I regret to announce Alora died 01/07/09
(though no longer in business, her site remains as a memorial...)

Alora's Handpainted Tile Murals
Alora Hofferber
2300 Bruno Lane
Bosque Farms, NM 87068

1(505)869-9407. . . button..E-Mail Info

Hand-Painted Tile Mural Tutorial

Please keep in mind that the following info is from my personal 30+ year tile painting experiences. Other painters have their own good advice to share.

What You Will Need
Assuming you don't own a kiln, make sure you locate someone who will fire your work, before purchasing supplies. Most Ceramic stores do low temp fires occasionally, but phoning several places may be necessary.
I buy most of my supplies from Rynne China Co. , 222 West Eight Mile Road, Hazel Park, Michigan.48030 (phone: 1-800-468-1987) and Rosebud, PO Box 1051, Orchard Park, NY 14127. I have found them to be reliable sources of high quality paints. Rosebud also makes available a Color Mixing Chart that comes in quite handy.
Or you might want to call Ceramic outlets in your area, they may carry powdered china paints.

Decide upon the subject of your painting. Make lots of sketches, refine the sketch you want to paint on graph paper . Mark your graph paper with the exact size of the tile/tiles you will be working on.

Buy only the color paints needed for your first project. The paints I use are called Overglaze (or china) Paints in Powder Form. They come in half dram glass vials or by the ounce in paper envelopes. Even though it is more expensive, buy in the glass vials until you find out what colors you like using. A little goes a long way. I find that in painting animals I use a lot of Best Black, Hair Brown, Rembrandt Brown and Tan but there are many colors to choose from. Reds and purples are difficult to use so try to avoid the need for now. Don't plan on using White. Any white highlights will be the tile not paint. You can't be sure of the results when trying to mix colors, so save that experimentation for later. If your design needs yellow and red or purple, it would be safest to use Yellow for Mixing for now.

Same for the tiles, buy only what you need (plus three extra: two for mixing paints and one in case of accidents). Most places like "Tile Mart" will sell individual tiles so you aren't stuck with a mess of them. Buy plain shiny white glazed ceramic tiles. Sometimes the thin cheaper tiles are the best! but if you want to be sure you are getting a quality tile that most likely won't surprise you in the fire, buy from Rynne China or Daltile (Semi-gloss wall tile). Don't be tempted by the colored or textured ones, you can't tell what your results will be. Clean your tiles with soapy water, rinse and allow to dry thoroughly. You will mix your paints with oil (I recommend using Rynne's Painting Mixing Medium) and turpentine (I use odorless turpenoid which is available at most drug, art or craft stores).
For now you will only need to purchase 1 small and 2 medium oil painting brushes and a small palette knife. (If you are going to start with a subject that is large and hairy, also buy a large brush.) Buy good but not overly expensive brushes. You don't want hairs to fall out into your work, but you also shouldn't have to worry about ruining an expensive brush. Only use new brushes, any residue from other types of paint will ruin your finished piece. A wipe-out tool is handy but I have often used a wooden skewer or the wooden tip of a paintbrush instead.

Mixing the paint
Being careful not to breath the powder, think in small amounts, gently pour out a little onto your mixing tile, forming a little mound. (If you decide to continue painting tiles, you will want to buy a grinding glass for mixing paints, but for now a tile is fine.)
Using the palette knife add a tiny...tiny bit of oil and a tiny drop of turp onto the mound. Mix thoroughly, grinding the paint into the tile with your knife, scrape it into a mound and then mix some more. Scrape into a mound. The paint should be really thick, but not lumpy or grainy. If it is grainy or seems dry, add another tiny drop of oil and tiny drop of turp and mix again. When ready, it should look similar to a glob of thick oil paint or toothpaste. Scrape it up with your knife and mound it onto your second spare tile (this will be your palette). Clean the mixing tile and knife off carefully using a little turp before you start on the next color. Give each color lots of room on the palette.
Once you have all the colors mixed that you will be using,

You're ready to paint!

Dip your small brush into the turp. Let most of it drain off against the edge of the jar. Pull a little paint away from it's mound and gently stir with your brush. Notice how it thins and spreads? Don't let it spread into one of your other colors. Have a clean palette knife handy to help control run-aways. Wipe off your brush and then get just a little of the thinned paint on it.
Rough in an outline and eye placement, getting more paint on the brush only as needed.

  • If you are putting any background in, keep it in mind as you paint but wait until after the first fire to paint it. This is not a hard fast rule, but remember, you can't cover up mistakes once the tile has been fired.
  • The paint should go on thinly. You will be happiest if you paint and fire the tiles several times to acquire a rich full color.
  • As a rule, what you see is what you get, but there are exceptions. If you mix colors, they may come out of the kiln muddy or very different than what you expect. So unless you like surprises, try not to mix. I have had no trouble blending animal fur using Best Black, Rembrandt Brown, Hair Brown and Tan, but you must be careful with colors that are on the red side. If you should mix red with most yellows you will not get orange, you will lose the red in the fire. There are combinations you will learn to avoid.
  • If a hair should fall out of a brush into your painting, remove it as soon as you see it. (usually a pin works well) If it stays in there, when fired, it will burn out ruining the painting. The same is true for dust.
  • I can not stress enough that any white areas must be exposed before you fire, particularly the "life light" in the eye. While the painting is still moist, you can use a wipe out tool or clean brush to remove paint to expose the white of the tile. When the paint has dried, you can use a tool or brush moistened with a little water (spit works better, but don't get any paint in your mouth...many contain lead) to remove unwanted paint. I've often said that it seems I spend more time removing paint than applying it.

    Because kilns are very expensive, until you are sure that you will enjoy tile painting, I recommend that you take your work to a ceramic shop to be fired.
    Not all tiles are compatible with low fire over-glazes. So it always pays to do a sample tile before you spend hours working on a painting.
    "I hope you enjoy tile painting as much as I do and will share your experiences with me.
    If I can be of any help, please let me know." Alora
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