Decoration on pottery

There are two types of décor on stoneware - overglaze decoration and underglaze decoration. Overglaze décor is applied after the bisque firing, but prior to glazing. This leaves the décor protected by a layer of glaze and resistant to all kinds of external stress. The décor is fired with the glaze.

Underglaze decoration

Underglaze decor is applied directly onto the unglazed material, which is very hygroscopic. Because of this, colour is instantly absorbed and impossible to remove. One wrong stroke of the brush equals a discarded item. When the factory switched to electric firing in 1950, the objects were fired harder and became less hygroscopic as a result. This made it possible to remove mistakes with water.

Fajansekopp med hank på begge sider som har rågodsdekor, cirka 1914

Underglaze decoration cirka 1914.

Underglaze decoration was done in several different workshops, depending on which technique was used to apply the décor. The different methods were: Freehand painting with brushes. Painting with stencils where the pattern was dotted in tin foil. Spray painted décor with an airbrush.

Freehand painting required long training. Beginners started doing stencil painting for 1 ½ to 2 years, before getting to try their hand at freehand painting. During this time, they learnt about colour use and the basic techniques of brush painting. Before they were allowed to decorate proper objects, they practiced on discarded goods. When the head of the painter’s workshop decided they had acquired the necessary skills, they were allowed to decorate proper objects for sale. At first, they painted simple patters on smaller objects. Older and more experienced workers painted the more complex patterns on larger objects. Young painters often competed among each other to be allowed to paint harder patterns.

The decorators sat along large tables and painted with brushes. The colours were blended on a palette. It took a long time to master the art of mixing colours correctly. At first, decorators painted with one single colour. As they became more proficient, they were allowed to paint multi-coloured patterns.

There were 60 people employed in the painter’s workshop, 45 women and 15 men. A male foreman supervised the work and was responsible for training the apprentices. The hourly wages for men averaged around 100 Norwegian øre, and for women 55 to 60 Norwegian øre. The foreman was held in high regard among his workers. He examined worn out tools and decided if they were ready to be replaced. Decorated objects were transported to the basement for glazing.

Transfer printing

Kvinnelig arbeider presser trykkdekor på tallerkener, cirka 1908

Transfer décor pressed in place cirka 1908.

Transfer printing was done by engraving the desired pattern on a copper plate. The pattern was then printed onto thin tissue paper using a designated press, located in the attic above the decorator’s workshop. The finished paper was sent through a hole in the floor, to the workshop below.

The paper was cut to separate the different pieces of the pattern and hung on long cords stretching throughout the workshop. The pieces were taken down when the decorators needed them. The paper with the printed décor was placed on the object and rubbed on with a sponge soaked in green soap (soft soap).

Transfer printing underglaze (bisquit). Decor: Brun Fasan (Brown pheasant)

Transfer printing underglaze (bisquit). Decor: Brun Fasan (Brown pheasant)

The objects were then transported to another room. There, the paper was removed using lukewarm water, leaving the transferred pattern intact on the object. The decorated objects were then stowed in small kilns to burn the oil out of the décor. This was necessary to prevent the pattern from being dissolved by the glaze. After this firing, the objects were ready for glazing.

Enamelled décor

Underglaze decoration is applied after bisque firing and prior to glazing, and is thus protected by a layer of glaze. Overglaze decoration, also called enamelled decór, is applied on top of the glazing.

Vase med emaljedekor, 1886

Vase, enamelled décor 1886.

Enamelled decór is characterized by a much richer colour palette than underglaze décor. This makes it possible to decorate objects with gold. Objects with gold décor have always held high prestige, placing them in a higher price range.

Enamelled décor was done with fine brushes in a range of different designs. Each brush had its own name. Cutliner and tracer are names adopted from English.

The decorators sat along large tables when painting. The décor could either be applied freehand or based on a pattern. The pattern was dotted out in tin foil. The foil was placed loosely on the object and the pattern applied using a broad brush dipped in soot. After removing the foil, the pattern was visible as tiny dots of soot. The pattern was then painted, making the soot disappear.

Training happened through a direct transfer of knowledge from an older to a younger decorator. The foreman gave the beginner an item decorated with a simple motif. This was followed by a brief introduction to colours and correct brush use. After this, the apprentice tried to copy the pattern freehand. When the foreman was away, the older and more experienced decorators gave further advice. This was especially valuable when mixing colours, to get the desired shade. Colours were mixed on a palette with turpentine and conditioner. In addition to attaining the right shade of colour, it was important to make sure that the colour was not too thin. If so, one risked the colours seeping out and blending with each other on the object. When the apprentice mastered the technique, he was given more difficult assignments. Several of the patterns took a long time to paint. These were often patterns made by famous artists, such as Kitty Kielland.

En kvinnelig arbeider påfører gullrand på bolle. Emaljesalen, 1950-årene

Application of a golden rim. Decorator's workshop, 1950s.

A lot of decor was done in silver and gold. This was based on genuine raw materials that were portioned out in tiny, carefully measured quantities by the foreman. The gold was imported as a finished blend. It came in different qualities. The most commonly used type was 15 % gold, but on especially fine objects 24 % gold was used, or even powdered gold, which was nearly a pure metal. The finest qualities were only used on special objects, such as punch bowls. To achieve a high level of gloss, the gold was brushed with a glass brush. The remaining gold or silver was scraped from the table and tools and returned to the foreman.

The decorator could be given a couple of large baskets of objects to decorate. When these were finished, he went to the foreman to request a new assignment. The foreman wrote a note which he gave to an in-house messenger. The messenger made sure the finished objects were transported away and new ones brought to the decorator.

The finished items were transported to the enamelling kilns. There, the décor was fired at approximately 800 degrees Celsius. The enamelling kilns were the first electric kilns used at the factory, in 1931. Before this, the enamel was fired in coal-fired enamelling kilns. After firing, the items were sent to be sorted and packed.