By: Danielle Kearns
So now it’s time to actually load the kiln. Good thing I had a hankering for Tetris in college. Those skills are definitely coming through for me now. In order to keep up with the many events, classes, workshops, and painters we get on a daily basis, we are almost always running a kiln in the back of the studio. We have 2 on site, which is why it's always so warm and cozy. Items take priority based on due date, since we give a one week turn around time. We also have to take size into consideration, though, because like-size pieces fit better together on the same shelves. Here's a little more about how all that works.
The largest pieces go in first. It is always easiest to put the tallest, bulkiest pieces at the bottom of the kiln and work around them. You can't just put them straight down, mind you. You need to put them on stilts to ensure they will not stick to the shelf. This is a whole bunch of terminology that probably makes no sense to someone who hasn't seen it before, but it goes something like this. Stilts come in all different sizes, but are made out a combination of ceramic and metal prongs. Not only do they avoid the piece to stick, but they allow air to circulate around and up the piece so both the inside and outside will be fired evenly, including the interiors. That is immensely important when it comes to something you'll be using day in and day out in your kitchen. Each and every item is positioned on a stilt that is size appropriate.
Step Two: Wiggle Test
You read that right. Once the pieces are stilted, you must make sure they are stable. We tap and wiggle each piece to make sure they are firmly on the stilt and not in danger of touching any other pieces. Items will shake and rattle in the kiln naturally due to the extreme temperatures, so we do our best to ensure they all have room to groove. Should the items tap or touch, that could result in them fusing together, which is a problem we try to avoid at all costs.
Step Three: Building Up
We utilize every space, nook, and cranny we can on each level, but we also get to determine how tall each level can be by building them to our needs. We do this by adding kiln posts around the edges at varying heights. Posts range from 1 to 12 inches long and can be stacked to make unique heights. A shelf balances on these posts to create the levels. We then start the Tetris game again on this next level and do it all again, building as high as we can towards the lid without touching it.
Step Four: Close Her Up
The top comes down, latched, and plugs put in. The plugs will fit into the peepholes that run down the middle of the kiln. These need to be filled during the firing process to trap the heat and ensure even heating throughout the cylinder. We make sure all the levels are set for firing and hit Start. We have an electric kiln, so the rest is mostly a waiting game. We have a digital read of the inner temperature, which peaks at around 1800 degrees.
Step Five: Firing
It takes a few hours for the kiln to reach its highest temperature. That is also dependent on how packed the kiln is. The more crowded it is, the longer it will take to get to temp. A lighter kiln might finish quicker. On average, the kiln will be closed and do its thing for 12-18 hours. We sometimes get calls asking if we can take a peak inside and see if someone's piece is in there, but by cracking the lid open prematurely, not only could you burn yourself, but you risk cracking and ruining all of the other pieces int here. During our peak season, that could be over 100 different holiday gifts that all crack down the middle, so we never open the kiln before it's time. (We know, it'd be a lot easier if you could open it like an oven door, but that's just not how the technology works.)
Step Six: Cool Down
It will take many hours for the kiln to come down in temperature so that we can unload it. We do our part to further this process naturally, but only once it's to a manageable temperature. We open the kiln's lid at 150 degrees, so it's still plenty hot in there, but cool enough to take out with heat resistant gloves. We go layer by layer, taking the stilts off each individual item, and put them on our work shelves to cool at room temperature.
Step Seven: Dremel + Spot Check
The unfortunate, but unavoidable, side effect of stilts are sometimes sharp indentations on the bottom of the piece. We dremel these down by hand for any piece that might have them. During this process, we also evaluate the piece for imperfections from the firing process. For instance -- cracks, blemishes, fusing, crawling, or shivering. If the piece is to our satisfaction, it travels to our pick-up shelves, which are organized by style and type. If they are from a party, they'll be individually wrapped for your convenience.
There are always parts moving in the front, as well as the back of the house to get things out to you on time and without imperfections. We do our best, and we hope you see the time and attention we put into your items.
