Color Me Happy

By Jared Knight

Bisque ceramics are like the bare canvas of the pottery world. They are often white in appearance and “naked,” without a glaze or finish. In fact, that’s the whole point--campers can start with a basic figurine and decorate it any way they choose with paint, before applying a glaze finish. The following techniques are perfect for camp arts and crafts programs in working with bisque ceramics.


Painting Techniques
After applying acrylic paint to ceramic bisque item, dab a dark coat of antique gel and distribute it equally with a brush, wiping off the excess with a cloth. The antiquing process will cover any gaps missed when painting, and will fill in some of the crevasses in the project, giving the item a more finished look. After the antiquing process, spray the ceramic piece with a ceramic sealant.

Dry Brushing
Once the acrylic paint has dried on a bisque item, use a dry brush over the details to give the piece a softer look. The dry-brush technique entails using paint that is still left in a brush that is dry to the touch. This technique provides a soft highlight of color to an already-painted project. After dry brushing, spray the ceramic piece with a ceramic sealant.

As an alternative to painting the bisque item with acrylic paint, apply colored chalk to the project, and spray with a ceramic sealant to keep the chalk from smearing.

This technique will crack the topcoat of the acrylic paint on the bisque item to make the paint look old. To start, apply a dark color of acrylic paint to the item, like a ceramic buffalo skull or vase. The paint should be dry before adding the crackle gel. Allow the gel to dry long enough to be tacky before adding a topcoat of a light-colored acrylic paint. Thin out the paint for the topcoat with a couple drops of water, and apply in one direction.

Marble Vase
Pour white acrylic paint with a sheen finish into a round pool on a square piece of aluminum foil. Pick out two other colors that will form a contrast when marbled together. Pour these two contrasting colors on opposite sides of the aluminum-foil square next to the pool of white paint. With a small stick, run two zigzag patterns through the paints, one going vertically and the other horizontally. Next, roll the vase in the paints. Turn the finished product upside down to dry on a pencil stuck in a brick of Styrofoam.

Smoked Marble Vase
With adult supervision, children can apply two thin coats of acrylic paint to the bisque vase and spray it with a porcelain sealant. Place a candle on the table, as a second person holds the vase and rotates it above the candle. The first person takes a stainless-steel knife and divides the flame, causing smoke to adhere to the vase. After the marbling is complete, spray the vase twice with the porcelain sealant.

Glazing Techniques
Using bisque ceramic tiles, paint a picture with underglazes, which allows campers to paint multiple colors on the tiles more easily than when using regular glazes. Then fire the tiles in a tile setter at a 06-firing cone.

Bubble Glazing
Under adult supervision, children can apply three coats of a light-colored, nontoxic glaze to a bisque vase. Mix four teaspoons of underglaze, three teaspoons of water and several drops of non-degreaser dish soap. Blow through a straw into this mixture, forming bubbles around the vase. The bubbles should pop on their own so that the glaze doesn’t smear on the vase. Once the vase is covered with bubbles, mix another glaze with water and dish soap for a contrasting color. After the vase has a second coat of bubbles, fire the vase at a 06-firing cone.

Marble Glaze Vase
With adult supervision, children can participate in this project by applying three coats of clear overglaze to a bisque vase, and then fire it at a 06-firing cone. After the vase has cooled, each child can spray his or her vase with two coats of a porcelain sealant to give the vase a matte look. Then, each child places a candle on the table and--with the help of a second person--holds the vase and rotates it above the candle. A second child takes a stainless-steel knife and divides the flame, causing smoke to adhere onto the vase. After the marbling is complete, spray the vase once with a porcelain sealant.

Start by glazing and firing the bisque item in a light color, applying three coats of clear overglaze. After the project is cooled and the surface is clean, a decal can be applied. Place the decal in a bowl of warm water, completely submerging it to remove the paper backing. Remind the children to put only one decal in the water at a time. The decal will curl at first and then begin to lay flat again. After it has been in the water for one minute, check to see if the decal moves on the paper. If it does, the decal is ready to be fastened on the project. Holding the decal in the center with one finger, remove the air bubbles by pressing from the center to the edges. After the project has dried for three hours, wipe off any excess glue around the decal before firing in a kiln for three hours at a 016-firing cone.

Mystery Glaze
Apply a nontoxic glaze on a bisque item, such as a frog, dragon, lizard or snake, so that the children will not know what color it is until it comes out of the kiln. Because frogs, dragons, lizards and snakes can be many different colors, children will be truly surprised.

Porcelain Finish On A Glazed Ceramic
After firing a ceramic item that has been glazed with a clear gloss glaze at a 06-firing cone in a kiln, spray a porcelain sealant over the item to give it a softer porcelain finish.

Jared Knight is the manager of Program and Human Resources at Aspen Grove Family Camp and Conference Center in Provo, Utah. He is the author of two books published by Healthy Learning--“101 Creative Programs for Children” and “101 Age-Appropriate Camp Activities.” Knight can be reached via e-mail at