Overglaze painting- what you need to know to get started.

kiln fired art

I’m going to add lots of basic information here, things to get you started and hopefully answer your questions.




What are overglaze enamels?

Overglaze enamels, onglaze, or china paints, they are all names for the same thing. Basically they are metal oxides, in the form of finely ground glass frit and flux. The flux helps the colours mature at low temperatures and bind to the glaze of the ceramic piece. Glass enamels are the same, they have more flux which allows them to melt at even lower temperatures.

Overglaze enamels come in a powder form, some paints can be gritty, especially rubies and purples (gold based colours)they have ground with a palette knife during mixing with a medium  for painting. A drop of lanolin is meant to help gritty colours, but personally I wouldn’t use anything gritty for painting, use them for something else or throw them away. Modern overglaze enamels are very finely ground, I purchase mine from Held or Westfield House.

What medium should I use?

These fall into the categories of oil based or water based, drying or open (non drying). There are many recipes and secret formulas for media out there, nowerdays I tend to stick to flat fizzy pop, like 7UP, or sugar syrup, or Held’s drying waterbased medium for my  waterbased painting.

I use Gemini from Westfield House, or Held’s open oil based medium for oil based painting.  I do love using liquid paraffin/ clove / lavender oil medium, I’ll post the recipe when I find it, I’m terrible for guessing the quantities, I love how this one feels in the brush, and it smells sooo nice too. There are many recipes for media out there, fat oil and turpentine, aniseed and many more but I don’t want to confuse the beginner so I’ll come back to these later.

So why do you need oil based and water based paints I hear you say?

In recent years it has become increasingly popular to use waterbased paints first, then when dry you can wash oil based paint over, this cuts out at least one firing as more can be done in a single painting session. Modern painting styles such as penwork and washes of colour lend themselves to this method of painting.

So you need a set of painting equipment for oil based painting and one for waterbased painting. As a beginner you can get started with some overglaze paint and 7UP, you don’t even need to paint with brushes or do penwork, try mixing up the paint with pop to single cream consistency and sponge it on, or use crinkled up cling film. Have a look here for more information about getting started with penwork.

Oil based paint.

So what do I do with oil based paint?

Paint mixed with non drying oil based medium can be used directly over waterbased paint that has dried thoroughly, also, as it doesn’t dry out means it can be blended and shaded. More on techniques like wipeouts later.

Mixing oil based paint

Oil based paints should be treated rather differently to waterbased, including, mixing and storing. To mix the paint put a large pea sized amount of paint powder on your mixing tile, add a few drops of oil based medium and mix with a palette knife, grinding out any lumps or grit. Mix the paint quite dry, to toothpaste consistency, then pick up the pile with your palette knife and transfer it to another tile which will be your paint palette. it’s a good idea to write the name of each colour on the tile. Mix all your colours this way and arrange on your palette leaving a bit of room around each colour.

I will add a video or pictures next time I mix some paint.

Storing your oil based palette, brushes etc

Oil based paint has a tendency to pick up lint and fluff, store your palette tile in a box when not in use and keep brushes covered. I keep mine in a jar with a shower cap loosely over them so not to damage the bristles. When you are painting if you leave your work and want to come back to it cover it over with a bowl or something to keep the dust from settling. If not when you fire the piece the little pieces of lint will leave marks. If you fire a piece where the lint hasn’t been disturbed by repainting it usually fires off ok without leaving marks.


As oil and water don’t mix, you should keep separate sets of brushes. Most china painters will tell you you need soft hair brushes like kolinsky sable, I’d say you only need these type of brushes if you want to paint smoothly with no brushmarks.

Waterbased brushes- When I paint with waterbased medium I usually want texture so I have a variety of brushes, mostly inexpensive acrylic ones, a few hog hair ones and a couple of sable ones. Some have been doctored with scissors for painting hair.

Oil based brushes- I have a selection of sable and squirrel brushes, mostly square shaders, as a beginner a no.8 square shader is a good one to start with, and a scroller for fine work, you also need a blender, some use a mop blender but I prefer a fan brush as it is less inclined to pick up lint.

When you buy these brushes they have size in them so wash them with a bit of washing up liquid and water, rinse, shape between the fingers and leave to dry. Each time you start to paint you need to condition your brush by putting some open oil based medium on a tile, then wiggle the brush into the oil and work back and forth. Then gently press out the excess oil onto kitchen paper with your forefinger . I think a video is needed here . When you have finished painting clean your oil based brushes in turpentine, condition in oil as above then store your brushes in a way that doesn’t damage the bristles and protect from dust.

 Other things you might need

Palette knife , an old kitchen knife will do at a push

Carbon or graphite paper, this is useful if you can’t draw or want to repeat a design

Wipe out tool but a stick or sharpened brush shank will do at first

Ink marker- Sarpie or stabillo pen work well, some graphite pencils work , or a bic biro

Selection of white ceramic tiles for palettes and mixing

Box to use to keep your palette in

You will need a little saucer or well for your oil based medium, a top from a milk container works fine. Ans a small jar with some turpentine for cleaning brushes, and kitchen paper or lint free cloths like those blue ones or old cotton sheets cut up into squares.


More to follow soon……………




12 Responses to Overglaze painting- what you need to know to get started.

  1. Debra Yu says:

    I love your message and look forward to reading more info. From you! Thank you for sharing!

  2. moxluis says:

    Hi. I am Mexican and I will go to New York City next December for a few days and I would like to buy some china paintings of different colors. Can you give me some names of art supply stores for this kind of materials in that city. Thank you. Luis

  3. moxluis says:

    Hi Vlad. All the information about your materials it is important to me, prices, kind of, sizes, ecc. I think that I will go until next Dec. Maybe to NYC or Indianápolis city, but while you can send me that information. I live in Guadalajara, Jalisco México. Thank you. Luuis

  4. Val says:

    Thank you so much for sharing. It means so much to me. I feel so isolated as an artist sometimes and have no one to discuss these matters with. It makes a world of difference to be brave enough to try what you know.

  5. petitster says:

    Hi. Do you have any suppliers recommended?
    I’d like to buy some enamel overglazes for ceramics.
    Thank you.

  6. Valentine Gasper says:

    What are. Pros and con’s if linseed oil for China painting?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s