About Porcelain Art
Article by BK Vrana
Porcelain Art, or China Painting, is an ages old technique whereby artist's paints are applied onto porcelain in the same manner
as paints are applied to canvas material, paper or any other material that is commonly considered to be a surface for applying
In porcelain art, the combination of several applications of colored transparent paints (over glaze) and firing in a kiln to hot
temperatures produces a translucent glow of depth in the artwork which enhances the porcelain piece.
Porcelain artists, to be successful, must:
- Know all of the "Art Rules:" Color theory, light theory, perspective, balance, etc.
- Have knowledge regarding chemical formulas and their applications. There are chemicals for mixing paint, applying paint,
dispersing paint, flowing paint, mixing metals, applying metals, etching the porcelain, texturing the porcelain, fusing the
porcelain with other materials and various other exotic techniques.
- Know which of the chemicals and the proper combination of those chemicals that can be mixed together, applied together,
applied next to each other, or applied over each other.
- Understand kiln firing so as not to melt, sag or break the china and/or glass; and not to fire out the paint, but to mature
paints that have differing heat tolerances.
photo by BK Vrana
It is said that the art of painting on porcelain or china is over 2000 years old. China is the home of the art-form, therefore
porcelain is also referred to as china. Once chinaware was introduced in Europe and eventually successfully produced there,
the decoration of the ware became of paramount importance. Decoration included: lifelike portraits of family members, birds,
animals; realistic scenes or landscapes, religious scenes, naturalistic floral executions, ~ in fact, all of the types of work you
would see in any art museum ~ with one major difference being that the porcelain "canvas" might have the added trimmings of
etchings, scrollwork, gold inlays, raised enamel, and other touches of technique which enhance the porcelain and the "prima
Centuries ago, there were many artists who became famous for their artistry and were in high demand for their talents. The
royals and the high echelon of society coveted and prized artistically decorated porcelain, thus they bestowed upon the artists
the greatest of respect and rewards.
Many artists in the European factories became widely known for their art, and many of the well-known masters of canvas and oil
first painted on porcelain. One example is Pierre Auguste Renoir, whose youthful experience as a painter on porcelain had a
lasting influence on his future canvas masterpieces. His early works on porcelain gave him the love of fluid transparency which
he applied to his later works.
A few hundred years ago, it became fashionable for young ladies of the gentry to paint on porcelain. They were required to
spend time painting when not tying a fine knot with their embroidery, practicing the piano or serving tea. The custom spread
over into the early years of U.S. history as well. Especially in the southern states, where young ladies were trained in lady-like
The natural progression of china painting through the years, from Asian influences to European adaptations to American styles,
provides a large area of endeavor for present day painting enthusiasts. A painter can not expect to learn it all in one lifetime, but
can look forward to a very pleasant journey of ongoing learning and enjoyable challenges.
Worldwide today there are those who enjoy china painting as a hobby and there are also artists who hone their talent and their
knowledge to become master artists. Sadly, the number of porcelain artists is few compared with the other mediums.
In our electronic, technical and mechanical world today, there also seems to be few in our society that understand the difference
between what is hand-painted and what is decaled or mechanically "painted." A young generation may never have heard of
china painting, or porcelain art.
For visitors to this page who are not familiar with porcelain art or china painting, the following is an elementary description of the
steps taken by the artist of hand painted porcelain:
A china blank, or a piece of white shiny porcelain (glazed) such as a teapot, plate or plaque is applied with dry paint (over glaze
- a form of glass) which has been mixed with a medium such as mineral oil (oils will vary according to the artist and may be as
exotic as capaiba oil or motor oil). The mixed paint is applied with an artist's brush (sometimes more unusual or exotic
applicators) that has been dipped into another medium such as an oil, petroleum product, turpentine, water etc. Once the
design has been painted, the porcelain support is placed in a kiln and fired at an average of 1500 degrees Fahrenheit. (The
temperature varies by artist, paint, porcelain grade, and application.) The heat of the firing softens the glaze of the china and
allows absorption or fusing with the applied over glaze.
Often, the painted porcelain goes through repeated paintings and firings before it reaches the artist's desired finished look.
There are one-fire paintings and there are paintings that may undergo many fires. The average number of fires ranges around
3 or 4 times. Gold, platinum, silver, luster and other special pastes and chemical mixes may also be applied for enhancement or
decoration. A similar method is used for painting on porcelain bisque (unglazed) and glass.
Texas Porcelain Art Clubs