Painted terra cotta pots, tiles and other accent pieces make wonderful gifts and add an extra spark of color to a patio or garden. Glazed pots are painted with a special ceramic paint and fired at high temperatures to form a hard, glassy surface. If you have access to a kiln you can recreate this technique, or use a more traditional painting method and seal the item to preserve the paint. Buy enough paint and sealer for two to three coats.
Glazes come in a variety of colors and textures and can produce different effects. You can select a matte, semi-gloss or high-gloss finish, or create a crazing effect, which looks like fine cracks throughout the glaze. Terra cotta is fired at a lower temperature than other clay so you will want a low-temperature glaze. You'll still need a kiln, though – a kitchen oven won't be hot enough.
Water-soluble acrylic paint is easy to work with and cleans up with soap and water. It comes in a broad range of colors and is available in ready-to-use bottles and jars, or in tubes that can be thinned with water. One brand of water-based acrylic paint is sold as patio paint and advertised as water- and weather-resistant, needing no sealing or varnishing. Clean brushes and any drips on clothes or surfaces with water before the paint dries. Solvent-based acrylics must be mixed and cleaned with mineral spirits or turpentine.
Oil-based paints will work on terra cotta, but they take longer to dry and are harder to clean up than acrylic paint. They can also be more expensive, which may not be cost-effective if you're painting a large item or surface area.
Exterior Latex House Paint
Exterior house paint is formulated to withstand the weather and works on terra cotta as well as on siding. Latex paint cleans up with water and comes in a range of quantities. If you have a specific color in mind the paint store will mix a custom color for you.
You can buy plain or colored acrylic sealant in spray form or in cans. Terra cotta should be sealed before and after painting, so colored sealant can make the job easier by painting and sealing in one step. Some clear formulas have a tendency to turn yellow when they dry, so check the label to make sure the sealant dries clear.