how to paint dottery

August 12th, 2010

rainbow be happy mug

Have you always wondered how I get my dots so perfectly round? How I came up with that intersecting-circles-of-dots pattern? How you might be able to duplicate that pattern on a piece you are painting? Well, look no further! I’ll tell you how. Better than that, I’ll show you how with lots and lots of photos, most of them taken by my partner in crime painting, Brenda. (You can tell from the length of my hair and my non-pregnant state that these photos were taken a while back…almost a year ago! I guess I’ve been busy writing about other stuff since then.)

step one: get Starbucks

Step 1: Go to Starbucks. Purchase caffeinated drink of your choice. I guess this step is optional but I rarely skip it.

inspiration strikes

At the pottery studio, browse the shelves until you see a piece that is just crying out for dots. I usually dot mugs and bowls…

a variety of dottery

…but I’ve dotted spoon rests, butter crocks, a few Christmas ornaments, a teapot, a wee play teaset, and plenty of plates. I find that plates and mugs are the easiest things to dot, though. Which is why I chose a cute little rounded mug to dot for you.

paint orange orange

Once you choose your piece, next you need to decide what colors you want to paint with. Sometimes I walk into the studio knowing exactly what colors I want to use, but usually I dither over the paint selection forever before I decide on a combination I like.


On this day, I went for a bright rainbow of colors, minus red because there only happened to be five wells in the palette I was using. Also, I find that five colors is about right for “actually dottery.” Note that you don’t need much paint to dot with; a teaspoon or so of each color is more than enough to cover a regular-sized mug.

ready to paint

Okay! We’ve got our blank mug, our paint palette, and five paintbrushes. I don’t always use one brush for each color; the way I dot it’s possible to use one brush and just wipe off the paint each time you switch colors. But this day I decided to use one brush for each color.

ready? not yet...

Now we pick up our paintbrush, and…are you ready for this? It’s the big secret to painting dots…


…turn the paintbrush over. That’s it! When I paint dots, I use the wrong end of the paintbrush. (Make sure you’re using brushes that have a rounded end, not the sliced-off-slanted ends that you will find on many paintbrushes so they can be used for scraping paint.) You can also use cotton swabs, toothpicks, or your own fingers, depending on what kind of dots you want, but I almost always use the wrong end of a paintbrush. It’s that simple.


To recap: for dottery, this is wrong. You do not use the bristle end of the paintbrush.

loaded paintbrush

You use this end. Okay, I think I’ve made that pretty clear. Now, we’re ready to paint!


We dip the paintbrush, wrong-end first, into the first paint color, annnnnd…


Dot! One dot, right where you want the center of your first circle to be. This is not a science, it’s an art, so where you want that circle to be is totally up to you.

palette in progress

Then pick up the next brush, dip it in the next color, and just make a circle of dots around that first dot. It’s okay if your dots aren’t all the same size—again, art not science. Move on to the next brush and the next color, add another ring of dots around the first two. We’ve made a good start.

whew, this is hard work

Whew. This painting stuff is hard work.

refreshing sip of iced latte

What I need is a refreshing sip of my iced latte. Ahh, that’s better. Now where was I?

no idea what's going on behind me with the skull

Right! Painting. I have no idea what’s going on with those two behind me and that ceramic skull, though.

one circle complete

But who cares about those shenanigans, because I’ve finished my first circle! Usually when I’m dotting, I use each color once, and then I do the last ring in the same color as the center dot. That’s a personal choice, and I don’t even consider it a hard-and-fast rule. I just think it looks complete that way.

this octopus plate always cracked me up

It was at this point that Brenda got a little bored watching me paint dozens of dots, so she got up and wandered around the shop for a minute. She took this photo of some mugs and a plate that always cracked me up: it’s a heart-shaped plate painted with an octopus, a rainbow, and a couple of phrases in French, including “Je t’aime.” Sure. Why not?

three circles complete surveying my work

While Brenda was taking pictures of octopus-rainbow plates, I kept dotting away. Once I finished my first circle, I picked a different color for the center dot of my next circle, decided where I wanted the center to be, and started on that one. I use the colors in the same order for each circle because I find that’s less confusing for me personally. If the circles start to run into each other, I just imagine that one circle is underneath the other, and I leave off the dots where they overlap. Does that make sense?

As the mug fills up with dots, I pause in my painting to look at the mug. Are there any spots that seem blank? If so, I might add another circle of dots there. If it’s a small space, sometimes I place the center dot right on the edge of the mug, and end up with only a semi-circle of dots. Or I try to make the dots, and thus the circle, smaller by very lightly touching the surface of the mug with the paint instead of pressing the paintbrush down.

dottery makes me happy

Ah, dottery makes me happy. Can you tell? It really is a very relaxing type of painting to do, once you get into it.

just a few more dots waiting impatiently

Too bad for Brenda that dottery is kinda boring to watch. Nah, just kidding! This photo was totally staged. After all, Brenda was keeping busy taking pictures. And we were laughing our heads off and having a great time being silly.

gotta concentrate

Ooh, I’m concentrating hard, now. Must be getting close to done.

pointing at a mistake?

