The Ming Vases

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I’ve tried an effective technique to imitate the Ming Vases, the typical Chinese vases in white porcelain with blue decorations. We begin copying the characteristic shapes of the Chinese vases from some pictures, with narrow necks and large bellies. To succeed in draw the symmetrical shape you start by median vertical line, draw a half and then you try to complete the other side, as if in a mirror.
Now you color the shapes with oil pastels in various shades of blue, making sure to fill the whole surface of the vase. After that you cover the vases with a layer of white acrylic paint or white gesso primer and wait until it dries. 
When the white layer is dry you engrave the surface with a toothpick copying the drawings from the Ming porcelains (dragons, ideograms, plants, flowers, clouds and birds…), thus it will appear the underlying blue!
Eventually cut vases and paste them on a black background. You can paste on a white cardboard adding shadows cast (as you can see in a previous post with the Striped Bottles),  or you can complete the composition with white lettering in Chinese!
 
Here below the beautiful vases created by students’ of Cherry Garden Primary School in Bristol. The pupil are in the 6th grade classes. 
 

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59 thoughts on “The Ming Vases”

  1. Even for me was a discovery! My daughter had to create something about China and I thought to these Greek vases… but white on blue!I've and my daughter enjoyed so much to try different kinds of blue and different media for the white layer (acrylic white paint, white tempera, gesso primer…). And when we would engrave it we began to use nails, pins, spikes, blue pencils, scalpels… then I thought about a simple toothpick! WOW!

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  2. Meravigliosi…tu continua a "produrre" che mi sei d'ispirazione.Io pensavo di far imitare ai ragazzi quelli a figure rosse con il graffito e i pastelli ad olio. Tu hai mai provato? Dici che verrà una schifezza o che potrebbe essere una buona idea? Bacioni Laura

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  3. …Non so, non li ho mai fatti, ma se sono venuti questi con pastelli a olio e acrilico bianco dovrebbe funzionare alla stessa maniera con fondo nero e acrilico rosso oppure con fondo rosso e pittura nera sopra. Può essere un'ottima idea comunque. Ho visto fare i vasi greci con pastelli a cera rossi o gialli sul fondo e china nera sopra, anche questo dovrebbe funzionare… vedi un po' che materiali hai a scuola! Martedì vado alla scuola di Laura e Davide a fare una lezione su questi vasi cinesi nella classe dei più grandi e comincio una collaborazione con la scuola per lavorare nelle classi… ti saprò dire come va! Un abbraccio!

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  4. Hi Miriam, I love your blog, just bumped into it recently. The vases are beautiful and such an original idea! I'm an art teacher (american) living in Italy – so it's really quite interesting to see what you do! Since you post in both Eng and Italian, I'm curious what language do you teach in? Come an check us out sometime: http://articulation360.wordpress.com/ it would be great to exchange ideas with you.-Louise

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  5. Hi Louise! I’m very glad to know you!! I was teaching in Italian language (in Italy), but now I live in Bristol and I started to do some works at school with my (bad) English… What are you teaching in Italy!? Where are you living?… Sorry, but I’m very curious to know you!!!I visited your blog… it’s amazing!!! I’ll follow you! Keep in touch!

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  6. This is lovely. My students love to remove the top surface but we have always used black. This is another great technique and they will learn about Ming vases. Thanks so much I will post some photos for you when we complete. You are generous for sharing your ideas and time.

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  7. Love your idea and trying project now with my 6th graders. We are having a problem with the gesso peeling off in unwanted areas when they use the toothpick to scrape the design. They are unable to carve out lines/design details. Any solutions????

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  8. Did you try with acrylic white paint or tempera? I think You need a different medium instead of gesso, I've also done the project with acrylic white paint and when we carved it with toothpick the layer was not completely dry… perhaps could be better! Tell me if it works, otherwise we can find another solution…

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  9. We painted with acrylic gesso. It was completely dry. I may have them scrape gently with exacto knives instead of toothpicks. I seem to be getting better results with that on my test project. It could also be that the paint is too thickly painted. We did 2 coats. Thanks

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  10. I love this idea and am using with 8th grade students, although we are also adding collage to make this a mixed-media assignment. Has anyone done this with Greek pottery, as that would probably also look really nice. I will offer that as an option in case some boys want to do that.Thanks again for sharing this wonderful lesson idea! I'm so impressed that you were able to get such great results with 6th graders! Wow.

