Many years ago I was taking some classes about traditional pottery where a lot of attention was given to contact with the earth and sustainability. I remember a few times they told us about traditional painting of those pots with oxides, as a natural method of painting. I never got to the point of really using it in class, but always kept on thinking about what it would be like.

Does anybody have some experience? How does it work?

I imagine they must use minerals for it, but then I wonder how sustainable it is? Also it must depend on which mineral you would use and how much is needed for a little bit of paint?


I was thinking about the technique to make this (picture), other techniques might be interesting too, as long as they are natural materials and do not need a lot of material.

I find that iron oxides are used for red and yellow colours. Charcoal might be used for black and kaolinite for white. I imagine blue can be generated by copper oxides.

enter image description here

  • Are you interested in a sustainable way to make a glaze?
    – Earthliŋ
    Commented Jun 1, 2013 at 4:26
  • @Earthling I edited the question a bit. I'm looking for the pre-Columbian way of decorating, which -if I understand well- didn't use glaze. I searched on the internet about glaze but cannot find specifically which materials are used. Maybe, if it only uses natural materials and can be made by hand, it might be a very good solution.
    – Sironsse
    Commented Jun 1, 2013 at 7:42
  • 1
    As far as I understand it, glazes are produced with industrially produced minerals, but glazes have been around for a long, long time and can be made from things you find in your backyard (for specific colours, you might need to go a little further). Obviously, you can just fire your pottery painted with ash/clay/soil, and part of this will melt into your cup/vase/... Sustainability-wise I see no reason to prefer one over the other. To waterproof your pottery, you would need some type of glaze (which basically gives you a layer of glass).
    – Earthliŋ
    Commented Jun 1, 2013 at 13:52

3 Answers 3


Many mineral bases are in essence ground rock. You can find some of them in 50 pound bags at any shop that deals with brick mortar and concrete colorants. Ferrous oxide, and ferric oxide give you reds and pinks. (See Grand Canyon)

Some of the metal oxides are very toxic. Lead oxide produces a lovely white. cadmium a school bus yellow. But Titanium oxide is white, non-poisonous, easily mined, and cheap. It's the colorant used in all white paint now. Lot of interesting colors come from copper compounds, some poisonous, some not.

waterglass -- sodium silicate -- I think can be used as a carrier for powders.

Google pottery mineral pigments.

  • Titanium dioxide is even used as a food colouring, so the toxicity must be pretty low... Commented Mar 18, 2014 at 2:35

It is also possible to use clay of different colors than the object you wish to paint (there is clay in many different colors: blackish, grey, yellow, red etc). You add water untill the clay becomes liquid and then simply paint it with a brush. I once painted a white vase with red clay like this ... unfortunately I don't have a picture of it.

  • And you apply the the fluid clay before baking? Once I was happy to have found black clay, but after heating up the clay, it becomes reddish again (as organic matter, which was making the clay black, disappeared).
    – Sironsse
    Commented Mar 17, 2014 at 21:10
  • yes I think we indeed applied the clay before the baking. A redish clay on white works realy well. Commented Mar 17, 2014 at 21:46

Although they do not last as long, perhaps use crayons which work well on the terracottas and I have seen some lovely work. No baking of course. Do check the compounds used in the crayons first. They also age and give that ancient look.

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