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Traditional Tole Painting

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Traditional Tole Painting and a little of its history.

'What is Tole'? That's the first question most people ask - a short explanation. The word Tole comes from the French, meaning lacquered or enamelled metal-ware, often gilded. It also means a table or board.

From the Archival records and articles in the UK, it is known that the Schools of Art of the time (1700's) took apprentices and trained them, in either the 'one-stroke' style required for decorating furniture, or the 'one-stroke' style required for decorating pottery. (Those not able to afford the School of Art costs, spent years learning from the Master Painter within a firm).
hand painted one-stroke dated 1855
Most of the Schools of Art taught the 'one-stroke' painting method, whereby a single stroke was used to produce the leaf, scroll, bird, fountain or flower of the design. The brushes (paint brushes are called pencils in the Pottery trade) were 'double' and 'triple' loaded, to produce the highlight, body colour and shadow, of the petal, leaf or element, painted wet-on-wet and with a single stroke of the brush. This quick method of painting was used for commercial reasons - to speedily decorate the furniture, pottery and trays ready for sale.
So, although the brush carried one, two, three or more colours, it would have taken only 'one stroke' of the brush to produce the more complicated shading, giving depth and beauty to the design. It would have taken much longer to blend these colours together had they been added separately.
hand painted one stroke mug dated 1855 The Painter or Paintress, as they were known, were employed to decorate such articles as Wedgewood, Spode and Derby Pottery, Sheraton furniture, Chippendale furniture, and Chippendale papier-mâché tea trays, which were also very popular at the time. (A tea tray at that time was known as a tea board - French word for board is Tole). Colloquially these tea tray painters were probably referred to as Tole painters as opposed to Furniture painters or Pottery painters.

Black gilded tea trayImported glossy black tin tea trays, referred to as 'Japanned Ware', had become popular in the UK. To counteract this import, areas around Sheffield, the Black Country and parts of Wales started producing all manner of black enamelled, metal goods, from tea pots to tea-caddy's to tea trays. It is known that the painters from the 'Potteries' (where most of the Schools of art were situated) moved to these areas, to fulfil the increasing demand of decorating these products. Records show that Tole was being painted in the UK by the 1750's and the work was often Gilded.
(Examples of decorated papier mâché tea trays and history.)

In Traditional Tole, Oil paint was, and still is, the medium used. Two or more colours are loaded into the brush to complete each element of the design, painted wet-on-wet with one stroke of the brush. (Tole is often referred to as 'one stroke painting') All the elements are then built up to complete the design, with fruit, flowers and leaves being the main components. Gilding is hardly ever used these days, its heyday seems to have been from 1790's to 1870's.

Today, most of this type of skilled, historical, decoration, often comes under the general heading of Decorative Art.

The above information is from Archival records, articles and papers in the UK. Jacqui Blackman © 1999

Click on any of these links to read the history and see some of the designs used at these famous Pottery's

Wedgwood       Royal Crown Derby          History of Spode

      Tole Gallery       Tole Brush Strokes      Tuition

There is a single leaf painting demonstration here

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Published article: Artists and Illustrators Magazine pages 47 - 49 March 1997 'Tole Painting by Jacqui Blackman'


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