Paint-your-own pottery: a fun indoor activity

Published Sep 18, 2013 at 6:27 am (Updated Sep 17, 2013 at 3:35 pm)

Long ago, pottery was made mostly for functional purposes, but today many people choose to make or paint pottery for gifts or keepsakes for themselves because they enjoy having something they created to call their own.

As a result, several paint-your-own pottery studios have popped up in the area over the past few years. And, with autumn and winter right around the corner, people looking for a fun indoor activity may want to think about unleashing their creative side and painting a piece of pottery at one of three shops in the South Hills.

Locally, there’s Fired Up in McMurray, That Pottery Place in South Park and Bisque ‘N Brew, a South Hills-based business that brings the ceramics and supplies to people for parties.

Fired Up, located on Washington Road in Peters Township, has been open for about a dozen years but Debra Bracco of Upper St. Clair has owned it for the past one.

With a background in graphic design, Bracco said she wanted to own something that allowed her to feed her creative need. According to Bracco, Fired Up has become a “destination spot” for those interested in painting their own pottery.

“When people walk through the door, they’re happy,” she said.

Her clients, which are mainly kids accompanied by their parents or friends, can choose from nearly 140 colors and 400 items to paint.

“Our stock lends itself to children,” Bracco said of the pieces she carries, which include licensed items from Hello Kitty to Thomas the Train.

“I can’t even fathom to tell you what has been made here,” Bracco said. “When I look in the kiln at what has been fired, I am always amazed.

“You can take a plate and turn it into anything,” Bracco explained.

Fired Up has regular nights in which women can get together with friends, bring their own food and drink and paint a piece of pottery. The business also has a party area for children with birthday packages available.

Fired Up also has dedicated nights in which the business donates a portion of its sales to charities relating to events such as National Celiac Disease Day and National Diabetes Day. Additionally, Fired Up is involved in the Adopt-a-dog program. For example, patrons can choose a ceramic dog from the cage in the front window and paint it. Five dollars from the sale goes to the Washington Area Humane Society. The person painting the dog also receives an adoption certificate and can name their dog.

To celebrate one year of ownership, Fired Up will be having a special birthday party/grand re-opening starting at 11 a.m. Sept. 28. There will be giveaways and chances to win prizes like an iPod. Additionally, each painter will receive a free bisquie, a small ceramic item, to paint.

That Pottery Place is located in the South Park Shops along Route 88 and is owned by Kim Shaeffer. The Peters Township resident runs the business with her brother, Jim Peelor. In addition to the paint-your-own pottery, That Pottery Place offers classes on how to use a pottery wheel. In August, That Pottery Place began offering classes on how to make items like bowls, plates and candleholders with fused glass.

“There’s no other place to make a (fused) glass bowl in the South Hills,” Schaeffer said. She added people can just walk in and say, “I want to do glass,” and they can begin the process.

Everything made at That Pottery Place is glazed and fired. Hence, the ceramics and fused-glass pieces are food, dishwasher and microwave safe. “I’ve always been crafty,” said Schaeffer. “I worked at another paint-your-own pottery place a few years ago and I liked it so much I decided I can do this on my own.”

Schaeffer’s customers range from children to new moms who want to put their baby’s footprints on a plate to ladies who have their bachelorette parties at the studio.

“It’s truly ageless,” she said of making ceramics.

That Pottery Place offers nearly 100 colors of paint as well as a wide variety of figurines and other pieces like plates and bowls. With three kilns in the back room, Shaeffer fires everything in-house, including the fused-glass pieces.

While younger kids usually want to make some type of figurine that Schaeffer calls “collectibles”, their parents encourage them to make something like a mug or bowl. “Adults usually make something much more functional,” Schaeffer laughed. Couples like coming in to make something on the pottery wheel. “The ninth anniversary gift is pottery,” Schaeffer noted.

The majority of people coming in to That Pottery Place make items for themselves. The one exception is the holiday season when customers come in to make Christmas items or gifts like large platters or chip and dip trays for family and friends. “At holiday time, about 90 percent of people that come here are making gifts for someone,” Schaeffer said.

That Pottery Place offers birthday party packages. In addition, the party room can be reserved for other functions or gatherings.

Bisque ‘N Brew offers a different twist on the paint-your-own pottery studio, in that the business is not in one set location. Owner Sara Hauck comes to any South Hills-area location; homes, schools, community centers, anywhere people want to paint their own pottery. She brings all the materials including the pottery, paint and brushes.

When the pieces are done, Hauck will glaze and fire them at the customer’s request. For a faster turnaround, Hauck said people can choose to do their pieces in just acrylics. These don’t need to be glazed and fired. As a result, clients can have them that same day.

Hauck also offers the opportunity for people to work in clay so they can actually sculpt a piece before it’s painted.

“Every single kid can paint,” Hauck said about area children who have their birthday parties with the help of Bisque ‘N Brew. She added that painting a piece can also be a “good addition to a sleepover” or something that Girl Scouts can do together. Hauck recommends that kids be preschool age or over to participate.

In addition to after-school programs at area elementary schools and other children’s programs, Hauck also travels to senior centers and churches to help people paint.

Hauck has done several bachelorette parties as well. For those, Hauck said she sets everything up, gets the ladies going on their projects and then leaves. The next day, she returns to pick up items to be fired.

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