By: Danielle Kearns
I am fairly new to the pottery world, so learning the ins and outs of the clay business was a total learning curve for me. We get asked all the time, “Why does it take a week to get my pottery back?” I wouldn’t have really understood myself if I hadn’t just recently been trained in it. So I figured I could give a little step-by-step tutorial of how it all works and the TLC each piece receives right here, in house, from our Studio Associates and Custom Artists.
Step One: You paint!
Obviously, each piece is painted to be uniquely your own. When visiting us, you pick and paint your piece in our cozy studio. Most people paint using our “Fun Strokes!” undercoat glazes. These are our solid colors, of which we have over 70! We also offer specialty glazes, which will fire in the kiln differently from the Fun Strokes, and will create a more complex, multi-layered color scheme. Some folk choose to have extra details or wording added to their piece, which can only be done by our talented Custom Artists, so those will wait on special shelves for their expertise hands.
Step Two: Drying
Each piece painted gets organized on the back shelves by day. These items need to dry for a full 24 hours to allow the paint to dry fully and set.
Step Three: Glaze Prep
We glaze on an almost daily basis. Each of our Studio Associates are trained in the process, which is an art form in and of itself. We use a clear glaze, which is combined with distilled water in a large tub. The mixture is blended (thoroughly) with a power drill and the largest whisk you’ve ever seen. The glaze’s viscosity is then tested using a special viscosity cup. At this point, we make sure our glaze is primed for the best results possible.
Step Four: Time to Glaze
The majority of our items are hand dipped into this mixture… twice! We attempt to coat as much surface area as possible the first go around. The items are then shaken vigorously to allow the excess glaze to drip off and create a smooth layer. We also use synthetic sponges and fan brushes to dab at the glaze to ensure it doesn’t pool or drip in any one area. It is a long process, and one that requires a lot of patience and focus to detail. After all of the shelves have been half dipped and partially dried, we go back to the beginning and do it all over again, this time dipping the other end of the piece and ensuring the names on each piece are preserved. This is so important to make sure you get your same piece back later.
Step Five: Spot Check
Now, everything should have a complete layer of glaze on it. It almost looks like everything on the shelf is mummified and there is no more color visible. Everything has turned a chalky white color, and the original colors are now seemingly hidden. At this point, we check each item to make sure there are no lumps, bumps, or imperfections. If we see any blemishes, like glaze drying in a funky way or drip marks, we go back and finger sand each item to make them as smooth as possible. Any items that were painted with speciality glaze are "tagged," as those are not glazed in the same way.
Step Six: More Drying
That’s right! Even the glaze needs 24 hours to dry. The shelves will be filled with these items that are prepped and awaiting the kiln, still organized by day, and now also organized by sizes to make the loading process more efficient.
Why Do We Glaze?
Think of glaze like the clear nail polish for your pottery. It is the finishing touch to make everything shiny, special, and bright. It allows anything left unpainted to become a natural white. It is also the thing that makes your piece food-grade safe at the end of the day! One of our biggest sellers at the claypen is kitchenware. It would really be a shame if you made these awesome creations and couldn’t actually use them!
Stay tuned for next week to learn a little more about how we load the kiln and bring these pieces to the finish line. There's a lot more to it than just paint and pick up.
By: Danielle Kearns
As a PYOP studio, we have to outsource our pottery as bisque, which means the clay has already been molded and fired once before we receive it so that you can paint it upon your visit. There are a handful of distributors around the country, but most notably, we use Gare, Inc. located in Haverhill, Massachusetts. I recently got to take a tour and training at the facility, and I got a glimpse into the inner workings of the corporation and the things that make Gare one of our favorite businesses to work with.
local, family-run business
Gare, Inc. is located just 2 hours North of us in Haverhill, Massachusetts. The facility includes offices, plenty of art samples, paint tank mixing vats, loading docks, warehouses, and the best crew around. The majority of the team has been there for 10, 20, and even 30+ years. Not only do they feel like a family, some of them are even related and married. You can feel the tight-knit energy as soon as you walk in the door, and they are just the nicest folk around!
Robert Sharp is the man behind all of the molds. He has been with Gare for over 30 years, taking over for his father after his retirement. He hand carves and hand shapes all of pieces to create the molds that then become the bisque pottery.
extensive + versatile colors
We have an array of spectacular and versatile colors, most notably our Fun Strokes, pottery glazes, and speciality glazes. Gare recently announced they'll be releasing their new acrylic line!
seasonal favorites + idea inspiration!
