Charlotte King’s painted porcelain jewelry, vases and ornaments are distinctive, with rich jewel and earthy colors. Some are reminiscent of stone, some sparkle and others are streaked with metallics. They are also popular, which keeps the 81-year-old Queensbury artist busy creating for local craft shows and stores.
The self-taught artist said porcelain painting began as a hobby for her 35 years ago. Early on, her focus was on painting plates and trays with floral designs or fruit that remind one of antique hand-painted Limoge porcelain from the early 1900s. She said she was drawn to old china and studied the workmanship on a plate when she thought, “I bet I can do this.” And she did.
While she initially was drawn to china painting, she eventually found the process too labor intensive. China paints come as dry powders that need to be mixed with oil prior to use. This took too much time for King.
“I was giving it away. Each piece took a great deal of work. My daughter suggested I try lustre painting,” she said.
Lustre paints are pre-mixed oil-based liquids that come ready to use. “They have an iridescence, especially when used on white glaze china. The glazing on the china gives the paint the lustres,” she explained. It didn’t take long for King to realize this was her medium.
Although she doesn’t need to prepare the colors prior to use, King still puts many creative hours into every piece. “I like detail and that takes time,” she said, adding that the process has its challenges.
To start, the color of the paint from the bottle will change dramatically after the piece is heated in a kiln during a process called firing. “Having done this so often, I have an idea of what it will look like,” she said, but surprises do occur. Because many of the pieces are painted by letting the colors run together, each is different.
“The colors take on different shades depending on what colors are running into it. I know from experience what colors will look good together,” she said.
These changes are part of the fun, King said.
King begins by dipping her paintbrush into a bottle and applying color to porcelain blanks, the canvases for her art. She explained that the painting is done in stages with a piece fired in between layers of paint. Multiple firings are required and small items, such as ornaments, take at least two firings. Larger pieces, like her vases, can take as many as eight firings.
Part of the reason her work takes so many firings is because every inch is painted, literally. The vases are painted inside and out. Metallic highlights are added and “at least two more firings” are needed. Next the bottom is painted, fired and the artwork is signed.
This is not an art for someone looking for instant gratification. This work takes patience.
There are other challenges as well. During painting, the pieces cannot be handled. “I can’t touch them until the paint is dry,” she said. This makes painting small items like ornaments “tricky.” She has devised a method of suspending hollow ornaments over a wooden dowel and painting while they are “swinging around.”
She fires her pieces in her garage in a kiln that measures around 15 inches in diameter and holds up to 20 ornaments at a time.
King said there is an element of suspense while waiting for the kiln to cool, even for an experienced artist.
“I get excited. I can’t wait to get a look,” she confided.
“This is my passion. Every piece I do makes me happy. Some days I work on jewelry, some days vases or ornaments. I do enough to fill a kiln,” she said.
King’s work has been displayed at craft shows held at the Shaker Heritage Society in Colonie, Departures at the Albany International Airport, Saratoga Arts Center and dozens of other venues from the Adirondacks to Albany. She has sold thousands of pieces.
Her most recent artistic enthusiasm is jewelry. Right from the start, King’s work sold, which encouraged her. People now collect her work and customers seek her out at craft fairs.
“They recognize my pieces and look for me year after year,” King said.
Modestly, she added that having support is flattering and “gives me a sense that I must be doing something right.”