IT SEEMS LIKE a simple enough hobby: Take a china plate and paint something on it. A flower, a bird, a squirrel. And then hang it on the wall.
But it isn't simple at all. Take a good long squint at a hand-painted plate and you'll notice layers of color and shadings that are almost translucent; the china is not merely a medium for the picture; it is part of the picture. Such effects do not happen with a single brush stroke. People who paint on china are intrepid, stubborn types who do not give up easily.
China painting is not difficult, says Dodie Loudon of Dodie's China Shoppe in Downey, "but it's not for anyone who wants it done in a hurry." The colors are built up gradually, which is how those complex shadings are achieved. The process is much slower than painting on paper or canvas because each application of paint must be fired, or heated in a kiln, before another can be put on. If gold or silver is used, that is the very last firing.
Beginners need no special artistic talent, just patience and persistence. Some instructors use the wipe-out method, where a color--blue, for instance--is applied and then a design--daisies, perhaps--"wiped out" to reveal the plate underneath. A beginner might also trace designs onto china, using graphite paper, and then fill in the blanks. "You're considered a beginner for the first three to five years," Loudon says.
Most china painting is done on plates: The flat surface is easy to work on, and the finished product is handily displayed. But more adventurous painters use lamps, mugs and dresser sets and decorate them with portraits of loved ones--or even seascapes with actual sand. The possibilities are limited to the selection of china available and one's own imagination and budget. Plain white plates range in price from about $4 for a simple, Japanese-made item to $250 for a Limoges. Classes cost from $5 to about $15 per session, not including materials and kiln fees. The paints are usually minerals in powder form that are mixed with oils before application. Hulda Stoppelmann of Hulda's Studio in Orange offers a beginner's supply kit for $80, including paints, brushes and a plate.
China-painting classes and supplies are available at Hulda's Studio in Orange, Dodie's China Shoppe in Downey and Tall Mouse Arts and Crafts Inc. in Yorba Linda.
A monthly publication, the China Decorator, P.O. Box 575, Shingle Springs, Calif. 95682, costs $16 for 12 issues.