Gare is releasing new bisque options every year, and our most popular items are those seasonal favorites! This year, Gare released their vintage tree with pick-up truck, which became an instant hit. It even included a light kit! We got a sneak peak into the 2019 holiday line, and there’s more where that came from! Gare also gives us as a studio ideas, concepts, and new techniques for every holiday. They currently have their Spring products posted!
We just attended Gare Fest East 2019, which was an awesome way of networking with other PYOP studios, meeting the staff of Gare, touring the facility, and learning about new techniques and tools. We also got a sneak peak at new items that will be coming down the pike throughout the year that we are excited to bring to all of you.
We met some of their gold star employees and would like to thank them for their generosity and education.
Below are some of our behind the scenes photos from Gare Fest 2019. Check them out!
By: Danielle Kearns
A few weeks back, we had a 90s theme night at the claypen. I was in my element. I am a 90s kid at heart, and had way too much fun revisiting all the highlights of the era. And what’s even better? Some of those things are still around and well to this day! Did you hear that they tried to remove Friends from Netflix and it cost them a million to keep it available for streaming because people were going to boycott the service? It might seem crazy, but people feel really strongly when something from their youth is readily available to them, and then suddenly, might not be. It is the ultimate comfort blanket for any bad day. It is the familiar that we can quote backwards and forwards and bond over as a generation.
While preparing for the event, I couldn’t-help-but-Carrie-Bradshaw wonder what the main icons would be that stuck out for these different groups of people. What for me was a decade filled with Girl Power and the launch of the internet, others remember the launch of Starbucks and the rise of Boy Band Power.
Here are my best tips to throwing a proper 90’s theme party:
By: Danielle Kearns
The local craft beer scene has completely exploded over the past few years and I am all for it. There are now over 50 breweries in the state who are doing their best to cater to the growing interest, and I have made it my personal mission to visit as many of them as I can. Each time I feel like I’ve made a dent, a new place seems to pop up. I have visited a good portion over the years, but have made it a tradition to indulge in a flight upon each inaugural trip. I highly recommend this practice as it gives you a good sense of the scope and flavors they are playing around with. From there, I choose my favorite to order a full pint of.
I recently visited Alvarium Beer Company in New Britain. It was on a Sunday, which has now become synonymous with brunching and day-drinking, so needless to say, the place was absolutely packed! I made my way through their draft list… strictly as “research,” of course. Their flat screen menu was rotating behind the bar with their most up-to-date tap list, kept up to date with the help of UNTAPPD. The current menu includes 14 beers, ranging from IPAs, ales, Hefs, sours, and lagers -- as well as a rotating guest tap and snacks from The Drunken Alpaca.
We are so excited to announce that we will be hosting our first brewery collaboration with Alvarium this month, so mark your calendar and save your spot now, because spots are already starting to fill.
During the event, a member of the Alvarium team will be at the studio pouring some of their current selections while you are painting any piece of pottery of your choice, but knowing we’ll have some professional drinkers in the house, we are sure to stock up on some appropriate drink-ware including wine tumblers, shot glasses, and beer steins. But you can truly paint whatever you want that evening and enjoy the ambience and tastings all the same.
save the date: friday, march 15th
Pre-registration is required. This is a 21+ event.
**Registration costs covers your Studio Fee + use of silk screens. It also reserves your seat! You will pay for your pottery of choice same night.
We will be welcome Alvarium back on friday, may 24th
Pre-registration is required. This is a 21+ event.
a management mention
We’re hoping this is the start of many more collaborations for us in the future, especially with other small and local businesses. If you might be interested in planning an event with us, contact our Events Coordinator, Cait. We can also come to you! That’s right -catered claypen is available for team bonding, networking, fundraisers, events, and more. Inquiries can be submitted to our owner, Sophia.
Danielle is a CT native, She started at The Claypen in 2018 as a Studio Associate and quickly became a Team Lead and our resident blogger on staff. She now manages The Firestone, our sister studio in Manchester.