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A Guide To China Paint Materials, Techniques and Firing

China Painting is usually referred to as the method of painting on white colored and glazed porcelain objects. The type of paint used for this method is called an overglaze paint. This means it is designed to be used on top of already glazed porcelain. This is different to underglazes, which are generally painted on the raw ware and fired, and then the glaze is applied.



What materials should you use for China painting?

In general, China Paints come in the form of a dry powder and must be mixed with some type of oil to enable them to form a paint-like substance. 

There are two types of oil that are normally used and can be purchased from most craft shops or pottery outlets online. The first is the "open" or slow drying oil, which can take several hours to dry and the fast drying oil which normally dries within about 2-3 hours of painting. 

The difficulty with using oil is that it is very viscous, and beginners tend to use too much oil in their paint. This can result in running of the paint into each other and a lighter appearance of colors after the firing.

You can purchase other specialist oils for certain special projects, such as enameling and raised paste for gold but these should only really be used once you have gained some experience of glazing, painting and firing to achieve a good finish.

You will also need Turpentine, which is the best material used to thin the paint and to clean brushes. Turpentine is also effective when the cleaned brush tip is used to remove an unwanted area of paint as it creates a clean line.

Another useful item of equipment available is to have some very fine sandpaper. Sandpaper is used to sand the china between paintings to remove any residue of color which has not blended with the porcelain and also to smooth the surface. Denatured alcohol can also be used to wipe the excess dust off following the sanding.



What is the technique for applying China paint?

Generally, China paint is applied in stages, with firing after each stage. An initial base of colors is applied and then fired. Then more paint is applied and the piece is fired again. This goes on, painting and firing, until the design has built up in layers. The reason for the multiple layers, (often referred to as ‘fires’ because of the firing between each stage) is because the paint can blister or "pop" off if too much paint is applied at once.

Traditionally, the majority of China Painters paint flowers and fruit, as the paint and the material lends itself to these subject matters, however there are many modern pieces that use more abstract designs using a build-up of colors and layers.

An important misconception that many beginners have is that they can correct a mistaken brush stroke in a later fire. Due to its slightly transparent nature, China paint cannot fully cover other layers even after firing and they are still visible. This means that light areas of your design need planning to ensure that they show through.



Firing your China painted piece

First Fire

Prior to the first firing, a light coverage of paint should be applied with very little detail at this stage - essentially a base coat.

Often, the result of the first stage of firing is china paint coverage that is lighter than anticipated as it blends into the glaze, so be aware of this.


Second Fire

The second fire is ideal for adding definition to the design using shadows, textures etc. Additionally, the background might need more color, which can be enhanced at this stage. 

When this layer of paint is completed, the piece is returned to the kiln and fired a second time and the second layer of paint will be bonded to the first layer.


Third Fire

The third fire adds even more definition to the piece and additional detail to create depth or light and shade.


Fourth Fire and more

China painters will sometimes fire their artwork a fourth time or more. This depends on the intricacy of the piece and what end product is intended.

Additional firings may be required if you are applying additional layers e.g. pen or gold.


What temperature do you need to fire China painting?

Most China Painting is fired between a temperature range of 1112 degrees Fahrenheit and 1566 degrees Fahrenheit, dependent on the exact effect you wish to create. A little bit of trial and error needs to be undertaken to achieve the right results for your project.

The main consideration should be to fire items slowly and gradually to ensure good adherence to the glaze. An electric powered kiln specifically designed for china and porcelain is the ideal firing apparatus for this type of project. At Soul Ceramics, we have a range of electric powered kilns for this type of firing.

As with any ceramic project, the use of China painting involves experimentation until you have perfected the technique. Using the right materials in the right combination and applying the right heat to the piece is vital in achieving a successful outcome.


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