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Painting pottery – Basics

There’s nothing more fun than getting involved with painting pottery and ceramic paints! 

Painting pottery – whether with children or alone in a quiet minute – it’s always fun! “How can I paint my pottery properly? What colors will make the paint stick to the ceramic?” To give you answers to these questions, just keep scrolling and reading!

The first thing to consider is in what form we find the pottery: glazed or unglazed. If you do your own pottery, it will still be unglazed, of course. Nevertheless, you can also buy already fired but unpainted ceramics for the beginning to try out the painting first.  

What is raw ware?

Raw ware, has been fired one time, it is unglazed and therefore still absorbent. In order to refine this porous and rough layer, glazes are used (before or after painting with colors). These seal the surface and make it impermeable to water. To bond the glaze to the raw ware, it must be fired – usually in a special kiln – at a maximum of 1080 °C or 1240 °C, depending on the raw ware. Please always inquire about the maximum temperature when purchasing bisque!

Before decorating, the workpieces must be cleaned of impurities such as dust and dirt by blowing them off or by brushing them off with a soft brush. Furthermore, the raw material must be checked for cracks and fissures before firing.

Stress cracks and glaze flaking caused by expansion of the body and glaze acting against each other during or after firing can occur, but are not a fault of the raw ware or glaze. To prevent this, a test firing must first be performed.

Raw ware, still unglazed
compared to: a Mocca-cup, already glazed

Painting ceramics: underglaze, inglaze or overglaze

What kind of paint do I need to paint ceramics? This depends entirely on the variant of painting:

  • Underglaze
  • Inglaze
  • Onglaze

Underglaze is the process of painting raw ware or bisque. If you do not want to potter your own work of art, but only paint, you can also buy ceramic blanks as mentioned. Look here in the store there are a variety of fired plates, cups or jugs that you can try out for self-painting times.

In the photos below you can see the underglaze technique applied to a raw fired piece of clay. The decorative color is mixed with gum arabic in water, then applied with a painting brush and allowed to dry. After that, the work piece is covered with transparent glaze (again let dry well!) and then fired.

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In the inglaze technique, also called majolica technique, a mostly white glaze is applied to the raw ceramics and then painted with decorative color on the not yet completely dried glaze, then the glaze firing is carried out at the appropriate temperature for the ware and glaze. This makes the color particularly durable, and with certain glazes the ceramics are even acid resistant and dishwasher safe. This method is used, for example, at Gmundner Keramik, as you can see in this pin here. It is more for professionals to use, since repairing is difficult here.

On-glazing is the process of embellishing already fired and glazed works. After the new color has been applied, the finished piece of art is fired again at a low temperature. During firing at approx. 850 °C, the color sinks into the ceramic glaze, which becomes soft, and a permanent bond is created.

💡Onglaze colors are made from various metal oxides and mixed with a flux. The flux ensures that the colors melt at a comparatively low temperature of 750-850 °C and burn into the substrate.

💡During the firing process, the color bonds insolubly with the base glaze or the glass piece and takes on its appearance, matt, silk matt or silk gloss.

What ceramic colours are available?

The colors are sold either in small pots (as in a paint box for watercolors), in squeeze bottles, as powder for mixing, or in ready-to-use form in small bottles. For underglaze painting, there are additional proprietary color, wax, and oxide pencils. In the craft store, there are porcelain pencils and spreadable porcelain paint that can be baked in the oven at home and is primarily for painting with children. Each of these types of paint must be treated differently.

How do I use wax crayons on ceramics?

Wax crayons, such as these from Ceraline, have the great property that liquid glazes do not adhere to the part that is painted with the wax crayon. This means that a pattern is created, as here on the right in the photo, which, on the other hand, gives the liquid glaze a completely different effect. If you accidentally drip a little liquid glaze over a wax spot, you can simply dab it lightly with a cloth before firing.

The liquid glaze used here is a rich sunflower yellow. Available here in our store.

Looking for more insider knowledge, tips & tricks? Here you can find everything about colors. Follow us on Facebook & Instagram!

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