Looking for a fun, creative and sustainable craft project? Upcycling secondhand ceramics is a quick and easy way to turn old trinkets into gloriously kitsch homeware. Here’s an expert guide on how to get started.
Upcycling is on the rise. The hashtag has had more than five and half billion views on TikTok, with videos teaching people how to rejuvenate and restore worn, tired homeware and clothing that would ordinarily be destined for the bin.
While upcycling trends tend to focus on fashion and furniture, it’s also possible to give your old ceramics a glow-up. A whopping 68 million tonnes of ceramic waste is thrown into UK landfill each year, which means upcycling secondhand ceramics is a boost for your eco-credentials, as well as a quick and easy way to add a fresh look to your home.
Artist and illustrator Meg Garrod hunts down secondhand ceramics at car boot sales and flea markets, transforming them into ostentatious creations with pastel paints and metallic details. She centres her work around self-love, feminism and body positivity and runs tutorials on Pinterest teaching people how to do upcycling projects at home.
We all have old ceramics gathering dust somewhere – the budget crockery from our student days, or the hastily bought knick-knack now firmly consigned to the back of a cupboard. To help give your old figurines a new lease of life, Meg has shared a step-by-step tutorial, detailing how to transform secondhand pottery into a work of art, including the best equipment to buy and where to find creative inspiration.
Meg’s tips on sourcing unique secondhand ceramics
- Charity shops and flea markets are good places to find unique and inexpensive ceramics. “You can also look online,” says Meg. “But this requires much more patience as you have to look through so many listings and possibilities.”
- Look for pieces with smoother or flatter surfaces. “These are easier to paint on,” says Meg.
- Look for things that will work well in your home. Meg suggests looking on Pinterest to see how other people have incorporated upcycled ceramics into their interiors.
- “You can upcycle tableware such as plates, jugs and mugs,” says Meg, “but keep in mind they won’t be food-safe afterwards - just beautiful decorative pieces!”
What you’ll need to upcycle ceramics at home
- A ceramic piece to upcycle.
- Paint (acrylic or acrylic gouache – opaque, matte acrylic paint – works the best).
- Paint brushes: a larger brush for base coats and smaller brushes for details.
- Paint pens (optional)
- Protective spray (Meg recommends Rust-Oleum protective gloss coat).
How to upcycle secondhand ceramics
1. Make sure your ceramic is clean and dry
2. Paint your base colours first
It may take a few coats. If you make a mistake, use a damp cloth to wipe away the paint before it dries.
3. Add detail
You can do this with a smaller brush or fine nib paint pens. Let each layer dry between painting, this will give you a smoother surface. Be gentle when handling your ceramic at this point because the paint can scratch off.
4. Once you’ve finished painting, let your ceramic dry for a few hours
5. Spray the ceramic with a gloss spray
This adds a protective coat so the paint is fixed on and leaves a shiny glossy finish. Leave to dry for 24 to 48 hours before displaying.
Meg’s expert tips for painting unique ceramics at home
Pick your paint wisely
Meg suggests staying clear of any water-based paints, like watercolour or gouache. They will smudge easily and wash off, spoiling your design.
Paint pens are useful for adding smaller details to your ceramic. “It’s much easier and faster than painting traditionally,” says Meg.
Colour is your friend
“I love to paint with rainbow pastel colours because it matches my home décor,” says Meg. “Pastel tones are really beautiful, calming colours that remind me of spring.”
Look online for inspiration
“I find some of my favourite design ideas on Pinterest and often get lost in an inspiration hole, scrolling through mood boards and pins,” says Meg.
Meg Garrod, artist and illustrator
Meg runs a small business illustrating and upcycling ceramics alongside her university studies. Self-proclaimed “fat illustrator”, Meg’s work centres around self-love, feminism and celebrates body positivity. Meg posts arts and crafts tutorials on Pinterest’s “Idea Pins”, which you can follow at home.