A hand-painted insect on a porcelain plate.

All images © Julia Pilipchatina, shared with permission

In the 7th or 8th century, Chinese artisans devised a way to combine feldspar and kaolin and fire it at a very high temperature to produce the first porcelain, which was traded globally and highly sought-after for its elegant surfaces and ornate designs. The precise process wasn’t easy to replicate: not until the early 18th century did makers in Germany first achieve the right mix of materials and methods to produce the ceramic in Europe. Around the world, the bright, white surfaces of dinnerware and decorative vessels provided canvases for the painstaking craft of porcelain painting, emphasizing numerous patterned layers of colorful glaze. For Ukrainian artist Julia Pilipchatina, the craft of hand-embellishing plates connects her to a rich creative legacy and to personal stories and family heirlooms.

Formally educated as a historian, Pilipchatina is fascinated by the profound ties to ancestry and culture that tableware represents. “By choosing a unique plate for ourselves, we draw upon our own values, and—I hope—these objects remain in our families as testament to the lives of past generations,” she says. As a refugee from Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine, the artist was forced to close her workshop, leave all of her belongings behind—save for her two dogs—and start from scratch. Now in Belgium, she’s developing a series of plates depicting detailed, chromatic insects with spotted wings, serrated legs, and feathery feet. She says:

The Beetles series was born out of an attempt to overcome my fear. It’s difficult for me to approach the topic of war. It’s too painful and feels like a black hole that drags me in as soon as I focus on it. But I suppose the nature of fear is the same, and I decided to take on a somewhat safe but strong and irrational fear of insects.


A porcelain plate hand-painted with an insect.

While insects have long appeared in ceramic tableware alongside other popular motifs like birds, trees, and bucolic landscapes, Pilipchatina renders each critter in a style mirroring her watercolor illustrations, inspired by an encyclopedia depicting exotic, jewel-colored specimens in intricate detail. The more she studied the images, the more the creatures ceased to be a source of anxiety as she noted their elaborate patterns and found beauty in their vibrance and textures.

Each bug’s bold, saturated color emerges through the meticulous layering of thin coats of paint, or overglaze, to the surface, then firing the piece at 800 degrees Celsius. “The cycle consists of heating and cooling to room temperature, which means that one firing can last 12 hours,” Pilipchatina says. “Since the paint is semi-transparent, achieving brightness, depth, and contrast requires many layers, and therefore many firings.”

Emphasizing beauty as a reprieve from the loss of her home and the ugliness of war, the artist focuses on tenderness and fragility in the natural world and humanity’s relationship with it and one another. Combining art and utility, an elegantly crafted dish emphasizes longevity, continuity, and tradition while connecting loved ones around the table. She says, “Having an item that belonged to a grandmother or great-grandmother is of great value and rarity. Now, I am creating such objects for the future.”

Pilipchatina explores a range of decorative ceramic designs in addition to a few series of illustrations about her dogs and children’s stories. You can find much more of her work on Behance, Instagram, and in her Etsy shop.


Two hand-painted insects on porcelain plates.

A hand-painted insect on a porcelain plate.

Two hand-painted beetles on porcelain plates.

A hand-painted insect on a porcelain plate.

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