Local coffee, considered one of the best in the state, sources beans from specially selected farms and gives back with a wholesome, sustainable mission.
By: Danielle Kearns
Oh. My. Coffee. Never have I ever done a formal coffee tasting. I am pretty basic when it comes to my morning cup. I'll take it light and sweet, flavored and sugary, or even topped with whipped cream or a caramel drizzle. Sure, I like the taste of coffee, but I would pretty much need to be in a bind to take it black. However, I fully realize that the only way to truly know what makes each bean and style unique is to try it straight up! And it doesn't hurt to know the story behind the bean. I have a new found appreciation for coffee.
Did you know that a coffee bean actually derives from a cherry? There are multiple layers that make up the science of the coffee plant's lifespan, but it blew my mind to learn everything that goes into just harvesting the bean itself under all those layers.
I owe all this new found knowledge to Jeff Brooks, who has dedicated the past 8 years of his life to the free and fair coffee trade business. In 2011, he started this project, along with his wife Emily, and started giv coffee, craft roastery + cafe.
Mission: Giv Coffee is a coffee roasting initiative that seeks to utilize coffee's global influence to bring about positive change in international coffee communities, coffee consumers, and the lives of those in need.
If you don't know, giv actually provides wholesale coffee beans to many of your favorite coffee shops around the state. Giv sources their beans from farmers who will benefit from this relationship. Farms are chosen with excellence and standard in mind -- as well as the farmer himself. Giv only seeks fairly traded beans and have worked out fair prices for crops, giving back a portion of sales back to the farms themselves for continual growth and success. What a rockstar mission!
Beans are delivered "green" and batch roasted in house. They are then dispersed across the state to other coffee shops and served in their Canton location. So how does it taste?
Jeff offered us a tasting to try each of their currently offered styles. There are currently around 8 styles, each named after the farmer from which the bean derived. Tasting by "cupping" allows you to taste and try the coffee in its purest form without all the extras. You are experiencing something that's been brewed to the perfect rate and standard. I took home a bag of Leonardo Rosero. YUM!
Giv also has a cafe of their own right in Canton. Check them out for a cup of cold brew, a luxurious latte, or a fresh brew at
194 Albany Turnpike, Canton, CT.
For continued reading, check out their list of the top coffee spots in Connecticut, published this past week on Sprudge. Did your favorite make the list? Comment below with your favorite coffee spots in the state.
The Claypen's mission is to remain focused on sustainability and make purposeful business decisions to be more green-friendly and leave less of an impact on our Earth.
By: Danielle Kearns
Sustainability matters. We are all a part of this great big world, that is crazy and irresponsible at times, but it is our responsibility to be a part of the movement for a better future. We hold this as one of our main intentions as a small business and try and promote that amongst our customers whenever possible. Here are some of the little ways we do our part:
reduce, reuse, recycle, repurpose
It's the slogan we grew up with, just kicked up a notch. We get a ton of boxes delivered to our space on a pretty regular basis. We hit all the R's when it comes to our big shipments. We make sure to use these boxes for all sorts of things. We wrap our parties in them. We organize inventory in them. We use them as splatter guards with art projects. And we even give them away! That's right.
We started an initiative about 2 months ago where local community neighbors can call us up and pick up our large packing boxes for their own at-home needs. We have helped a few dozen residents in this mission, most of whom needed boxes and packing material for a future move. And we gave them out for free. Our little way of helping the community. Any of the boxes we can't get use out of get fully collapsed and recycled in our cardboard specific dumpster. Those are boxes that are less sturdy, possibly ripped, or have run their course.
We are a BYOB PYOP studio, which often means people bring DRINKS. We always encourage our customers to leave their cups, bottles, and cans right at the table for us to take care of clean up. We rinse and recycle ALL of these items. From Solo cups, to Starbucks cups, and even straws. (You might even find a staff member or two cutting these straws up to avoid their impact on our water system and aquatic friends.) We completely wash out and recycle all of our our paint bottles as well.
We receive shipments from distributors around the country. We make use of everything they use in their deliveries to the best of our abilities. We donate a lot of our bubble wrap and packing peanuts to locals in the area who need it for personal needs. We reuse a good amount for our own shipments since we offer delivery of completed pottery for non-locals. When we have an overflow of these materials, we actually physically return them -- by the garbage bag full -- to FedEx, UPS, and USPS.
People will often ask us if we have water bottles for purchase in our studio. Nearly 90% of our staff use reusable water bottles from their own home which can be cleaned and refilled as needed straight from the tap.
In our efforts to keep people hydrated while still staying green, we have partnered with Hosmer Mountain Beverages, which will soon be carried in our studio. Their sustainability mission is something to be admired and replicated. They have stuck with glass bottle production for over 100 years. All of their bottles can be returned to one of their centers (or picked up if you sign up for their delivery service) for sanitation and then reused for future use. You can read more about Hosmer in our previous blog.
Water conservation also comes in the form of washing dishes. Art can be a messy medium. We go through many palettes and brushes a day that all need to be washed to maintain their longevity, integrity, and continual use. We have basins filled with water to allow brushes to soak before washing and lay our palettes across the sink floor so every hand wash prior will begin the cleaning process for us and reduce our use of water later.
The pottery itself is a means for sustainability. If you're going through one paper cup a day for your coffee (or, ugh, maybe even styrofoam), you can make travel tumbler for your every day needs. Our mugs, cups, bowls, and plates are microwaveable, washable... and thus, SUSTAINABLE!
We are no experts on this cause, but we are hoping to help encourage you to think twice about your recycling decisions. Leave a comment below about how we can best move forward in our recycling efforts or what's worked for you!
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
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
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!
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. Her previous experience includes teaching, writing, and photography. You can find her on Instagram and LinkedIn or reach out with questions via email.