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What Is a Porcelain Painter?

By Pablo Garcia
Updated: Mar 03, 2024

A porcelain painter decorates or paints on porcelain. Sometimes the painter is called a china painter or decorator because china plates are made from porcelain and often used as the object on which to create the painting. Objects other than china plates can be used for porcelain painting, including vases, jewelry boxes, cups, and serving dishes. Although many hobbyists enjoy decorating china, porcelain painting is considered to be among the fine arts.

Porcelain was first created in China. It is a combination of clay and the crystalline mineral feldspar. It is known for its hardness, whiteness and translucency. Although porcelain was freely traded, the Chinese kept the ingredients and process for making porcelain secret for hundreds of years. The explorer Marco Polo reportedly introduced china to Europe, where it was prized for its beauty and as a status symbol.

Decorative chinaware eventually began to be mass-produced in factories, where porcelain painters could always find work. Wars and harsh economic times eventually led to a decline in the creation and consumption of decorative china. In the 1950s, decorative china again became popular. Today, there are porcelain painting classes, schools, videos, and clubs.

Like other artists, a porcelain painter can choose any subject or topic for her art. Traditional subjects, however, include flowers, birds, landscapes, and portraits. There are also intricate patterns and designs of the painters own choosing. Most porcelain artists work in paint, but some use ink.

Painting on porcelain requires the same talents as those required of painting on canvas. A china painter needs an aptitude for drawing and painting and an eye for balanced composition. The work of highly skilled porcelain artists can be found in galleries and museum displays.

A porcelain painter uses the same tools as other painters, but her process of painting is particular to porcelain. For paint, the artist uses a mixture of minerals and dyes to create a paste. Colors depend on the combinations of powdered mineral used. Some painters use powdered gold to brighten colors. The artist uses a palette knife to mix the powder with mineral oil and achieve the desired texture and color of the paint.

The artist is not finished when the porcelain has been painted. The porcelain must be kiln-fired at extremely high temperatures, and then left to cool until it can be buffed. After it is buffed, another layer of paint is applied and it returns to the kiln.

This process is repeated five to seven times, until the desired luster and smoothness is attained. One way to tell if porcelain is hand-painted is the smoothness of the design. It appears to be part of the porcelain’s surface. There will be raised edges around the artwork of manufactured decorative porcelain.

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