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 “art.”

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:

Image 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 donna” artwork.

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 pursuits.

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.