Friday, 18 January 2019

Pottery Painting at Blue Owl

Last summer my sister and I visited Blue Owl, a pottery painting studio, cafe and gift shop, in Great Horkesley, (just outside Colchester) Essex. We really enjoyed our visit and would definitely recommend taking a trip there yourself if you are in the area!
The building itself is a converted country pub - a beautiful old building, full of character (including wood beams). Everyone at Blue Owl is very friendly and the place has a lovely, relaxed atmosphere. We enjoyed sampling the cakes on offer and browsing the gifts before choosing some pottery to paint. There is a very wide range of pottery items to choose from: coasters, mugs, plates, figurines, tea pots, vases and much more! With so much choice it was hard to pick what to paint, but after a lot of pondering we each decided to paint a plate.

My friend, the talented illustrator Helen Smith, works in the kiln room and is Blue Owl's resident artist so she was able to give us a tour of the kiln room and show us how the pottery painting process works which was very interesting! I had never done pottery painting before, only having worked a little with ceramics back at school and in art college, so I really enjoyed learning something new.

There is plenty of space for painting in the Blue Owl (booking is required) or you can borrow a take away kit (for a week) to paint at home. We chose the take away kit option which meant we could take our time to work on our plates (I think mine took around 10 hours to paint altogether - so it's a good job I was doing it at home or I would have been spending the night at the Blue Owl too!). There is no rental charge for the kit, just a returnable deposit of £20 and the cost of the pottery items you paint (which are very reasonable too - our plates cost £10 each).
The kit contains a good selection of paint colours (24), writer bottle (for drawing fine lines), paint palette, brushes, sponge, instructions and colour reference tile - which is invaluable as the colours look very different before and after firing/ glazing.

Before starting to paint my plate I sketched out a full-scale version of my design on paper, which I then transferred onto the plate. I'm would usually sketch designs in pencil, however, pencils will mark the plate and still be visible after glazing. Instead felt tip pens were recommended to us by the people at Blue Owl. Any felt tip pen is fine and will burn off in the kiln. It felt very odd to sketch in pen though, even knowing it would disappear again later! I found that tracing over my paper design with felt tip pen on grease-proof paper worked well in transferring the design to the plate.

Next was time for the painting! The ceramic paints dried very pale, so the colour reference tile was very useful here to imagine how the colours would look. I used the writer bottle to outline my rabbits and central flower. It was easier than I thought it would be to use the writer bottle - not too dissimilar to using a fine liner pen. Any tiny blobs of paint that were unwanted were easy to scrape off with a pin.

For the back I wanted to try and achieve a graduated colour with layers of blue / green.

This is what my sister's plate looked like when she had finished painting it...

We took our painted plates back to Blue Owl to be glazed and fired. This process takes a few days - to allow drying of the glaze and cooling after firing (which has to happen gradually so the plates don't crack).
When we picked up out plates this is what they looked like. We were both very pleased with the results!
The pink flowers were paler than I would have liked but otherwise the colours came out how I hoped they would.

The colours and paint texture turned out great on the back too. I would love to paint a whole dinner set like this!

My sister's design came out really well too - the colours are so much bolder after being in the kiln.

Have you tried pottery painting before? Let me know what you have painted in the comments below, or if you have never painted pottery, have you been inspired to give it a go - what would you like to paint? 

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