Ceramic styles, ideal for decorating your home

Decorative techniques in ceramics

Basically the decorative techniques consist of modifying or applying colors to the earth that serves as a support or creating reliefs and textures, as reiterative patterns.


Working in the mass

Modifying the appearance of the paste is in itself a decorative effect. You can start by modifying or mixing the colors in the base soil:

-Either by adding the color to the earth (commercial pigments or oxides) or by mixing earths of different colors

-With a single color in a uniform way.

With two or more colors: Agateware, Neriage

We can also work in the dough to modify the texture of the earth by incrusting or incorporating combustible materials so that with the burning they leave little holes or create shades (iron or copper filings, crushed glass, chamotte -fired earth granules (which can be of different colors)-, paper, polystyrene…).

Relief and texture


The relief and texture can also be modified by means of

Printing techniques:

Using stamps (positive or negative, that is, with a hole or relief) of rubber, earth, plaster, wood and seeds (with the stone of a carved avocado); rollers; vegetable prints (leaves, barks, roots) or with shells.

Plates (larger seals) obtained by molding. We can create the plates on wood creating the drawing with wood glue or latex on which we can pour the plaster (plaster of Paris).

Decoration by means of matrices: by means of a drawing on a plaster plate or plaster that we sgraffito, we can stamp plates of earth

Moulds: we can mould small details which we then glue onto the piece

Engraving techniques:

With incisions that we filled of engobe (earth with the Consistency of a liquid paste to which we can modify the color),Mishima.

Working relief: Reliefs created with the work in the lathe or with manual work when creating the piece

Incisions and cuts (cutting out silhouettes in the piece)

By absorption or coating: with a sponge that soaks into a casting slip we can obtain its negative when cooking any combustible object can be coated with a casting slip that when cooked will keep the shape of the object burned.

Textures from the enamel:

Volcanic lava, enamel with a strong texture, can be made with silicon carbide.

Collection of the glaze

Crowling effect

In the application of the enamel

Direct application

We can draw or write directly on the piece with:

Report of engobes:

Using newspaper, cloth moistened with engobe or a mixture of equal parts of kaolin and plastic clay we can provide the texture of the medium used to the piece.

Elaboration techniques


The Greek vessels were made of a clear clay rich in coarse iron that turned a reddish-orange color when fired. The design was roughly sketched, then filled in using refined clay as paint. Details were added with an engraving tool, scratching through the paint layer to the clay below. The glass was then fired in a kiln at a temperature of about 800º C, with the consequent oxidation, turning the pottery a reddish orange color. The temperature was increased to about 950º C with the openings of the oven closed and with green wood added to eliminate the oxygen. The glass became completely black. The final stage required that the openings be reopened to allow oxygen to enter the kiln, to allow it to cool. The piece returned to its orange color due to renewed oxidation, while the painted layer remained the satin black color created in the second stage.

Apart from black, the other colors could be used by modifying the characteristics of the clay used to paint the glass. The most common was a yellowish white derived from a purified ferrous clay, and a purplish red derived from the same refined clay used to produce the black areas mixed with ochre (red iron oxide) and water.

Styles and themes

The Corinthians originally used black-figure pottery to depict animal friezes until the mid-6th century BC, when the great Athenian painters developed a sophisticated style of narrative decoration depicting such themes as battle scenes, mythical beings and legendary episodes.

Black-figure pottery depicted silhouettes of figures, but was somewhat limited in its artistic scope due to the limitations of engraving tools. Only a few painters are known by name, although many vessels have been grouped on the basis of painting style and appear to be the work of individuals or workshops. The most famous named painter is Exequias, a glass-painter from the sixth century B.C., who is best known for his battle scenes.

Painters of black figures

The study of Attica’s black figure ceramics is based on the monumental work of Sir John D. Bezley, in which all the ceramics that the excavations have brought to light are catalogued and attributed to specific artists or schools.

