Saturday, March 1, 2014

A Tutorial on How to Paint Pottery and Have it Look Decent

My birthday present from my fiance this year was that he purchased me an unfinished yarn bowl (for my knitting) and studio time at the Ceramic Cafe - this great little pottery place in Overland Park, KS. I'm not much of a painter; there's this misconception that if you're an artist you just do ALL the art things... but paint is messy. I want to always have control over my piece of art as it happens. I watch tons of process videos on YouTube where artists are slapping paint around and paint on top of paint and wiping it back off and they'll get it looking beautiful and then volcano-blast the whole painting with black and then pull the painting back from the grips of destruction to be even *more* beautiful... but yeah. Not me. I don't like my process to be that exciting; I much prefer to sit and stew in my Type A personality while making 1,200 controlled and perfect little penciled hatch marks.

Think... think... think.
Being that I'm not much of a a painter, I went and picked up the yarn bowl the day before so I could squirrel it away down to my art studio and stare at it and plot my plan of attack. There's no worse feeling than sitting in a group setting of other people all making art and having that moment where three people ask you, "Hey! What are you making?" and you just don't know the answer. That moment makes a lot of people hate art class as kids and they grow up to be adults that hate making art. It's a powerful, bad moment if everyone else around you is inspired and working like happy bees and you're just... stuck. So I like to have quiet, private space to agonize over ideas. When I had decided on a rat/flower/skull motif, I pulled reference photos (never work without them) from Pinterest and Google and set to work on a little planning to make the painting so much easier.

This is 'frisket'. You need this.
The reason I know about the existence of 'frisket' is because my design professor in college still did art the hard way (non-digitally where there exists no CTRL-Z command). He had us do an airbrushing project where I was first introduced to the concept of painting with high-speed mist. It was terrifying... but I fell in love with frisket. Frisket is like high end contact paper that you can make stencils-in-reverse from. You cut it out in the shapes of what you want and it protects your painting surface by keeping it clean... then later you peel it off and you've got a fresh painting surface in the area you want. In airbrushing, it's ideal because you work dark/background colors to light/foreground colors... and like this, your paint layers build and build. In painting pottery, frisket is going to work for you as a way to keep things tidy. I bought this packet of frisket at Hobby Lobby, but I had to get four associates involved before anyone could locate it... it's just... a bit obscure a product for most people. But it's there; I promise.

I took my reference photo and put a piece of double stick tape on it, and then stuck down the frisket (still on its backing paper - you don't want to peel that off yet!) on top of it. Ideally, you'd have a light table with a glass cutting board to use for the step of cutting out your image... but if you don't, take a sharpie and put the frisket/photo on your window. Use the sunlight to see where to trace the outline of what you want to cut out, and THEN cut around it with a sharp craft knife. (You can use scissors, but the frisket is stretchy and delicate at the same time and if the scissors aren't sharp and perfect you can stretch and tear the frisket.)

Now you have a plastic stencil cut-out of your photo! SELF HIGH FIVE!
Nooooowwwwwwwww you can peel off the backing to the frisket and behold what a wondrous thing you've made! Using a dry sponge, rub your piece of pottery down pretty good to get dust off it. Now put your stencil wherever you wish.

This plastic stencil of a skull is going to keep my pottery white where
I want the skull to be, and let me paint all around it as sloppy/fast as I want.
Using the concept I discussed earlier, you want to plan to paint the background FIRST and foreground LAST when you actually get to the painting stage. That's really how you get a piece of art that looks planned. It's human nature to want to do the interesting stuff first, but fight the urge in this instance. I watch my kids make a lot of art and I've never seen them do the grass and sky before the drawing of the dog or rainbow. RAINBOWS FIRST! Except here... here you want to create layers of stencils, starting with your foreground objects, then put stencils of your middle-ground on top... so that the ONLY part of your pottery still exposed is your background color. Then, working in reverse, you're going to paint your background, then middle ground, then foreground.

Cutting thin strips of frisket is good for borders, stripes, patterns, etc. Applying the frisket with a decal spreader (tool shown in the photo - basically a piece of firm rubber with a handle attached) is also a good idea for a nice smooth edge. If you don't have one of those (who does?) then don't worry - just use your fingers to press down any air bubbles.

Pottery before being fired in the kiln.
Notice how pale and blah the colors are? They won't be after they're fired.
I painted the inside of my bowl black, and then peeled up the frisket skull to reveal the unpainted white surface underneath. When it's fired, whatever wasn't painted will be a bright white.

To summarize the painting application on the outside of the bowl, I painted the blue sky first. Then I peeled away all the strips that I'd cut for grass/leaves and painted the newly exposed areas green. Next I peeled away the flower stencils and painted those a creme color. Then I peeled away the rat shapes, leaving them white. Going back in with a detail color, I outlined everything in a darker red (which hides a multitude of sins where the colors maybe met up messily). Lastly, I peeled away the stripes for the border to leave nice, crisp lines around my artwork.

I'm going to leave you with the best, most true tip I read on paint application: 1 coat = transparent / 2 coats = streaky / 3 coats = opaque.

Good luck on your pottery painting projects and I hope this maybe gave you a new technique to consider!

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