Painted Pottery

Once the surface of the vessel had been prepared, a design might be added. Such decoration was executed in one of several paint types.


Paint Types

Paints made from different materials will fire differently. Numerous experiments were made in order to achieve the most solid and crisp colors. Nevertheless, black paints tended to turn brown or red, others might flake off. The basic characteristics of the most common paint types are listed below.

MINERAL PAINT

Mineral-based paints were made from crushed rock or clay which contained elements that may or may not oxidize upon firing. Iron-based paints were fired in a reducing atmosphere to preclude them from oxidizing and turning red. Slight oxidation often left this type more brown than black. Manganese-based paints remain black to brown even if oxidized, so they were often used in black-on-red pottery. Sometimes mineral pigments were mixed with organic binders, which can bleed and create blurred edges, but these are localized rather than consistent.

ORGANIC PAINT

Organic pigments were made by boiling down various plants rich in carbon. Organic pigments usually seeped into the surface, which created the easily recognizable consistent blurring around the edges of lines. These often turn to a gray or even purplish hue. Because they retain their color even when oxidized, they are frequently used on black-on-red pottery.

GLAZE PAINT

Late in the period, glaze paints were introduced. Glaze paints contain copper or lead which acts as a flux and actually allows the paint to vitrify (turn into a glassy state) upon firing, creating brilliant glossy colors and surfaces. Although Glaze paints are common in Zuni pottery after about 1300, matte glazes, which are not as shiny, appear earlier, and are found on some of the late polychrome types.