This tutorial is intended to provide you with some basic
techniques for painting miniature dolls. These are the
basic methods that I use in my own dollmaking. There are
as many different techniques as there are dollmakers, and I do
not intend to present this as "the only way"
to paint a miniature doll. Please do not let these
instructions inhibit you. Use them as a stepping off
place, and experiment with different colors, media and brushes
to find what works best for you.
Also, I have listed the china paint brands and colors that
I often use. If you do not have these particular
paints, however, it is not necessary to run out and purchase
them. Any similar colors will work just as well, and you
will soon develop your own color palette based on your
Finally, I use the oil base method for all of my china
painting. I find that it blends nicer and easier than the
water base method, and that finer lines can be created using
oil based mediums. It is also less inclined to fade in
firing. Besides that, it is the way I learned many years
ago, and I am too old to change now!! If you use the water base method, the
order of application, and other painting tips will still be
Dry China Paints
China Silk or other
lint free fabric
220 grit rubber
Small cat's tongue
Stylus - small
You do not need a huge supply of
brushes, but you do need to invest in high quality brushes and
care for them properly.
Spotters are available in small sizes
in most craft stores. My favorite brands are Windsor
Newton #101 and Jayne Houston 10/0 Detail. (Spotter and
detail are interchangeable names for fine pointed, sharp hair
Deerfoot stipplers are dense round
brushes which have been cut off at an angle. They are
used dry for pouncing and blending colors. Jayne Houston
stipplers are my favorites. They come in several small
sizes and last nearly forever.
Small shaders are useful for blending
lip and eye shadow colors. They are available at any
||There are many different
brands of china paints, and literally thousands of different
colors. I prefer to use matte finish paints, and use
various colors from several different manufacturers who
specialize in colors developed for painting dolls. Among
these brands are Virginia LaVorgna, Jean Nordquist, and
You will need a palette knife to
grind your paints, and a 4" or 6" white glazed
ceramic tile to grind on and paint from.
I do not recommend premixed
paints. They are more expensive, and have a limited
shelf life. Dry paints will last forever.
||You will need two types of
medium (oil) for your painting. There are many brands
available. I use Willoughby's and Jayne Houston, but
have found that nearly any good quality brands will do the
trick. Some painters even use olive oil out of the
kitchen to paint with!!
You need a mixing medium to grind
your paints. This is an open medium, meaning that it will
never dry out, so that your paint can be stored and used
You will also need a painting
medium. This is considered a "closed" medium,
meaning that it will dry out with time. The length of
drying time varies from one brand to another, but usually most
painting oils take a couple of hours to dry. This allows
you time to work with your paints before they set up.
You will also need turpentine or a
turpentine substitute such as Grumtine to clean brushes and
sometimes thin paints.
||You will need china silk
or other lint free cloth to oil and clean your porcelain
Also, denatured alcohol is wonderful
for a final cleaning before painting. It removes dust and
finger oils, and dries instantly.
Ball stylus, lots of wooden toothpicks
(the sharpest you can find) and a wipe out tool are also
||Mixing Dry Paints
Much easier than you might think!!
Place a small amount of the powdered
paint on your ceramic tile.
||Add just a single drop of
Mixing Media to the paint. Look how quickly the paint
absorbs the oil, and how quickly a single drop will moisten
the entire pile of paint.
||Use the flat surface of
your palette knife to grind the oil into the paint, moving the
knife in a circular motion.
Your goal is to mix the paint to the
consistency of toothpaste.
If more oil is needed, add very small
amounts at a time, using a toothpick to transfer the
oil. Remember never to stick your palette knife or dirty
brushes into your oils, or they will become contaminated.
You will leave this mixed paint on
your tile, and work from one edge of it when painting,
thinning small amounts with painting medium as needed.
When your painting session is finished, if you store this
paint in a dust free container, it will be ready for use next
time you want to paint.
|A Note about Mixing and Using
There are many different techniques
for mixing and using paints. Some people use a product
called pen oil to help them get thin, fine lines when painting
their miniatures. Other people mix their paint very
runny consistency in hopes that this will help them paint
My technique is to use only my mixing
and painting mediums. To paint tiny lines such as
lashes, I find it best to thin a small area of my paint with
mixing medium just to the point where the paint will flow off
the tip of the brush. I want a sharp, clear, well
defined line, and find that over thinning the paint, or using
pen oil simply creates lines that blur and run. Remember
to always fully load your spotter brush, allowing the reservoir
at the top of the bristles to fill with paint. Hold your
brush upright, and stroke slowly, allowing a thin line of
paint to flow only from the very tip of your brush. A
well loaded brush should allow you to stroke several lashes
without reloading. The lines should be crisp and clear,
and should not run or blur.
This tutorial is
broken into several sections. Each section will present
all of the steps that should be completed before each
firing. Complete all of the steps shown until you get to
the point where you are instructed to fire your piece, then
after firing, continue with the next section.
||Your bisque piece must be properly
prepared before painting. The eyes on this piece were painted in
the greenware stage with white underglaze. The greenware was
slowly fired to a true cone 6. The piece was then well sanded
and polished with a 220 grit scrubber, and then scrubbed under
running water with dutch cleanser. If you need information
on cleaning and preparing greenware, refer to my tutorial "Greenware
Cleaning and Preparation."
