Research – Blue and White ware

When looking at the concept of using bronze and porcelain as part of my medal, it has always been in my mind that the porcelain would be illustrated in some way. Although I have very little technical knowledge of ceramics, the image of porcelain painted with delicate patterns in blue glaze is one that I’m sure everyone is familiar with

blue and white plates

This is known as blue and white ware, and unsurprisingly has a rich history and tradition in ceramics, which is why I feel so familiar with it despite never having done any research into the area. It is a process which seems to have originated in china, and dates back as early as the 14th century, but has now become adopted worldwide as a technique for decorating porcelain works, especially forms such as plates and vases.

I was very surprised to find in my research, that there doesn’t seem to be any form of standardised flower pattern which is used. I had an image in my mind of “blue and white flower print”, assuming that there would be a typical pattern or design, a style of drawing the flowers. However, this is not the caseblue white flower royal_copenhagen_blue_flower_smooth_gold_large_rim_soup_bowl_P0000184784S0001T2 traditional-indoor-pots-and-planters

It seems that there is no standard formula when it comes to blue and white ware, no certain species of flower that is used, or pattern which the stems follow. Most are very stylised, and those that do attempt to be more true to life I often seem to find are poorly drawn. There are actually very few examples, if any of blue and white ware I have found where I like the drawings themselves. While I like the aesthetic overall of blue and white ware, the technical skill of the drawings leaves me cold, and although there is certainly a lot of technical skill that goes into making very intricate patterns, I can’t help but be aware of the heavy stylisation which just does not appeal to me personally. If I were to use blue and white ware in my work then I would certainly want it to be a very technically accurate drawing of flowers, as I have tried to do in my earlier sketch

flower pattern

I am not sure if this is going to cause difficulties if I am trying to emulate classic blue and white ware, or alternatively if it would make no difference the style I draw it in precisely because there is no standard format. It is a phenomenon that I have noticed a lot in terms of art and creative areas, that a lot of people seem unable to see past the subject of the drawing, and not see whether it is technically good or bad. In this case, as long as it is a blue painted flower on a white porcelain surface, the rest seems to be largely irrelevant. While this makes me uncomfortable, I can at least strive to meet my own standards even if they go unnoticed by others.

The traditional way of creating blue and white ware is by painting the design using a cobalt oxide glaze onto the fired porcelain surface, and then painting over the body with a transparent glaze giving the piece its glossy finish, and this is also known as “underglaze blue”. However, my tutor tells me that the large amount of blue and white ware made in modern day (likely all of the pictures shown above) are created using ceramic decals or transfer printing. This allows for many detailed pieces to be produced in bulk, and has largely overtaken the traditional process of painting directly onto the piece. Unfortunately for me this takes away a lot of the appeal of the work, and is certainly not something I would like to use in my own piece. I am far more comfortable with the concept of painting directly onto the piece itself, than painting in say a sketchbook, scanning the piece, trying to make sure the image is perfectly sized and matches the size and shape of my work, sending off to get it printed onto ceramic decals (which are also very expensive), and then carefully transferring it onto the piece. It seems much more complicated, time consuming, and expensive than simply painting onto the surface, and also doesn’t allow for much experimentation or trial and error. For example if I create a design, and it is not the right size/shape/resolution for what I have sculpted, I have then wasted £15-£20 on a decal sheet, roughly a week of my time on delivery, and have to do it all over again to send off for another one. I can’t say that this is something that appeals to me. It seems far more intuitive and part of the creative process to be handling the piece, brush to the surface. Then if something goes wrong, the design is not as I want, it is simply a case of either cleaning it off or making another.

If I do proceed with making blue and white ware this is certainly the method I will choose to pursue, but I would like to get my designs much more clear before I start experimenting with materials so that I have a goal to work towards while I am making.

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2 Comments on “Research – Blue and White ware”

  1. […] Research – Blue and White ware → […]

  2. […] medals. I have previously thought about using flowers, reflecting the common use of flower print in ceramic blue and white ware. However since deciding that using ceramics in my medal is no longer relevant and deciding to stick […]


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