The names of ancient ceramists documented in their own works are only a dozen, but the great Scottish researcher has been able to identify about 400 artists or groups. These painters, whose real identity is unknown, have been given conventional names, either by association with the ceramist who modeled the vessel – the painters’ signatures, when they appear on the vessel, are accompanied by the word ”egrapsen”, meaning ”painted; those of the ceramists of the word ”epoiesen”, that is, ”made”, either by the location of the vases in museums with their registration number, or by the name of the modern owner who possesses the most characteristic vase of the artist or who allowed its identification – for example the Painter of Athens 533, the Painter of Durand-, or even by deriving it from the most typical decorative theme of the artist in question (like the Painter of Bellerophon).

After an experimental stage in the great prototypical vases (Pintor de Polifemo, 675-650 B.C.), the first great personalities we find are the Pintor de Nesos (620-600 B.C.) and the Pintor de la Gorgona (first decades of the 6th century B.C.) until we reach the first ceramographer whose name we know through his signature: Sófilos (600-575 B.C.

Between 585 and 570 B.C. there is the series of cups called Siana (after Siana, the city on the island of Rhodes where the two specimens were found that made it possible to characterize the whole series).

In the seventies and sixties of the 6th century B.C. Clitias was active, author of the famous and richly decorated Vaso François (National Archaeological Museum of Florence).

In the following decade Nearco stood out, who signed his glasses as a ceramist and painter.

A well characterized series is that of the so-called ”miniaturists”, which follow one another between 570 and 540 B.C.

From the period 550-530 B.C. are the vases decorated by the famous Lydos and the Painter of Amasis, while another great artist, Exequias, is active between 545 and 525 B.C.

With Psiax (525-500 B.C.) we reach the last eminent personality of the black figure technique.

Ceramics decorated with black figures document virtually all forms of Greek ceramics. Their representations are vivid remnants of everyday life, scenes of competition and palestra, religious ceremonies, etc. Along with them appear numerous mythological themes, either episodes of narrative character, or figurations of the main divinities of the Olympus.

Panatenic Amphorae

The amphoras from Panatena are a type of autonomous amphoras: they are large vessels, from sixty to seventy centimeters high, typical for the shape of their relatively short “neck” and their oval “belly”, which were given as prizes, filled with oil, to the winners of the Panatenaic competitions that took place during the festivities in honor of the goddess Athena.

The front part bore a representation of the goddess, and the back part showed the competition in which the victory had been obtained (a race, a combat, etc.); but the most singular characteristic of these vases is that, made until the end of the 4th century B.C., they always maintained the decorative technique of the black figures, even when they had fallen into disuse.

Ceramic of red figures


Red figure pottery is one of the most important figurative styles of Greek ceramics. It was developed in Athens around 530 B.C. and was used until the 3rd century B.C. It replaced the previous predominant style of black figure ceramics after a few decades. Its name is based on the figurative representations of red color on black background, in contrast with the mentioned previous style, of black figures on red background.

The most important areas of production, besides Attica, were in Magna Grecia (Italy). The style was adopted in other parts of Ancient Greece. Etruria became an important center of production outside of Greece.

Attic vases with red figures were exported throughout Greece and beyond the Mediterranean. For a long time, they dominated the market for quality ceramics. Only a few production centers were able to compete with Athens in terms of innovation, quality and production capacity. More than 40,000 specimens and fragments of vases have survived. From the second most important production center, Magna Grecia, more than 20,000 vases and fragments have been preserved.

Since the first ones who studied them, John D. Beazley and Arthur Dale Trendall, a lot of progress has been made in the study of the style of this art, managing to assign many vessels to artists or schools. The images depicted provide irreplaceable evidence for the exploration of the history of Greek culture, daily life, iconography and mythology.

The appearance of the red figures

Around 530 B.C., in the workshop where the painter of Andócides worked, the technological innovation that was to impose the style of red figure ceramics (reserved for the layer of varnish that covered the walls of the vase entirely), instead of the traditional black figure style, matured. Andócides replaced the black figures, except in the case of the panatenaic amphoras.

This new technique allowed a representation closer to reality, restoring to the light of the images that the old technique defined unnaturally with the opacity of the shadow.

Pioneers of this ceramography of red figures in the last decades of the 6th century B.C. were Eufronio, Eutímides and Fincias, associated in art and life, as it is deduced from the lively exchange of replicas, as a dialogue between colleagues, which can be appreciated in the numerous legends of their vessels. While the frequent references to young aristocrats suggest contacts with the atmosphere of the Athenian golden youth.

