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Porcelain Painting


China painting porcelain From Marina's blog. Painting a porcelain doll takes several days because China paint is transparent and the depth of colour must be built up in layers with a firing between each layer."

China Paint

Most porcelain doll parts are painted with “china paints”. These are minerals that are carefully mixed with specialty oils and mixing mediums then carefully brushed or pounced onto the porcelain ware. These minerals will adhere to porcelain like glue when fired at a relatively low kiln temperature. China paints are systematically applied in thin layers and fired between coats. Many coats of china paint and multiple firings will be needed to bring up the colors and details in a doll’s face.

Glazes can be applied ONLY if the glaze firing temperature is lower than any of the china paint temperatures. Otherwise, the china paint will burn off.

“Burning off” or over heating china paints, is intentionally done at times when an artist wants to remove all of the previously fired china paint. The whole painting process can then be restarted on a bare surface.

Oil Stains

A few artists forego using china paints not wanting to bother with multiple kiln fires and potentially dangerous mineral dust. Instead, they use artist oil paints applied VERY thinly as a colored stain on the porcelain. The great benefit is that the painter clearly sees exactly the color and exact intensity of all colors immediately after the paints dry. After completely drying and curing, the oil painted porcelain is topped with a clear, matte varnish for protection. Please note: artist oil paint stain is not as durable as fired china paint on porcelain bisque.

Under glaze and glaze

If an item is to be glazed, then an artist might chose to paint details with “under glaze colors” which can take a higher temperature than most china paints. The over glaze firing temperature must be lower or compatible with the under glaze’s firing temperatures.

Wax over porcelain by Hilegard Gunzel

Wax over porcelain

Some artists like the matte glow that they can achieve when they use the “wax over porcelain” technique. A clear, very hard wax is melted and the fired, painted porcelain pieces are dipped in the melted wax. Then the parts are placed into a heated oven, supported so that all excess wax will cleanly drip away from the parts.

Only a very thin layer of wax is wanted for the best results – providing a slight waxy sheen to the surface. The features should not be blobbed up with wax and the colors shouldn’t be masked by too much wax.

Marlene water color over porcelain

Marlene  paints the porcelain with watercolour and she covers this with a varnish as a protection.

Painting porcelain vs. Earthenware
Source: Pour Horse
Because bone and porcelain MUST be stilted, they cannot be painted while in greenware. The stilts would ruin the paint. Because earthenware does not require stilting, or the stilting can be done with a strong wire going up a hole into the body and resting on the back, earthenware can be painted before firing. The paints we use for earthenware can be applied right to the unfired surface, and will become part of the clay surface of the horse. These paints are tinted by oxides and minerals, basically ground up rocks and clay. Black is manganese oxide, blue is cobalt, brown is red iron oxide, etc. They attain their color during the firing, and are affected by the firing temperature. Some cannot go above a certain heat, or they disappear, and some are stable throughout a very long range of heat. Cobalt blue, for instance, is one that is very stable, and that is why it was commonly used for hundreds of years on Asian and European ware, both high and low fire. Reds are the most unstable, as anyone who has tried to achieve “nose pink” can attest. Jim Renaker called the less stable colors “fugitive colors”, or those who escape up the chimney. If you fire a brown horse over and over, you continue to lose the brown, and ultimately? Don’t know, never tried, but you sure would have a different color in the end.

Because high-fire ware cannot be painted before the firing, generally we see ware that has had a glaze applied, and “over glaze” paints or china paints are used. So the white piece that has been bisque fired is glazed, that is fired, and finally the paints are applied over the glaze. These paints have an oil base, and are sold as powders. You mix them as you use them. Anthony at Alchemy told me that when he started at Royal Worcester, in about 1964, he spent six MONTHS just grinding pigments and learning to mix the paints. Then they let him make brush strokes. (I worship at the altar of the master!!!) He makes it look easy, but it is really very difficult. The first layer of paint must be fired before the next layer is applied, to set it, and successive layers are fired slightly lower each time. This paint fires in the ranges of 016 to 020, or thereabouts, very low and cool, just enough to soften the glaze underneath so that the paints can sink in.

Actually, bone and porcelain can be painted with underglazes in the bisque state, and glazed as we “earthies” always do. Beswicks are in the middle ground, although they are earthenware they are actually painted over the glaze. Hence, always white front legs, where the painter holds the horse. Sometimes you can see the “wipe” marks where the painter wiped excess paint off of the glaze and left smears. See the flow chart in the front of the Beswick or Royal Doulton book, and you will see the little man unloading unpainted bisque…glazing…refiring…painting…refiring. They must use a tin based glaze or something, you can’t do that over our glazes and get consistent color after firing.

You can paint bone china with our airbrushed underglazes, refire to 04, and glaze as usual. And Alchemy can take our earthenware horses, glaze them, and paint them with china paints. It’s fun to share mud, and to try different things. As long as you understand the basics of your material, you will always get interesting results. Joanie from Pour Horse

Differences between Under glazes and China Paints:
There is a  great difference in results between the two processes. It’s like day and night—the beautiful brilliant and intense coloring of overglaze compared to the duller tones of underglaze.

