By: Danielle Kearns
We love a good fake-out at the claypen. We have customers ask us all the time, "I'm not very artistic. What can I do that's easy?" Not only are these customers looking for guidance, they're looking for something that won't be difficult, time-consuming, pressure-packed, and come out looking awesome! We love taking the guess work out and giving you easy tips and tricks to make just that happen. Here are our top 10 suggested painting techniques to try out upon your next visit!
1. specialty glazes
The typical glazes people tend to pick are called undercoat glaze. They are a specific color that, when applied 3 times, will be bright, shiny, and vibrant. What we call "specialty glazes" are what other studios might call pottery glazes. They are a form of undercoat that will change naturally in the kiln because of the extreme temperatures and create a variance of color. They come in both shiny and matte finishes and can completely transform your piece. Even crazier, they usually start as some wackadoo color in the bottle. For instance, our very popular vintage Christmas tree workshops were done with a color called "glass green," which starts off brown in the bottle!
Here's a fun one. You paint your pottery whatever color you like. While it's wet, lay a piece of lace over the piece in whatever coverage and pattern you like. Then, paint over that! Peel and, voila, it's as simple as that!
You read that right! Throw some paint, water, and dish detergent in a cup and mix it up. Using a straw, blow into the cup like you did when you were little to create rising bubbles. Once they've reached the top of your cup, tilt the cup over your piece of choice and allow the bubbles to fall where they may. They will begin to settle on top of the pottery and pop, leaving a color stain behind. Do the same with another few colors to give the piece a really impressive finish.
Every time we put out a mandala sample, people ask how we did it. It is currently one of our top replicated ideas, and it's so stinking easy to do yourself! We have a bucket of polka-dotters on the wall. Essentially, that is all a mandala piece is... polka-dots. The hardest part is finding your symmetry. The best way of determining that is to give yourself guidelines on the piece itself using a regular No. 2 pencil and sketching a design or lines to give yourself an image to work off of. No. 2 pencil burns away in the kiln, so people will be none the wiser.
5. fluid art
Take some paint colors of your choice. (We normally recommend between 3-4 colors.) Mix water into each container, about a 1:1 ratio, aka equal parts. Give those a stir and pour one on top of another into a larger cup (or bowl, if you're doing a massive piece). Don't even mix it. Just pour the contents onto the pottery in whatever motion your prefer. (I normally do a figure-eight or spiral.) Then start to tip your piece in all different directions and watch the paint start to move and swirl together and create colored layers. Once the entire surface is covered, allow the excess to drip off, hopefully in the sink or over a tray. If the sides or bottom of your piece got a little dirty, just wipe it off with a wet sponge and you've got another awesome (and easy) work of art!
6. splatter effect
Woah, here's a hard one. Pour paint. Take toothbrush or paint brush and flick paint at pottery. Done. You can also tape off areas (like our very popular canisters) to give the piece a more modern and refined look.
7. silk screens
Silk screens are just a more mature version of a stencil. It takes the same approach as screen printing on a t-shirt. We mix the regular paint (we find black works best) with a powder solvent that thickens to the paint for application. (It's kind of like adding flour to create a roux.) You dunk your finger in the mixture and spread the mixture all across the surface of the silk screen until the entire image is covered. Peel it off, and you've got a (hopefully) perfect replica of the original image. We have an entire binder of silk screen options available on a walk-in basis. We also have some that are reserved and only available for workshops and theme nights.
8. masking tape
Yup, just tape. Think of it like prepping to paint a room of your house and sectioning off the molding. Put tape wherever you wish to have white or a nice clean line. Paint each with your personal color palette. Peel the tape off and you've got a beautiful, clean, and modern design.
9. tracing + transfer paper
Have a symbol you absolutely love or an image you'd like to recreate? The answer is our transfer paper. Images can be traced and then transferred onto the pottery. Then, you treat it like a coloring book page and fill in the sketched images with paint. Transfer paper is available on a walk-in basis for an additional fee, but built in to some classes and workshops.
Over the winter, people went crazy for our cozy sweater mug. It is absolutely adorable and absolutely one of the easiest things to recreate on your own. This works best with pieces that have dimension or ridges. (The sweater worked perfectly for this.) All we did was paint the entirety of the mug our desired color... in this case that was pale blue. After painting the 3 coats on the mug, we took a synthetic sponge (we have plenty of them here) and wipes away the paint from the sweater's "threads," leaving the paint only in the nooks and crannies. I know, I'm giving away all our secrets!
You can also just dab the sponge all around the piece and layer your colors. (We have sponges of different shapes and textures.) This effect always reminds me of the galaxy.
10b. a wash
I had to sneak another one in because, heck, it's just too easy not to tell you! A wash is just water and paint mixed together to make more of a water color effect. In this instance, you want to see the brush strokes! It's what makes the piece... but you have to work quickly. After the paint and water have been mixed up, start working as quick as you can around the piece. I find that purposely doing strokes in all different directions gives it a very natural look. Move the piece around to cover all of the desired areas before they begin to dry. Use a sponge to clean off areas you may have painted but want a clean finish - like the rim of a mug. Give the piece a finished looking by adding a silk screen. (See #7.)
Did you know that we have drawers and drawers of supplies that you are free to use free of charge? This even includes laminated technique cards that you can access and teach yourself how to do right at your table! Ask a Studio Associate where our technique cards are to try something new at your next visit!
