When I visit ceramic artists studios in Italy, I often spend some time to just watch the master painters hand painting Italian ceramics. It’s absolutely enthralling.
Italian studio pottery is fine art, that has been refined over hundreds of years of inspired artistry in the expert hands of highly skilled artisans. The rich history of quality Italian workmanship forms the basis for this fine art. The artisans have devoted years to their training in order to perfect their techniques.
Authentic Italian ceramics are made from European red clay. After a piece dries and it’s fired the first time, it is dipped in a chalky white coating. Then the design is painted totally free hand with lead-free mineral glazes. After that, the item is fired again to bring out the colors of the different minerals.
The elaborate designs of hand painted Italian ceramics require hours of painstaking work. Everything can be spoiled with a single misplaced brush stroke.
Regardless of the intricacy of the style and design all of this hand-painting is done freehand.
There’s often an illustration or a pattern for the artist to follow, especially for traditional scenes. In the really good studios, the artists have been doing the patterns all their lives. Most don’t even really need an illustration to follow.
One particular challenge for artists hand painting Italian ceramics is the medium itself.
The glazes are all soft, white-ish pastels that change into deep exciting colors after firing.
Shades are often difficult to distinguish. An artist has got to keep track of which colors go where.
Considering the amazing range of colors required for detailed Italian ceramics patterns; it’s most definitely a career that entails plenty of practice and a systematic approach.
Hand Painting Italian Ceramics
Quite often a painter will do a number of pieces with the same design simultaneously. This, allows them to get into a groove of roosters, lemons or flowers. The glaze color and depth varies where brush strokes overlap so that no two pieces will ever be exactly alike.
The Art Of Hand Painting Italian Ceramics.
If you look carefully at an item of hand painted majolica and you may find a little speck of paint that's out of place, a partial fingerprint, or even a slight smudge on the glaze. There may be a loose fitting lid. This shows that its handcrafted work and forms part of what makes Italian maiolica so unique.
These imperfections show the hand of the artist and do not deflect from the value of the piece. It actually adds to its charm.
The colors the artist uses are produced with ground minerals. These are then diluted with water and applied to the ceramic piece by hand using various types of paint brushes. The brush the artist uses will depend on the type of painting or detail required on the surface.
The colors used for the final patterns will change hue after the second firing, so the artists need to foresee the end effect of each application.
It takes dedication to their craft, lots of practice and plenty of repetition to bring these stunning, functional artworks to life.
I’m so grateful there are still artists who continue this tradition. It means that we can enjoy Italian pottery today and into the future.