In the overglaze process, the painted decoration is applied on a glazed, blank, that is, a piece of clay ware which has a transparent and glossy, glass-like surface already baked on. Thus, it is literally overglaze.

In the underglaze method, a clay vessel is fired to remove its moisture content and solidify its shape permanently. Next, the pattern is painted on, and then a glassy surface is applied over the paint, and baked on permanently. Actually then, the paint is under the glaze.

Other differences are that overglaze employs paints mixed with gum turpentine and fat oil, and requires a higher firing temperature than underglaze, which uses watercolor paints mixed with water.

Except from

Learning to be a doll artist : an apprenticeship with Martha Armstrong-Hand.
Martha Armstrong-Hand.


Porcelain Painting.
Tools and Materials;
* Scouring sponges of various sizes
* Rubber scrubber
* Isopropyl alcohol
* Cotton swabs
* Tissues
* Toothpicks
* Tile with smooth surface on which to put the paints
* Terrycloth sheet or towel as pad
* Glass of water for cleaning the brushes
* Assortment of porcelain paints:
dark brown
middle brown
light brown
violet-brown for deep painting
light pink
(Paints are usually sold as complete sets.)
* Soft lead pencil
* Medium for lines (water-based)
* Medium for surfaces (water-based)
* Spatula for the powder paints
* Set of paint brushes:
large rouge brush (mop)
small rouge brush
brush with few long hairs
short brush
lip brush
accent brush
cat’s tongue brush
(Brushes are usually sold in stores as complete sets.)
* Sanding block (available in nail salons.)
When buying your paints and brushes buy the best ones you can,
even if they are expensive. You shouldn’t endanger your long,
hard work with painting materials of poor quality.
Choosing a Brush;
Brush Glossary;
Setting Up a Painting Space;

Preparation of the porcelain pieces.

Your work area must be well lit and as dust free as possible.
When painting try to wear cotton clothing, which doesn’t shead.
Do not wear sweaters with long fibers, such as angora, etc.

After the high firing the surface of the porcelain will feel a little rough.
Smooth the surface with the rubber scrubber.
To work between the fingers and toes and between the lips and the ears use
the soft sanding block. This will give you a better grip on the porcelain,
which is is smooth as china.

Clean all of the fired pieces. You will not be able to clean some of the
places with the scouring sponge – for example, small burned-on pieces of
dust or a crumbling of oven sand. These can be removed with sandpaper.
Use the rough side to remove all the impurities, and then sand the surface
with the fine side until it is smooth.

Clean all of the sanded pieces with a cotton pad that has been dipped in
isopropyl alcohol. Places that catch cotton fluff will need to be cleaned
first with a scouring sponge and then again with isopropyl alcohol.

Determining color

Before beginning to paint you’ll need to imagine what you want your doll
to look like. For a red-haired doll you will need different skin tones than
for a light-skinned blond doll. Here are some helpful hints:

For red-haired dolls:
Eyebrows: medium-brown, reddish-brown
Eyelashes: reddish-brown, dark-brown
Lips: yellowish-red
Face rouge: mix equal parts of yellowish-red and burgundy

For blond dolls:
Eyebrows: light-brown, medium brown
Eyelashes: medium-brown to dark-brown
Lips: mix equal parts of light-pink and bluish-red
Face rouge: bluish-red

For brown-haired dolls:
Eyebrows: medium-brown, greenish-brown
Eyelashes: dark-brown
Lips: mix equal parts of light-pink and bluish-red
Face rouge: burgundy

For black-haired dolls with light skin:
Eyebrows: black
Eyelashes: black
Lips: mix two parts of light-pink and one part yellowish-red
Face rouge: bluish-red

For ethnic dolls:
Eyebrows: dark-brown, black
Eyelashes: black
Lips: bluish-red
Face rouge: burgundy

The same color, violet-brown, is always used for all accents.
This color is well suited for all shading and creases, and for all
porcelain base tones. Depending on its consistency, the violet-brown
can be lighter or darker. Nails and nail moons are painted white.

The painting should be done in the following order.

First painting: Shading the face; first coloring of the eyebrows,
eyelashes, lips; arms and legs; shading of the nails and nail moons;
accent on the creases and on the palms.

Second painting: Shading in the eyelids; shading over the eyebrows and
painting the eyebrows darker; eyelids and tear ducts; second coloring
of the lips, arms and legs; hand and face rouge, nail gloss.

Third painting: Face rouge; lip creases.

Step-By-Step Face Painting;

Shading and Accents

Prepare your paints on one or more tiles. Put a knifeful of powdered
paint on the tile and carefully add a creamy medium (medium for large
surfaces or fine lines, depending on what you would like to paint).
Mix both with a spatula into a thick paste that has a similar consistency
to toothpaste. Do this with all the paints you’ll need.

Leave enough room on the tiles between the different paints so they don’t
run into each other.

For the shading and accents you will need the small rouge brush, the cat’s
tongue brush, and the cotton swab.

Begin with the hands and feet. Dip the roughe brush into the medium and
then into the accent paint.