Hmm, what’s this? I’m pretty sure that I was pointing at some kind of mistake here, but I don’t remember for sure and I can’t see the mistake. Which just proves the point I was trying to make, that it’s okay to mess up a little in dottery. No one will notice anyway.

dots all done!

All done with the dots! In this photo you can see what I was talking about before, how when circles run into each other I just imagine they’re overlapping and leave off the dots of the parts that overlap. You can see that when I added that ring of orange dots, I ran into the purple dots on the right and the blue dots on the left. And on the lower-left circle, the yellow ring ran into the orange ring of the center circle.

necessary tool

I like to paint little phrases on my dottery. Usually I paint a very small “be happy” somewhere along the edge of a circle. In order to do that, I need a decent tiny paintbrush, so I whip out my trusty paintbrush kit.

now for a tiny paintbrush

The fabric case I use to store my paintbrushes was actually made to store crochet hooks. It’s not the best material for storing paintbrushes, because the bristles rub against the fabric and can get bent and frayed. My paintbrushes are fairly inexpensive, though, so it’s not a big deal if one of them wears out faster than it should. This case has worked pretty well for me for the past year and a half, and it’s small enough that I can carry my paintbrushes in my purse all the time. It’s really annoying to go paint, to need a decent tiny brush, and not have your paintbrushes with me.

Sceptre Gold II Sable Synthetic

Most of my paintbrushes were purchased at Michaels. I bought a couple at an art-supply store and at least one of them came from Wal-Mart. I think the most expensive brush I own cost less than $3. They all have been a worthwhile investment for me. Why?

painting words is fun

Because painting tiny words is fun! I love doing it, and regularly offer to paint words for other people if they don’t want to do it themselves. I also loved making posters when I was an RA in college.

Brenda disapproves of crappy paintbrushes

Most pottery-painting studios do have tiny paintbrushes, but they generally are pretty crappy and hard to paint with because the bristles stick off in five different directions. That’s exactly what you don’t want when you’re trying to paint a fine line.

good vs. bad

See the difference?

a little something inside

I often like to paint a little something on the inside of my mugs, just for fun. And guess what? It’s much easier to dot the inside bottom of a mug than it is to paint there. So I added a little circle of dots.

ta-daa! done!

Then I painted my name and the date on the bottom of the mug, which I do with all my pottery. And Ta-daa! Done. All that’s left is for you to pay for your piece, leave it to be fired, and come back and pick it up. Then you get to show it off to everyone and let them marvel at what a great job you did painting such a gorgeous piece of pottery.

Dottery! The Mug

I hope some of you find this tutorial helpful, and that you all have as much fun creating your dottery as I do mine!

35 Responses to “how to paint dottery”

  1. Carole says:

    Looks like so much fun! I LOVE LOVE all of my “dottery”!

  2. heather says:

    thank you so much! can’t wait to try it

  3. jesser says:

    This was really fun to read! I only rarely get to the pottery studio (like 1x/year, probably) and I’ve only done one dottery piece, but it turned out pretty fab! It’s a huge platter with cool-colored dots all over it and a green underside. I used the brush end of the paintbrush when I did mine which probably did not get as uniformly circular results. Do you do second/third coats on the dots or does the “wrong end” method leave enough paint to make the colors vibrant?

    Thanks for the tutorial. I’m totally itching to paint dottery again! Cheers!

  4. Ninotchka says:

    the other end of the paintbrush. how clever! very useful tip. thank you!

  5. Shanee says:

    Thanks for sharing!

  6. This was awesome. Who knew using the “wrong” end of the paintbrush was your secret! Thanks for sharing! :)

  7. Sarah says:

    I love the hammed up photos, they’re very funny. It’s incredible how firing/glazing intensifies the colours so much. Are you given an indication of how the paint will turn out when you’re choosing the colours for your palette?

  8. Kristen says:

    Love your cuteness. Lovelovelove.

  9. Deborah says:

    I am inspired once again. I LOVED painting pottery with my nephews! I had each of them dip their hands in the paint and ‘hug’ them around my large mug…then I did a ‘dottery ring’ around the top. The place I went, they had little squeeze bottles with round nibs…I used them to make my dots since I didn’t know your trick of using the back end of the brush. Now I was to go try it again to see what I can create. =) Thanks for the awesome blog!

  10. Clistyb says:

    Ahhh Bethanny. I’ve been waiting for this tutorial! Can’t wait to try it out. Maybe with the teen girls from church.

  11. SAJ says:

    Somebody stumble this!!! I’m so glad you stayed up until 2am to write this. What a fun post!

  12. Jill says:

    I love how the colors change after firing… and I guess that’s something to keep in mind when choosing colors, right?

