Turning Raw Material Into A Colorful Life

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When M. Sue Jones and her husband, Harry, moved to Payson about 10 years ago from Ohio, they brought with them an antique carpenter's chest and a 24-foot trailer. Both were filled only with Sue's blank china to be painted, blocks of wood for Harry to work on and two kilns.

It was the raw material for their new life.

They didn't bring any furniture. Harry built what fills their home today. The rest is Sue's handiwork.

Sue Jones has been an artist her whole life.

"I was practically born with a brush in my hand," she said.

She grew up loving art and was encouraged by her mother. Art supplies were the gifts she received for every birthday and Christmas.

"I was blessed," she said.

But it wasn't until 25 years ago that she was introduced to porcelain painting and began to consider herself a professional artist.

"My husband's aunt was an antique collector and she had some old china that needed touching up. She knew I was a painter, I had worked on a few of the paintings she had."

Jones said she looked at the china and said it looked very complex.

Fortunately, she knew someone who painted china, a gym teacher who taught her in school, but who had retired and had taken up the hobby. Jones went to see her and was shown the materials, given some paints and a brush and told to come up with something.

"When she came back, less than 15 minutes later, I had painted a flower on the plate."

The retired teacher introduced Jones to someone who could train her concerning the various paints and how to fire the china.

"I took the ball and ran with it and haven't stopped," Jones said.

Not only did she paint, but she sold her work and taught others her skills. At one point, she even had a shop featuring her porcelain paintings and her husband's woodwork.

In addition to dishes and tiles, Jones also does porcelain painting on lamps, vases, jewelry and other decorative items. She still does an occasional oil painting, primarily large florals, that remind one of Georgia O'Keeffe.

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Everywhere you look in the home of Harry and Sue Jones there is evidence of the passion of artists. Harry, a woodworker, made all the cabinetry in the home, and Sue filled the shelves with her painted porcelain. Her work is also on the walls in the form of painted tiles.

She points to one painting in particular, a red poppy on a 4 by 4 foot canvas.

"That was fun," Jones said. "Usually I am sitting and painting with small, delicate strokes. With that, I was standing up and going this way and that with the paint."

The piece was a commission and the same client hired Jones to paint a small 1.5-by-2-inch portrait of her granddaughter. The client has also commissioned two lamp bases and a set of tiles.

Jones has such a passion for her work, no project is too difficult. The hardest project she has undertaken was painting her own dish service. It was only difficult because it was tedious.

The next time she took on a dish service, she allowed herself more freedom.

She painted a set of dishes for her son and his wife, using an orchid theme, but every setting had a different orchid.

One aspect of her work with clients presents a challenge, though, "Trying to put on a piece what's in their mind. It's nerve-racking until they see it."

Her biggest project was doing 40 tiles of Arizona wildlife for a log home in Pine. The husband had not seen her work, but when he did, he said they should have her do another set. In case they decided to move back to Colorado, they could take the second set with them.

It took Jones about two months to do both sets.

Another fun project has been doing animal portraits on plates, Jones said. She just finished one of a Yorkie puppy.

Working in the 2,000-year-old medium of porcelain painting, Jones has seen quite a few changes over the years. When she started in the field, about the only thing painted on dishes and other porcelain was flowers. Now, there are people doing impressionistic paintings and abstracts.

"That was totally unheard of 50 years ago," she said.

Most beginning china painters use patterns in their work. Jones never has. She attributes her freehand style to all the other artwork she did before getting into porcelain painting. She doesn't use patterns, but has an extensive collection of them for students.

While she is not currently teaching any china painting classes, Jones said she would like to if enough people were interested.

At least six people would need to participate, she said, and, because she has so many paints, she would supply them to the class.

"The paints are expensive and until you're sure this is what you want to do, you shouldn't make that kind of investment," she said. Anyone interested in a porcelain painting class with Jones is invited to call her at (928) 472-8147. She would take students through the process, step-by-step.

Porcelain painting is not for everyone, Jones said. It is very time consuming and you work with a difficult medium -- oil on a slick surface.

"A friend described it as kind of like painting with Hershey's syrup on a plate."

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