Spread the paint between the fingers on the outside and inside of the hand.
Paint the feet likewise, applying the paint generously.

Now take some tissues and lightly wipe off the paint on the top surface.
Some paint should remain in the gaps.

Take a large mop and spread the paint lightly into the in-between spaces.
If no color remains, you’ve painted too thinly. Repeat the process with a
thicker paint.

If the result is too dark and spotty, then the paint was too thick. Repeat
the process with a thinner paint mixture. You will soon get a feel for getting
the right paint consistency.

Contours are painted on the face, too. Using a cat’s tongue brush, paint a
thin layer inside and outside the ear. Do the same on the eyelids, around
the nasal passages, at the corners of the mouth, and in the nostrils.

With a large mop, rub the paint to create soft shading. If necessary, cotton
swabs can be used to remove any paint. On the eyelid, use a cotton swab to
paint from the inside outwards to create soft shading.

Eyebrows and eyelashes

For the eyebrows, you’ll need a long and short brush and a cat’s tongue brush.

On most doll reproductions, the eyebrows are too high, which gives the doll
an arrogant look. Before you begin painting, mark the place for eyebrows with
small dots, using a soft lead pencil. Begin with the inner corner of the eye
and work vertically upwards.

Take a look at the head: Do the eyebrows sit right? Correct them until you
are satisfied. The pencil marks can be easily wiped off and will burn off
during firing without leaving a trace.

It is also helpful if you have a photo of the finished doll, or of the face
to see where the eyebrows are placed. While working, lean back in your seat
and lay the porcelain head on your chest. The stiller the head lies, the easier
it is to paint.

Begin with the lightest tone of brown and paint from the inner corner of the
eye outwards. For the eyebrows use the brush to mark many small “commas,”
which should point directly up. The brow is smaller at the outer corner of
the eye than in the inner. After applying the lightest color, repeat the
process with the darker tone. The first application of brown will be fired.

After firing, paint over the wider part of the eyebrows with the darker tone
to create depth. This painting will again be fired.

The eyelashes are easier to paint. Use the short brush. Dip the brush into
the medium for thin lines and then into the paint. Mix them until a thin
paint results that runs easily off the brush. Begin with the outer eyelash.
Place the tip of the brush at the outer corner of the eye and stroke with
a light outward movement.

Do not paint all the lashes in the same direction. Paint them to within 1mm
of the inner corner of the eye.

Always use a darker tone for the eyelashes than for the eyebrows. One painting
is enough.


The paint for the lips must have a somewhat thick consistency, approximately
like shoe polish. Use the lip brush to put some paint in the middle of the
lip and spread it to the outer edge of the lip. Be sure to paint a clean
and even contour of the lip. If the lips become too wide, use a cotton swab
to remove the excess color and paint a new edge.

With most dolls one can easily see the line of the lips. If you cannot, you
will have to find the ideal on your own. Begin with a small lip and increase
in gradual shades. Take note of changes in the facial expression. As soon as
you have created the most pleasing expression, leave the arch of the lips
as it is.

Use a tissue to blot the lips, just as you would do with lipstick. In this
way you remove excess paint, while leaving a dark color in the deeper creases.

Using a cat’s tongue brush, shade evenly at the edge of the lip. At the
highest points of the lip, use a cotton swab to remove some of the paint so
that a very light surface results. These are the light points. Note that
this technique is only possible with a thick paint paste.

Fingernails and toenails

I give a lot of attention to the care of the hands and feet. The nail painting
takes up only a little bit more time, but it’s worth it. For this task, you
will need accent paints and white.

Using a cat’s tongue brush, put a little accent paint on the nail and spread
it evenly with a cotton swab to create a delicate pink-colored tone. Then dip
a short brush in the medium for dark lines and mix it in the accent paint
into a nicely fluid paint. Draw a very fine line at the edge of the nail where
the white part begins.

With an accent brush, paint a small moon in white. Under the borderline, paint
the nail white. Fingernails and toenails are all painted this way.

The pieces painted this way must be fired between paint applications.

7 responses

  1. I recently acquired a set of China paints…. let’s play with them when I get back!

    August 8, 2011 at 7:42 AM

  2. avivit ben-gaon

    can you please tell me where can i buy porcelain doll parts??
    tks, avivit.

    September 8, 2014 at 5:16 AM

    • katdazzle

      I make my doll parts, so I have no idea where you can buy them.

      September 8, 2014 at 6:09 AM

  3. Lori Gladstein

    Can you paint over a faded area of a ceramic house to make it look new?

    March 22, 2018 at 1:05 AM

    • katdazzle

      I think you can. It helps if you know what kind of clay was used. But either way it may work since China paint is fired low.

      March 22, 2018 at 6:39 AM

  4. Santy Effendy

    Do you have a recommendation of where to buy matt china paint? I have been searching around on the internet, but hardly found any descriptions of the paints that indicate matt. Thank you

    June 30, 2018 at 10:09 PM

    • katdazzle

      No, I’m sorry but I don’t know.

      July 1, 2018 at 4:50 AM

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