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Do-It-Yourself Ceramics

by Treva McNally

Back in the 1970s and 80s, ceramics was a favourite hobby-everyone was decorating earthenware mugs, vases, Christmas trees, and seasonal ornaments, and signing their name and date on the bottom. You had to use your own brushes and tools and usually stored them in an empty Pringles potato chip can. Starting with a greenware piece, the seams left from the mold were scraped and sanded until smooth, and then the piece was fired in a kiln to harden before decorating could begin. As a result, even the smallest project took at least three or four studio sessions. At the end of each evening, everyone gathered to wash brushes and paint pots because a sign on the wall stated: "Your mother does not work here. Please clean up after yourselves."

Remembering that experience, I was intrigued when I saw an ad for a ceramic studio, Fired Up, suggesting that birthday parties could be held there. I couldn't imagine a party where a group of young people sat around a table sanding for several hours so I paid a visit to their location behind Leisure World in Charlottetown to see what had changed.

That evening, the customers included a table of very young teenagers as well as several couples working together. Clearly the demographics have changed from the 80s when ceramics was the domain of women over 30. Now, the earthenware pieces are already cleaned and fired so that you can skip cleaning and go directly to decorating. Brushes, stencils, stamps, tracing paper and paint are all provided, and there is a separate room for parties.

To try out the studio, I picked something small-napkin rings with a bamboo pattern. I asked Sarah Carver, who was working there that night, what I might do to decorate them and she suggested three to four coats of paint and then sponging with a darker colour to give depth. I did as she instructed and was able to do it all in an hour and a half. After leaving my pieces for a final firing, I started to take my brushes and paint pots over to the sink when Sarah told me that cleaning up was her job. I liked the changes!

This is not your mother's ceramic studio. Finishing a piece is much faster than it used to be and there are more ways to decorate it. For a productive pastime, Fired Up is worth considering. It's an enjoyable way to spend a few hours and you don't have to be an artist to create something attractive.

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