    This is a great post, I love the way you and Brenda hammed it up, yet still provided an informative post.

    Octopus? Hmm…. whatevs…

  13. Angella says:

    You guys are the CUTEST. I want to come paint dottery with you again.

  14. Jeannette says:

    A great tutorial. I’ve never done pottery, but my daughter wants to go, so may-be I’ll be brave and try this! Love the staged photos!

  15. Melissa says:

    Yay, I’ve been waiting for this tutorial :) I’m going to paint pottery this Tuesday and I will definitely be trying my hand at dottery. I’m super excited about it!

  16. Ashley says:

    Great tutorial, funny photos (I’m guess dude was checking the size of her skull because they’re going to use it as evidence in a “crime scene” faking her death and then run off to Canada (because nobody checks here yo) and live together in an igloo forever – or it’s for a play) but I’ll leave the actual dottery to you. I’m too clumsy to paint those circles, I’d smear it

  17. michele says:

    Bethany!! OMG! This is THE best blog– EVER!!! I love your humor, I love the photos, I love the colors… and I love that “photo” that comes to life where you’re turning the paintbrush over end-to-end!!! YOU, my dear, are one of THE COOLEST CHICS on the innerwebs. I heart you!

  18. Erin says:

    Fancy cool animation. You make everything look so easy.

    Hey speaking of college, Brenda Z. just friended me. Her boy is teenagery, which makes me ponder my/our age once again.

  19. Cc says:

    Out of all the mugs on my cupboard my favorites are my two dottery ones.

    The round mug fits very nicely in my hand and the dots give my fingers something to fiddle with.

    Dottery is great because there is no right or wrong way. Every piece is unique and even if you do make a small mistake know one elae will know.

  20. Kandi says:

    I was under the impression that you need a base coat when you are painting pottery… is this not true?!
    Thanks for the tutorial! I enjoyed it. I knew you used the wrong end of the brush but it’s nice to see your thought process on a lot of things. Also- I am jealous of your small word writing abilities! I am not great at writing with a paint brush. Maybe I need to buy my own tiny brush…

  21. Mrs. Wilson says:

    I LOVE THIS!!!!!!

    You make me want to get out and paint …

  22. Yara says:

    1. I must be a dottery genius because I just KNEW you had to use the wrong end of the brush… otherwise you had to be some kind of alien & well, you look pretty human to me…
    2. My macbook thinks dottery is not a word ; )
    3. I love the spinning brush picture. HOW did you do that? (or is it a video?)
    4. How do you feel about dotting a skull?
    Oh come on, you knew SOMEONE would want one, right?
    5. I really want an iced latte now
    6. Maybe I should just go do my own dottery
    7. I’ve never done my OWN painting on ceramics : (
    8. I saw a guy at Disneyland today wearing a BUY MORE tshirt & thought of you & Sonja : )

  23. Amanda says:

    Loved the tutorial! So funny!

  24. Denise says:

    Thank you Bethany & Brenda! I can’t wait to try it!

  25. BeachMama says:

    I love this post! I still don’t think mine would be as nice, but I am not afraid to try it now.

  26. Kari says:

    I actually squealed when I saw your blog post title – thank you so much for posting this tutorial! I’ve never painted pottery before, but now I can’t wait to get in the studio!

  27. ~moe~ says:

    This is a great tutorial! Who knew I almost had the process down…I keep forgetting the 1st step – Starbucks! No wonder mine haven’t turned out with the Actually perfection! Perhaps the next will! Thanks!

  28. Gayle says:

    This was awesome… I would love to say I would try it but I know I would run out of patience two minutes after the first dot. Beautiful art though

  29. bonnie says:

    Best post ever!

    And, you know, I’ve never even thought twice about that octopus-rainbow plate. Which says something about me. Not sure what, though.

  30. Madge says:

    I loved the animated flipping of the paintbrush, hehe. You made me giggle. Great tutorial!

  31. Jummy says:

    Great tutorial! I love Brenda’s expression in the 5th last picture!

  32. Kuky says:

    Hee hee, that first step. :D What a fun tutorial. When you two were taking these pictures a year ago did you know you were going to do a tutorial or it was just a happy coincidence you got the right pictures?

  33. Allyson/HBMomof2 says:

    This is AWESOME! Thank you for sharing all of your tricks with us. I don’t think #1 is optional though. I am going to try this very soon. I am thinking a whole set for Christmas morning breakfast!

    I also loved the flipping of the brush animation. It made me crack up. It was the shocking discovery for me! You are adorable. I loved your faces throughout. Job well done.

  34. amanda says:

    I’m excited because I found a pottery place close enough to me! I’m actually planning on making a visit next week. And, yes, I’m going to try my hand at dottery. :D

  35. OMSH says:

    I am the proud owner of TWO dottery bowls – whoohoo…and one striped one that holds my daily rings and hair clips on my bathroom counter.

    I lerv them all.
    But what I love the most are my two mugs.
    Man I miss you guys.