By: Danielle Kearns
A child begins to establish their sense of self -- including esteem and self-representation -- by the age of five. There are certainly signs before then, which was incredibly apparent during my time as a preschool teacher, but they will begin identifying things on their own terms around kindergarten. Now, being surrounded by art on a daily basis, it is so interesting to see how that manifests in a creative space.
A two year old can (and will) have an opinion of which shade of blue they'd like poured into their palette. They sometimes possess a clear vision for their piece before they've even picked up a brush. This dinosaur is going to be purple. This ballerina is going to be blue. This bank is going to be yellow. Parents will often give color suggestions or try and steer children in one direction or another, but it's quite interesting just to see where a child naturally gravitates and what they will create if given the option.
It gets a little trickier when the item being painted is a person instead of an animal, figurine, or plate. "What about the skin color? What color do you want for that?"
We have found this particular article enlightening on the subject and would like to recommend it as a read for you this week. In a world that is ever changing, tolerance and self-love is something that should always remain a constant.
How do children of color learn to draw themselves?
By: Melinda Faukuade from The Outline
"Everyone is an artist, and everyone should be proud of who they are. It’s supposed to be an exercise in self-esteem, which even at a young age, children have already conceived — according to the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, self-esteem has already formed in one direction or the other by age five. Because art acts as an outlet a kid might not have elsewhere, taking note of how they draw and what they feel about it is important." - Melinda Fakuade
By: Danielle Kearns
It only takes 3 consecutive days in the mid-50s with sunshine for the whole population to declare IT'S SPRING! We are delighted to be able to open up the doors and let the fresh air and Vitamin D wash away our winter blues. We're also excited because warmer weather means it's time for your local farmers' markets to set up shop and supply you with all the summer feels... well, soon enough at least. It's only the first week of April and we're not completely done with snow just yet, evidently. But we are looking ahead and gearing up because it is April and we. are. ready.
If you're local to the West Hartford/Hartford area, I certainly hope you've had the chance to stop by the West End Farmers' Market, also affectionately known as WEFM, located right on Farmington Avenue. But if you haven't had the chance, please make the effort. You will not be disappointed.
A farmers' market is one of the best ways you can support a local business, but more importantly, a local farmer. I had the opportunity to attend Farm Aid this year at The Meadows and hear their committee (as well as a lot of super famous musicians) speak about the importance of sustainability, property + zoning issues, food culture, climate change, family owned and operated farms, and the general atmosphere around farms in America. Visiting a farmers' market and buying just one bunch of produce can be the difference for that farmer and their livelihood and future. We, as a country, need to make this more of a priority.
As a member of the West End of Hartford, I've been going to the WEFM for years. It is so exciting to see it regain new life and popularity with its new fearless leader - Joseph Abad - who took over last Spring.
The WEFM is one of those unique experiences that also lends itself to fun and entertainment for all ages. Aside from locally sourced veggies to stock your kitchen, you can grab a quick dinner from one of the local food trucks, get your face painted, maybe treat yourself to a massage, or even learn about composting at home. It's also a wonderful way just to meet other members of your community and keep connected to your city and town. The West End is particularly proud of its history and loves to promote community. (You can read more about the West End Civic Association and all it's doing in the neighborhood here.) But did you know that the WEFM served over 9,000 shoppers just last season? That's a lot of food. And because WEFM cares, they make it a priority to accept EBT/SNAP benefits to allow and incentivize residents to shop for fresh and local market goods.
For more information on all of this and more, check out the WEFM website, Facebook, + Instagram.
The market is open on Tuesdays at 385 Farmington Avenue:
Not local? Here's a list of all of the Farmers' Markets around the state of CT. This list is from 2018, so do note, there may be even more locations near you this summer.
The claypen recently hosted the WEFM's first fundraiser of the season. If you couldn't make it, you can still donate to the WEFM to keep "Connect Grown" alive.
For any questions or to volunteer, email email@example.com.
Applications for vendors + guidelines can be found at www.WEFM.org.
2019 Special Events Calendar for WEFM:
By: Danielle Kearns
It's not always just mugs though...
Videos By: Sophia Dzialo
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.
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.
By: Danielle Kearns
Have you heard of the new kid on the block? Donut Crazy has been open since late November, and it has already made quite a name for itself right here in WeHa Center. And let’s face it -- their donuts are not just crazy with toppings, but insane in creativity! And that is something we have in common. As our neighbors, we can’t help but resist a visit there… multiple times a week! (How can you not when they’re just a few doors down?) And we’ve noticed this trend with our customers as well. As we are always a BYOB studio, we find the pairing of pottery, a coffee, and a sweet treat from next door the perfect combination.
The concept is pretty brilliant. Fresh donuts, made daily, and dunked, dipped, and topped with flavors galore. And the toppings aren’t the only thing to change. The “dailies” menu are their staple items and as “normal” and consistent as they get. But the “crazies” vary and are the reputation of the place. They can be a new concoction based on a new trending, crazy flavor combo or upcoming holiday delights. Amongst our staff, we have personally taste tested the gamut of flavors. My current favorite is the strawberry pop-tart, but I can’t say enough good things about the cookie butter donut, the pecan pie, and (oh yeah) the tater tots.
That’s right… they’re not just donuts, folks! Donut Crazy also serves BEC sandwiches, omelettes, avocado toast, nitro + cold brew coffees, fruit smoothies, and more. Some of our upcoming events will feature donut delights as we continue to collaborate with our new favorite neighbor.
Not sure what to order? Here are some of our staff favorites from their rotating menu:
Hi! I'm the resident blogger here at the claypen. Let's create something special, unique, and creative together full of love + heART. ♥ Dani