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Ceramic and Porcelain Decorating Part 2.

Last time I went over various ways to decorate ceramic up to and including the glaze firing.  But it doesn't stop when its glazed.  There are almost as many options available in the overglaze category as we have talked about up to this point.  Overglazes are an option that most potters and ceramics people overlook or only occasionally use.

Diffuser with Liquid Brite Gold
By Marsha Hedrick
Gold is one of the most common overglazes that you are likely to encounter.  It is often used to highlight an edge or to add a bit of interest to a piece.  It is rarely used for the entire decoration although it can be and that can be very striking.  There are a couple of different types of gold products.  The most common is the shiny bright gold such as you see on the photo to the right.  It is called liquid brite gold.  Technically liquid brite gold is a lustre.  It is a solvent solution that contains real 24K gold but in a very small %.  Most liquid brite gold has about 7% pure gold.  The amount of gold you end up with is very very thin but it fuses into the glaze and is pretty durable.  It will wear off in time with heavy wear, however, just like a gold plated piece will eventually wear through the gold.  If properly fired the liquid brite gold is probably more durable than the gold plated metal object, however, as long as you keep it out of the microwave.  Next in the gold group is liquid burnished gold.  This product has a greater gold content usually about 18% pure gold and it fires to a very rich satin finish that usually requires a little bit of polishing to achieve its true glory.  This is a more durable gold and it is not as glaringly shiny as liquid brite.  Next is Roman Gold roman gold is the most expensive of the golds and has the highest gold content.  It comes as a paste rather than a liquid and I believe it is in excess of 24% pure gold.  It also fires to a rich satin finish, however, it must be polished after it is fired.  Before polishing it has a dull brownish appearance.  Roman gold is what you would see on the handles and trims of high quality antique porcelain dishes.  In this same category there are other metallic lusters which are similar to the gold.  Liquid brite palladium, liquid brite white gold, liquid brite silver, liquid brite copper, and liquid brite brass all of which are lusters.  Little talent is required for the metallic lusters.  A steady hand and an even coat are pretty much the requirements.  Talent is again in the placement of the gold to enhance the design.

Luster finished Pendant
By Marsha Hedrick
Lusters include not only the metallics mentioned above, which are a sort of special case of luster, but a rainbow of colored lusters.   Many of the luster colors contain gold and therefore can be quite expensive.  The most well known luster would have to be Mother of Pearl.  It is often used on decorative china pieces and jewelry items.  It has that rainbow of colors that is associated with the inside of an abalone shell.  But Mother of Pearl is only one of many lusters available.  Lusters result in a pearly often multi colored finish.  The photo to the left shows how various lustres can be combined.  This piece has orange and brown lustres marbled onto a pale yellow porcelain.  It is then highlighted with liquid brite gold to finish it off.  The luster surface is somehow shinier than glaze and often has beautiful golden overtones.  Little talent is required with the luster just the ability to apply it smoothly and thinly as too much will result in it powdering off.  The talent here is again in how it is used to enhance the design.

China Painted Pendant
By Marsha Hedrick
China paint is a group of overglazes that allow the talented decorator to achieve very detailed paintings that are often very lifelike.  Portraits can be painted that have all the depth and tonal variety of a living person.  Flowers can be painted that have all the shadows and tones you would expect in your garden.  While designs can be transferred to the china using either a pencil or graphite paper the success of the resulting design is a direct result of the talent of the china painter.  China paint is for the most part translucent which allows for layering and shading as no other ceramic decorating medium.  It also takes the longest of any of the decorating choices discussed here.  Each china painted design can  be fired as many as 5-10 times or even more before it is complete, although there are some one fire china painting techniques as well.  The Pendant shown to the right combines several of these overglaze techniques and was fired about 6-7 times after the glaze firing. China painted designs can be soft and pastel or bold and bright.  They can be very finely detailed or with soft details.  They can be combined with all of the overglaze techniques and products to produce a practically infinite range of variety and design choices.  Although the basic use of china paint is not terribly difficult I would have to say this it the most difficult decorating technique because  there are more ways of using the paint, more techniques, more mediums and firing techniques than any of the other techniques.

Enamels are basically opaque china paints or you could say China Paints are translucent enamels.  They are the same enamels that can be used on glass formulated in much the same way as the enamels that are sold exclusively for glass decoration.  Both china paints and enamels can be used on glass as well as ceramics and porcelains.  However, the products generally referred to as enamels behave a bit differently than the ones that are referred to as china paints.  Enamels will tend to melt more and form an opaque shiny surface much like a detail glaze.  They don't lend themselves to shading or the soft floral type of decoration.  Think more of a cloisonne type decoration.  They can also be used to create a slightly raised detail decoration on the edges of designs.

Textured surface with gold
Pendant by Marsha Hedrick
Textures and structure products further expand the decorative possibilities of the overglazes.  With structure and texture products you can create a raised border, make it look like you are viewing a painting through a bridal veil, put snow on that mountain peak, or create gold nuggets.  Frequently textures and structure products are used to put gold or another metallic luster over as in the photo to the right.  These are what make the raised gold scrolls on the fancy china raised.  The textures are applied creating the design and fired then the gold is applied over the fired texture and it is fired again.  Textures can be tricky.  They melt to some extent when they are fired and how raised they are depends greatly on the consistency they are when they are applied.  They dry quickly so you are constantly adjusting the consistency.   It takes a lot of practice and patience to get it right.

Pendant with glass nuggets
embedded in textures
By Marsha Hedrick
By Marsha Hedrick
Finally we can add glass particles which can be fused to the porcelain with a fired cement or china painting glaze such as the 'snow' on my snowbabies which is fired on fragments of very thin glass.  Small pieces of glass can be embedded in textures to create 'jewels' which are set in gold (after you apply the gold to the surrounding textures) or like the photo to the left can merely look to be surrounded by foam highlighted in gold.

Really interesting and unique results can be obtained in ceramics by combining various decorating techniques.  In this series I've tried to single out pieces with individual techniques, however, with the overglaze techniques I usually incorporate multiple processes and techniques into each piece so you will see a combination of the techniques on each of the pieces featured.  You can see more of my work in my bead and jewelry shops at Amazing Porcelain

I hope you have enjoyed this look into the vast and varied world of ceramic and porcelain decoration.


  1. Thanks Marsha. I knew bits and pieces, but it's nice to read it all in one place. Where would one buy the "snow" as in your snow baby? I would love to make my daughter a snow man ornament

    1. The snow I use on my snow babies is marketed as diamond dust. It is a shredded glass product. There is also a similar product which is plastic so if you wish to fire it you need to be sure you have the glass version. Also you must be careful not to fire it too hot or it will melt.

  2. Long ago I bought some mother of pearl luster and I never used it. It was so runny that I couldn't figure out how it would even stay on an already glazed bead. I still have it. I should try it at least. I love the effects of how you use lusters.


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