic Painting Techniques on Youtube

There are many wonderful instructionals on how to paint pottery at Youtube. I recommend you surf over there since some of them do not post their links for us to use!

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      Haveagood1 4 years ago

      @VspaBotanicals: Your Message Subject or TitleApproved!

      (Boy, I like this way, it's really fast!)

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    • VspaBotanicals profile image

      VspaBotanicals 4 years ago

      Liked. FB liked. Tweeted. G+. Pinned. Thanks so much for the visit.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Check out Barbara's Studio of Ceramics on Facebook!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Great techniques. Thanks

    • Ivan Wozniak profile image

      Ivan Wozniak 5 years ago from England

      Thanks for sharing your expertise. Well done!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Thanks for the great ideas!

    • profile image

      julsho 8 years ago

      Hi, Just visiting lenses on Painting Topics.. You have a great lense, I'm an artist - but I paint on canvas. I loved ceramics in high school though. You have lots of resources here. Thanks for the info! Julie

    • profile image

      ChristiannaGarrett-Martin 9 years ago

      I love ceramics and pottery and I used to do repairs.

      Not so sure I would be great at painting though.

      Lovely Lens! 5 stars.

      Christianna

    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      Very nice lens - from a fellow artist, you've got it all going on!

    • lovemybob profile image

      lovemybob 9 years ago

      Great advice, welcome to The Painting Group too!

    • Stazjia profile image

      Carol Fisher 9 years ago from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK

      You make it sound so easy to take up ceramic painting, I feel quite inspired. Welcome to the Art and Design Group.