Crafting, firing and glazing a piece of fine bone china are all challenging and demanding processes, but they are only part of the story. In almost every case it is the hand painted decoration that will transform superb craftsmanship into an exquisite work of art.
There are many ways of applying decoration to ceramics, ranging from the use of transfers and printing to aerographing (spray painting) and to free-hand decorating, either directly onto the china before it is glazed or onto the surface of the glaze. Each method has its own advantages; but there is nothing that can match up to a piece of hand-painted fine bone china, be it a bowl, plate or vase.
Many of the skills of the ceramic free-hand painter are shared with artists working in other media, but there are also a number of differences, calling for specialised techniques. Consider for a moment the surface onto which the ceramic artist is painting; the smooth, glazed finish of a plate or vase, or the curves and contours of a piece of ceramic sculpture.
The colours, too, require special expertise. The development of the broad palette of shades and tones that are available to today’s artists has taken many centuries, for each colour must be able to withstand the very high temperatures at which the item will be fired in the kiln to seal the decoration permanently into place. Some pigments change colour during the firing process, requiring the pottery artist to understand precisely how the finished piece will look, which may not be the same as how it looks before it is fired. Certain colours must be fired at lower temperatures than others, while some colours require more than one application to achieve the required strength and depth, meaning that in many cases an item will have to return to the kiln several times during the decorating process, with the design being built up layer by layer.
The pigments themselves are derived from metal oxides – iron for red, or cobalt for blue. When the colours are combined with special oils to allow them to be applied to the bowl, vase or plate. Fat oil (a derivative of Turpentine) is used to make the colour stick to the surface, while other oils such as aniseed, clove, camphor and linseed ensure that the surface remains workable. It is aniseed oil that give hand painted ceramic studios their distinctive aroma.
The skill of a ceramic artist to capture a scene, or a detail such as a spray of flowers or the delicate wings of a butterfly, is something that is admirable in any medium, but to be able to achieve such lifelike effects when painting by hand on a ceramic item takes a very special ability and many years of training. Depending upon the subject matter, the outline may be sketched out first and the colour gradually added, often over several applications, to achieve the finished effect.
The finishing touch on many hand painted vases, bowls or plates is a band or a highlight in a precious metal such as gold, platinum or silver. These metals are especially delicate and are fired at a lower temperature than the other colours.
If you are looking for the perfect hand painted ceramic piece for an anniversary gift or other special occasion, visit Bronte Porcelain and shop the giftware hand painted section.