After piece is thoroughly dry, wipe down with rubbing
alcohol to remove any remaining dust particles or oils from your
||Using silk or
other lint free material, rub a thin coating of china painting
medium over the surface of your doll. The medium serves to
allow you to smoothly blend your paints. Paint applied to
a dry surface will "grab" and be impossible to evenly
||Using a dry
area of the same cloth, wipe most of the media from your
porcelain. You want your head to have a satiny sheen, not a
shiny oily look. When it looks satiny, you have the
correct amount of oil on your piece.
China paints are meant to be applied in thin layers, and fired in between.
The gradual build up of color in this way will give your doll a lovely
glow. Red paints have a tendency to fade, so they require several
Apply a dot of paint to the center of the cheek, using
your 10/0 spotter brush. Not too much paint, a little goes a long way, and
we will have several applications to add to the depth of color.
Suggested colors for blush:
Seeley's Bisq-Tone #1
Virginia La Vorgna Rosy Cheeks
Use your small deerfoot stippler to
blend the color into the cheek area. Stipplers are used in
an up and down, "pouncing" motion. This moves the
paint gently and evenly across the porcelain. Make sure
that your color fades away gradually at the edges, with no
sudden starting and stopping lines of color.
Stippler brushes are intended to be used dry. NEVER put
your stipplers directly into oil or paint.
blended on both cheeks.
|| Use your 10/0
brush to apply a small amount of paint to each nostril.
Also add a tiny amount of color to the "divot" between
the nose and upper lip. Use a second dry brush to soften as
necessary. Keep the color VERY soft. You do not want
a nosebleed look here.
||Use your 10/0
brush to apply a small amount of color to each side of
stippler to gently pounce the color on the sides of the
nostrils, so that remaining color increases the depth of
features, but is not a harsh dark line.
additional shadowing blended around nose.
Some dolls have lots of great detail
sculpted in that really need more than just blushing to bring
out their character. Older people with wrinkles, like my
"Nicholas" are a perfect opportunity to do some
intense painting, and an allover wash is a great way to do this.
Begin by coating your piece with medium
and wiping back as explained above.
||Mix a small
amount of china paint to a very thin consistency, and apply to
entire piece, using either a brush, or your silk dipped into the
paint. Make sure that you get paint into all of the
creases, nooks and crannies. Avoid the whites of the eyes
if possible, but if you do get color there, don't panic, it can
After applying, begin wiping excess
color from piece with clean silk. Continue to remove until
you are happy with the overall depth of color.
Suggested colors for
Seeley's Bisq-Tone #1
excess, use your deerfoot stippler to gently pounce and blend
the paint, making sure to leave plenty of paint in the wrinkles
wash. You could now proceed to apply cheeks, nose
highlights etc. as described above, then proceed with
instructions for eyes below.
Apply a thin line of paint to the
CENTER crease between upper and lower lips. Do not use too
much paint. Just a thin line is plenty to do the entire
Suggested colors for
Virginia La Vorgna
First Kiss is one of my favorite lip colors. It has a
lovely soft glow, and is never too harsh, or too orange.
||Paint applied to
||Use a dry, small
cat's tongue brush or square shader. Gently pull the paint
from the crease into the bottom lip, forming the lip shape.
Gently smooth color. Repeat for upper lip, using a dry
10/0 spotter if necessary to get the small mounds of the upper
By applying your lips this way, you
will not have problems with brush marks, or streaks.
Keeping the paint light and using a dry brush allows you to
blend and smooth as you create the shape of your mouth.
||Don't try to
apply lip color full strength in this first firing.
Additional color can be added in later firings. It is more
important to get a smooth, even base of color.
and Lower Eyelids
Use your 10/0 spotter to paint a thin,
smooth line across each upper eyelid. Your choice of
colors is important at this point. I seldom use straight
black, but for lady dolls, do like to use a black/brown.
For children, I prefer a medium brown, to avoid the hard look
that a too dark color can give. A very soft brown is
sufficient for babies. On the other hand, if you are
making an Egyptian, or a lady of the evening, then use a very
strong dark color.
||For the lower
eyelid, I prefer to make my own paint color, using 1/2 of the
black/brown used for the upper lid, and 1/2 of the red used for
the cheek color.
Your final step before the first firing
will be to apply a base for the eyebrows. Choose a soft
brown, not too dark, or if you are planning on a blonde doll, a
blonde brown or blonde hair color. The positioning of
these base strokes is most important. Take time to
determine where the starting and ending point of each brow
should be, and the height of the arch.
Apply a single stroke across the brow
bone. Keep the color light. This base will
serve as a ground over which you will stroke individual hairs in
a later firing.
||No, there is
nothing wrong with your monitor!!!
Just wanted to point out that for some,
painting the left brow to match the right can be difficult, as it
requires you to push rather than pull the stroke. Try
turning your head upside down, and pulling the stroke.
Turning the head also helps you in
determining the placement of the start and end points, and the
height of the arch to match the first brow. This is
because you can focus on the brows without being diverted by the
||Check your doll
over for any smudges, smears, or even finger prints. If
you are pleased, fire her. If not, wipe it off and do it
When I was teaching, one of the
questions that I heard every week from at least one student was
"Will this be ok when it is fired?" The answer
is NO! If it is not ok now, it won't get any better in the
kiln. There are no little elves that will climb in there
and fix your painting, so if you don't like what you see at this
point, please take the time to use some oil on a clean cloth,
wipe it off, and start again. Once it is fired, it is
nearly impossible to take it off, so it is much better to do it now!
Fire to a true cone
is the temperature that I find works best with the paints and
oils that I use. It is sufficient to thoroughly mature the
paint, without overfiring, which can cause shine, or extensive
fading. Remember that kilns and paints can vary, so use
your best judgment and experience when determining the cone
that you use.