Antiques Column with Michael Dowse: How decoration constantly evolves

A Staffordshire cat lying on a creamware grassy mound.  Roger de Ville Antiques.
A Staffordshire cat lying on a creamware grassy mound. Roger de Ville Antiques.

Over time there has been a huge variety of techniques used to decorate all types of ceramics from earthware pots to ornate sculptures. Some very traditional, while others revolutionary.

Developed by John Sadler and Guy Green, the transfer printing process began in Liverpool in 1756, Josiah Wedgwood being one of the first to embrace it on his ivory based “Creamware”.

It was developed in response to consumer demand for cheaper, mass produced wares - something more embellished than the previously plain, merely functional alternatives.

Most early patterns had an Oriental theme, as Chinese blue was a favourite at the time.

Ceramics, more specifically porcelain, is commonly gilded.

Gilding is where surfaces are decorated with gold leaf or fine powder before being fired at low temperatures.

Mixing the gold with mercury gives a brighter metallic finish, while honey creates a dull but very rich effect.

Gilding has been around for centuries, as has the lustre technique which involves dissolving oxides of metals such as gold, silver and copper in acid and combining them with an oil medium.

This is then painted onto the object before firing, it creates a metallic or iridescent shimmering finish.

As well as differences in the design techniques there are also different types of glazes.

Underglaze is popular as it is less expensive; designs are applied to an unglazed surface so objects are only fired once.

While an overglaze, as the name suggests, sees designs added onto an already glazed surface and re-fired at low temperatures to fuse the colours to the surface.

They frequently require multiple firings making them much more expensive.