Introduction: Hand-Painted Pottery | Family Fun in the Studio

About: I'm a Nerd and a garage inventor. My dad used to say, "There he to 'The Lair' to invent something. Try not to burn the house down, OK?" I am a Graphic Designer & Illustrator from the South. I love…
Every week we block off time for "just" family.  Sometimes it's the weekend. Other weeks it's just a small amount from after school & work 'til bedtime. We reserve that time for us to get together and reconnect.  We've  grown to cherish the time we've spent together and sometimes we even have souvenirs for the effort we put into it! ⇒That's where this article comes in...

We recently went to a shop in town that has hundreds of pre-fired bowls, cups, dishes, platters, ornaments..etc. that you can paint and finish yourself. We spent about 3 hours in the studio and the pictures I'm attaching are some of the things we painted and brought home after they were fired. We don't store them away in the china cabinet. We love to use them because they remind us of the fun we had together; and perhaps some of the dumb choices we made when we painted our dishes.

My wife Brook painted the green quilted-style ceral bowl and the pink & white polka-dot ceral cup. She loves pastel colors and also enjoys layering paint to create raised, tactile textures.

The green bowl not only has a patchwork quilt-style of colors but also includes raised black markings.   The black hash marks are the 'stitches' in the quilting design and they provide a tactile texture to the bowl making it easier to grasp and hold onto. The green interior is stunningly beautiful in my opinion. The design was most likely inspired by the quilting project she completed just prior to our painting trip.

The beautiful cup is one of those oversized mugs.  It also has a beautiful, rich wash of color on the interior like the bowl, but is different in that the exterior is not 100% painted. Instead, it uses the contrast of a vivid interior and a minimalistic exterior so as not to overpower your eyes every time you want a sip of cocoa or a spoonful of cereal.

I painted the leaf-shaped candy dish. The inspiration I used was my memories of fall in New England.  I enjoyed living in Western Massachusetts for a few years and will never forget the wonderful colors and the shapes of the leaves that I saw during my weekly hiking trips.  I wanted to put a few of these colors on the dish to serve as a reminder for me of the great things I saw. During the holidays, this will do just that!

►What was needed?

+A little bit of money — Approx. $4 for a studio fee for the family + the price of the item we chose to paint and finish ($10 - $16  each)
+Time — I think we spent 2.5 to 3 hours talking and painting.  The time goes by really fast when you're concentrating or trying to determine the colors for a design.  We've done this three times now and this seems to be the case for each of us. It goes by even quicker when you listen to music and "get in the zone".
+Yet more time - The items are fired and glazed on a schedule that the shop or art studio determines to keep costs down. Everyone's pieces are fired together so you'll have to wait anywhere from a few days to a week before you get your "experiements" back. I say this because you never really know just how it will turn out.

►What did we use?
  • Brushes (varies styles - included with studio fee)
  • Pottery & Ceramic Paints (included with studio fee; specialty paints available for a very small fee)
  • pencils - to draw (lightly) our designs on the pottery
  • water - soaked hand towels to assist in cleaning
  • little glass cups for painting palette / paint wells

►What should I have done differently?

I should have brought inspiration from home.  A helpful hint would be to bring in any kind of inspiration that could help you. It's easy to bring in print samples of fonts, decorative initials, patterns, borders, color swatches or even vector art. Magazines are good too.  When I'm walking around and I see a product I like, I take a photo with my the cell phone and file it in a folder called "inspirations".  Those are always with me for times like this.

►I would also like to try laser engraving or etching various borders, patterns and vector art I've drawn over the years as well. I've seen the videos online how people have been able to do similar things and I think it would look awesome to use the laser on the items before (and perhaps after) we paint or glaze them. It'd make it sooooo much easier to dedicate art pieces to someone because painting text is not easy and it's time consuming. The laser could do it in under 1/2 minute probably. I've got a portfolio of stipples, botanical art and inked line drawings I've made that would look nice on plates or platters.

►What is the process for painting pottery?

  • 1st — Choose a piece of pottery to paint from the hundreds of pre-fired ones available.
  • 2nd — Using a pencil, lightly draw any guidelines or outlines that you may need to help you paint the design you want. I've even seen designs with just pencil or just a few painted lines with clear glaze on top.
  • 3rd — Select your color palette/choose your colors. Paints are usually included in the price of the studio fee.  Specialty paints (metallics, 'effects' paints..etc.) usually cost a little extra. *See the note at the bottom of the article about paints and their colors.
  • 4th — Choose a brush that is the best one for the part of the design you are working on. For details use smaller brushes; for larger areas use brushes with more bristles and/or a larger diameter--these hold more paint and spread it more evenly. Smaller brushes leave impressions in the thick paint and can thus be used for texturing. Larger brushes can be used for feathering or knocking down excess build-up. If you want to add depth to your painting check to see if the studio has paint specifically for that.  Some paints are extra thick and create raised edges while others must be layered repeatedly for that to happen.
  • 5th — Layer your paints for deeper, richer color. Always check the bottles for application information as some paints can be layered, some can be outright mixed while others cannot do either.
  • 6th — Repeated experience and advice from the artist in the workshop will be the best reference for guiding your painting experience. Ask for help all along the process to make sure you have a good time. If you ever decide to "Start over", most pieces can be rinsed in the sink and dried so you can do it all over again.
Note: Paints are usually not the same color from the bottle as their finished hue. In other words, what you see is not what you get.  Some colors won't even resemble the final color at all after they are fired. Specialty paints and "effect glazes" are prime examples. The paints change as your piece gets fired and some glazes deepen in color as well. Some have powdered minerals and glass in them and can change drastically too -- most often in a good way. That's why I think of this as an experiment--sometimes you just don't know what you're gonna get back to take home.

►For a successful effort in painting pottery, it pays to have access to four things:
1. Good Mental Visualization Skills - To help you "see" the design and its progress as you are painting it in odd colors that are not always accurate representations of the final color
2. Repeated Pottery Experience - building off of successes and failures of previous efforts
3. Luck - There are just so many pottery pieces, paints, glazes, layerings and design choices. No matter how consistent you are, there are always some variables in the pottery process that you have little or no control over. Your results will vary, sometimes only a little, but that uniqueness is what makes the finished pieces so wonderful and desireable.
4. Good Sense of Humor - Sometimes you have to be able to laugh at yourself (and others of course) and ask yourself, "What in the world was I thinking?"
I hope you enjoyed this article and the photos of my family's small pottery collection. We enjoyed spending time together and having the pieces to use afterward is a great reward to keep or share as gifts.

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