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Lesson 4

Painting a Mixing Bowl with Ocean Designs

Gael Stirler


click to see close-up of Ship Bowl Detail

The Mediterranean culture was focused on the sea. Images of ships, mermaids, and other real or imagined creatures of the sea were often found on the tables of medieval nobles. One of the most common styles of early maiolica featured a fish in the center of a bowl or plate surrounded by a border of waves. These early vessels were usualy painted in greens, blues, and dark browns.

This project begins with a large mixing bowl but can be adapted for smaller bowls, plates or even mugs. Here is a picture of a 17th century platter from Amsterdam that inspired this project.

  1. Preparation: If you start with greenware, clean and fire it to a cone 04 bisque. Remove the kiln dust with a coffee filter and spritz the bisque lightly with water just before glazing. Give the bowl three coats of Opaque White Satin Glaze, letting it dry completely between coats.
  2. Planning the inside and outside: Divide the inside of the bowl into three layers plus the bottom area. The top layer (A) will be stylized seaweed with flowers. The middle layer (B) will be a border of harbor buildings. The bottom layer (C) will feature palmetto trees and creatures of the sea. In the very bottom (D) of the bowl you can paint a three masted ship, heraldic emblem, or leave it blank. The outside is decorated with a border of harbor buildings and simplified ocean waves. Since the bowl is deep and awkward to work with on the banding wheel, you may need to draw the bands with a pencil and paint them with a brush. I used the banding wheel and supported my arm with a tall stack of video tapes.
  3. Paint the outside first: Paint the bands with cobalt oxide. Turn the bowl upside down on the table. Paint the harbor border outlines in cobalt oxide first. Add the shadows with watered down cobalt oxide. Paint the sky yellow. Paint the waves with Bright Jade or Aqua Fresca. Paint the border under the waves Saffron.
  4. The seaweed: Hold the bowl upright on your thigh. Paint the vines and outline the flowers with a thin brush and cobalt oxide. With a no.4 or no. 8 round watercolor brush and Bright Jade paint the leaves on the vines. Follow the direction of the vines. Don't let your leaves touch each other, the edges, or the flowers. Keep the spacing as even as possible. After they are dry use cobalt oxide and a small brush to add tindrils and seed pods to the vine between some of the the wider spaced leaves. Add a second coat of Jade to most but not all of the leaves so there will be variation in the colors. Add hints of Saffron to the flowers.
  5. Harbor border: This harbor border has a Bright Carribean sky. For a bolder border you can paint the sky with two coats of Envisions Cobalt Blue Glaze. Paint the plain borders above and below the harbor with yellow. Outline the band of yellow with cobalt oxide.
  6. Sea creatures: Divide the bottom section into six compartments. Draw a palmetto tree over the section lines. Draw fanciful creatures of the sea in each compartment. Paint a haze of watered down Jade and Carribean on the edges of this layer. Paint the palmettos Jade and Carribean. Outline all of the trees and creatures with cobalt oxide and add shadows with Jade and Carribean. Paint the plain border underneath Saffron.
  7. The ship: Draw the horizon line of the ocean below the center of the circle in the bottom of the bowl. Draw the three masted ship and its rigging, being careful to get the proportions and position of elements that make up the ship correct. Paint the sails with a hint of Saffron. Paint the ship Jade green. Paint all of the outlines and rigging with cobalt oxide and a very fine brush.
  8. The sea water and sky: Paint widely spaced, jagged diagonal lines with a no.4 brush and watered down cobalt oxide. Paint diagonals of Jade and Carribean between the darker cobalt leaving patches of white showing. With cobalt oxide and a small brush draw the tops of the little waves as indicated. Paint a little more turbulence near the bow of the ship. Paint the hint of another ship near the horizon in the aft of the ship. Indicate the sky with watered down cobalt oxide by painting horizontal lines around the top edges of the circle framing the ship. Paint a few birds in the sky.
  9. Finally add hatch marks to the rim to give it a "roped" edge. If you paint this sooner, you will likely scuff or smear the glaze before you can get it fired. Sign it and take the bowl to the ceramic shop to have it fired. Here I am dropping off my bowl to be fired at Mary Janes Ceramics in Tucson. That's Jane on the right, I'm in red. She has retired now. We'll miss you, Jane.
The next page gives you step-by step instructions on the borders and a printable pattern for the ship.

NEXT to Lesson 4-b: Ship bowl worksheets | Go back to Lesson 3-b: Heraldic shield


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Unless otherwise noted all art is the work of Gael Stirler.
AKA Mistress Dairine mor o' hUigin, OL

This page was last updated Monday, 16-Mar-2009 15:37:47 CDT