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 personal preferences.

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 helpful.




Dry China Paints

Mixing Media

Painting Media

Palette Knife

China Silk or other lint free fabric

Ceramic Tile

220 grit rubber scrubber

10/1 spotter

1/8" stippler brush

3/8" china shader or

Small cat's tongue brush

Ball Stylus - small

Denatured Alcohol

Round Wooden Toothpicks


Tools, Paints and Mediums

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 brushes.

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 craft store.

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 Seeley's.  

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 later.

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 pieces.

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 handy.

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 Paints...

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 delicate lines.

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 hands.

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 blend.
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.
Cheeks - 

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 applications.

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.

NOTE:  Stippler brushes are intended to be used dry.  NEVER put your stipplers directly into oil or paint.

Soft color 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 nostrils.  
Use your 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.
Face after additional shadowing blended around nose.
Allover Wash Technique

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 be removed.

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 wash:

Seeley's Bisq-Tone #1 

Jean Nordquist Feature Enhancer


After removing excess, use your deerfoot stippler to gently pounce and blend the paint, making sure to leave plenty of paint in the wrinkles and creases.
Nicholas with wash.  You could now proceed to apply cheeks, nose highlights etc. as described above, then proceed with instructions for eyes below.

Painting Lips

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 mouth.

Suggested colors for lips: 

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 center crease.
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 lip.  

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.
Upper 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.
Base for Eyebrows

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 face itself.

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 again.  

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 018.

This 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.