By Sarah Rees
My poor mom.
She had to practically drag us to art
class. Despite her
the fact that she
was paying for the lessons), my sisters
and I weren’t too interested. Porcelain
art just seemed so, so . . . boring.
However—because Mom was Mom—
Wednesday afternoons found us dutifully at our teacher’s house, trying some
typical, beginner-level paintings.
But something happened when
typical ended. We got fired up once
we realized that we didn’t have to
stick to the flower and fruit motifs so
closely associated with porcelain art.
Soon we were sketching colonial
figures in frocks and breeches and
phrases like “In Adam’s fall, we
sinned all” on mugs. We painted Star
Wars characters, tropical sunset
scenes, and Middle Earth motifs. “The
Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost
scrolled its way around a porcelain
soap dispenser. Elvish script, in real
gold, rimmed a bowl.
Mom was elated, and our teacher
was mystified. I don’t think she knew
quite what to do with your not-so-typical students.
Not to be confused with ceramics,
porcelain art is informally known as
china painting. It works this way: the
artist applies layers of overglaze paint
to glazed porcelain, firing the piece in
a kiln between each application. The
result is a type of painting that resembles watercolor or a type of sketch that
resembles a pen-and-ink drawing—
except it is on porcelain.
Maybe you’ve seen some hand-painted porcelain—displays at the
state fair or random discoveries at
antique shops. But chances are you’ve
never had the opportunity to try porcelain art yourself. Craft stores don’t
display the supplies you need.
Libraries don’t stock many books on
the subject. Even web searches are
disheartening. Because teachers are
few and special supplies are needed,
china painting is becoming a lost art.
Porcelain artists’ groups are mostly
retired ladies’ clubs who paint flowers
on plates. And while flowers and fruit
have their own place and style, relegating the entire art form to sets of
plates has diminished much of the
incredible potential of this fascinating
way of decorating.
Another reason porcelain art is not
often pursued today is the time-consuming process the art demands.
The artist starts by tracing a pattern onto
a piece of glazed porcelain. Mixing the
overglaze paint powders with oil, the
artist applies a thin layer to the china
and then fires the piece in a kiln. I fire
my pieces for forty-five minutes at a
temperature between 1,000 and
1,500 degrees. The piece is then
sanded, painted, and fired again.
The process is repeated
until the desired effect
A favorite quote dresses up this plain
tea bag caddy.
Painting a tile-and-iron trivet is a fun project.
Gold lettering scrolls across a pretty teacup.
Platinum adorns this
porcelain wedding favor.