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  11. Thank you for sharing this wonderful lesson idea! I am so impressed with the quality results you achieved with 6th graders. I'm going to try it with 8th grade and also require them to use collage as well to make a mixed-media project. Has anyone tried this with Greek pottery? I may offer that as an option in case any boys would prefer that using red oil pastels under black paint.I did also have some trouble with the white acrylic flaking off in areas I didn't want it to. My best results came from using Scratch board tools to first incise the lines and then use pointed wood scratch art tool to lift out larger shapes and lines.Hope my students like this!!

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    • This is such amazing advice! It pays to read other commenters remarks! I’m excited to try both Greek (w/red you suggested) & this Ming Dynasty type, with both my daughters of different age groups. Wondering, what kind of paper you would suggest? Also, if you find the acrylic flaking, what do you use as an alternative maybe that did NOT flake? I hope you’ll comment back!!!! I have all the other Scratch Tools you suggest as well …

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      • Hi Jeanine! About the paper I used drawing paper quite heavy (200gm/m). The white acrylic color is suitable to cover the background in oil pastel, but should be better make a sample before. If the acrylic flakes you could try White gesso primer, or a mix of both. Thanks for you kind comment about the GEM!! I appreciate it alot! 😀

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  12. Try adding a small amount of liquid dishwashing soap to acrylic craft paint for the top layer. I don’t know why it works, but it helps the paint stay where you want it and also makes it easier to scratch off. It worked well with black acrylic paint when my students did a Paul Klee “Fish Magic” project using the same technique. Now we will try it with white acrylic paint for Ming Vases. Miriam, i love the look of your student’s vases…great project! Thanks for sharing!

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  13. Gee Miriam, I am SOO grateful you have such a great set of followers & commenters here. You all have offered wonders of experience that is sure to assist us (over in Canada) on our art travels, with this project! I am now MORE excited than I was at just finding this gorgeous project in the first place, you’re a GEM to the Art Teaching World Miriam, a gem 🙂

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  14. I love blue and white jars!!! Seeing you do this on paper is just fantastic!! I will certainly try it. Thanks for posting such a wonderful idea!!! Will be pinning you from now on! 🙂

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  15. What a beautiful art project! I have just completed it with my grade 6 students. They enjoyed themselves and the results are lovely. Just a question … what do the Chinese characters mean that you added onto your final page? Love this idea! Thank you for sharing.

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    • Hi Lauren! I’ve found some simple words written in Chinese, like art, joy, good, and I copied them. I actually don’t remember the meaning of those words I have written onto the page, but for sure were positive words! 🙂

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  16. Hello from sunny California! I have tried this project and it turned out beautifully. For those of you who are having trouble with the flaking and the white coming off in unwanted areas, try adding a little dish soap as Julie in 2014 (above) suggested. I found that helped make it easier to etch with the toothpick. The final project is just beautiful! I’m going to try this technique with some Chinese style waterbirds.

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    • We’ve searched on internet nice words like joy, art, beauty, happiness. Another idea is to search the student’s name in Chinese and copy it. You can easily find it on the web 🙂

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  17. Hi there! I am in my 3rd year of teaching and I am gong to try this with 5th grade. I may have to give them some extra support for the vases. We will talk about symmetry, fold the paper and then draw and cut away from the fold to create symmetrical vases. My group of kids are somewhat low so we are inching into drawing independently without freaking out. LOL However, I know they will love the painting process. I prepped paper today to try it tomorrow with oil pastels and tempera paint. I pray it works because I love it. Can’t give this group acrylic; it a challenging group of students so not yet. thank you so much for your blog. I am learning a lot from you.
    From CT

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    • Hi Kelley! thanks for you message. I really hope your kids enjoy the work, I think thick tempera paint will work as well as acrylic paint. Let me know how will be the work! 🙂

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  18. I did this with my world history class, but we are having trouble etching into the acrylic paint. They keep ripping the paper. Any suggestions?

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    • Hi Stephanie. I used an heavy paper (200/220gr/sqm). The acrylics or tempera paint we use have different amounts of bonding agent, so, it’s necessary to try the effect before doing the activity with kids. I’d had to do some samples before finding the right paper and paint. For example the acrylic has to dry slowly because you need to etch it when it’s still soft… I’m sorry I can not help you more than that 🙁

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