Eufronio’s career, cut short too early by some visual problem (it is a Beazley hypothesis), is characterized by the energy with which he confronts foreshortening and the analysis of male anatomy, in line with the evolution of contemporary sculpture, especially in bas-reliefs.

Euthymides, on the other hand, is the paradigm of a synthetic tendency, in which the fluidity of the contour attenuates the crudeness of the cutting of the musculature.

If the aforementioned pioneers usually painted on large vessels, which exalted their inclination towards the monumental, a statistical calculation reveals that, during the first period of the red figures, eight out of every ten painted vessels were of the klix type, that is, cups with two handles whose decoration included not only the external walls, but extended to the interior circular surface (the so-called tondo).

The klix is the clearly preferred form in the late archaic and severe stages. Specialists in its decoration are, among many others, Oltos and Epicteto, the Painter of Panaitios and Onésimo (these last two, from the school of Eufronio, could perhaps be the same person in two different phases of his stylistic evolution), the Painter of Brygos and Macrón, more recent, and Dúrides, endowed with an extraordinary artistic longevity (from 500 to 460 B.C.).

A kind of grandiose recapitulation of reality, daily and heroic, individual and collective, in all possible registers, from the violent of orgy and war to the imperturbable of the gods, runs through the continuous outer bands and is reinterpreted, with strongly allusive episodes, on the inner surface of the vessels.

In representations of heroes, Heracles yields primacy to Theseus, in the ideological climate of the new democracy codified by the legislator Clistenes.

The male nude, and later also the female nude, by Onesimos, assumes a great structural coherence, exalted by the athletic gesture; and even expressions of the old and the young begin to manifest themselves in the rich range of the Painter of Brygos.

But the two most representative personalities of the second generation of the red figure ceramographers, in the three or four decades that go from the citada of the pisistrátidas to the double victory of the Athenian imperialism, are the Painter of Cleofrades and the Painter of Berlin, divergent and complementary: the first, perhaps Corinthian, a disciple of Euthymides, who never tires of rehearsing the communicative possibilities of pictorial narration, and the Berliner, a contemplative temperament, who with clear calligraphy and absolute certainty of line, draws on each side of the glass one or few figures, isolated from a narrative context never explicit but always understood.

In the red figure technique, the background is filled with black paint and only the small details are painted, allowing the unpainted portions to assume the reddish tone of the Athenian clay after being burned in the presence of oxygen.

The red figure technique

Creating a piece of ceramic with red figures required close collaboration between the potter and the painter. The potter would shape the piece of clay and give it to the painter while the clay was still wet. The painter would paint the vessel using an instrument such as a pastel bag with a nozzle that activated a bone or wooden syringe to put the details and colors in the background.

Because the paint only contracted in color once the piece was baked, the painter had to paint almost completely from memory, unable to see his previous work.

Additionally, the colors could be applied while the clay was still wet, so the painter had to work very quickly. In the large craters painted with the red figure technique, this meant that tens of thousands of lines had been applied, each ending in precisely the right spot to prevent coincidence in the intricate detail of the work. Despite these restrictions, the red figure painters developed an intricate and detailed style.

Painters working in the early black-figure technique had been forced to keep their figures well separated from each other and to limit the complexity of their illustration; since all foreground elements were covered with the same black shadow, two matching figures could be indistinguishable. Anatomical detail beyond simple sketching was almost impossible in the black figure style, when only a limited number of colors (mainly raw white) would stand out from the black figures.

By contrast, the red figure technique allowed the greatest freedom. Each figure was naturally silhouetted against the black background, as if illuminated by theatrical light, and the more natural scheme of red on black, in conjunction with the greater variety of colors the artist could employ, enabled the red figure painters to portray the anatomical details with more accuracy and variety.

The pioneering group of painters in particular used the red figure technique to achieve a naturalism not seen before in previous styles. Humans and animals were portrayed in naturalistic poses with schematic but exact anatomy, and the technique of foreshortening and illusionist perspective was developed to exploit the relative freedom of the red figure method. Later artists, exploring the limits of the red figure technique, reintroduced white as a detail color (almost abandoned at the end of the red figure technique) and the widespread use of gold was integrated into the red figure style.

Ceramic painters of red figures



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