By Emily Harrington
The Pottery Place Paint Your Own Pottery and Art Studio is like cheap therapy. If you are a fan of the popular adult coloring books, or you just like to work on a puzzle now and again (that’s not Paw Patrol or Sesame Street) visit The Pottery Place. You’ll be surprised at how engrossed you become in the process. After a few minutes, I stopped thinking about to do lists and could just focus on creating something—even with my noisy kiddos by my side.
That’s the great thing, you’ll enjoy this activity as much as your little ones. My almost-3-year-old son was able to concentrate and really enjoyed working on his pieces, too.
For a decade, the studio has lived off Mattis Avenue at 1808 Round Barn Rd. in Champaign. We walked in on a Saturday morning shortly after they opened. They are closed on Mondays, opened 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Sundays you can paint from noon to 5 p.m. Call ahead if you are expecting a large group.
There was only one table of people there when we arrived while a birthday party was beginning in the adjacent room. If I had a little girl, this studio would be a top birthday party venue for us. They have a room dedicated to special events and packages to choose from. Since I have boys this will not be a top birthday venue for us. They simply need less breakables around while having more room to run. However, for a group of girlfriends, I’d bring in drinks (you can bring in booze!) and food for a shower or night out. Conveniently, they have kid-approved snacks and soda for sale there, too.
My toddler immediately went around searching the walls of white ceramic tableware and tchotchkes. He was determined to find a preconceived elephant to paint.
Me: “Look with your eyes, and not with your hands, please!!” Over and over and over. Lots of fragile stuff right at their level. Each piece runs from $8 to $40. Most pieces fall on the lower end, though. We painted four pieces totaling $62. This included studio fees—$7 for adults, $5 for children and $10 for a parent/child combo.
The worker sadly told him there were no elephants. He easily (thankfully) chose a bulldozer instead. Crisis averted. We were ultimately there to make a hostess gift for my in-laws and a Valentine’s Day present for my mom. My husband picked out a flip-flop shaped chip and dip tray for his parents, and I chose a coffee cup for my mom. A super helpful, kind and patient staff member explained the process to us while directing us to the paint area. Here we filled a palette with the wide variety of paint offerings. All the tools were neatly organized. The whole process was simple.
We hunkered down to paint our masterpieces. Within a few minutes, we were working in a quiet rhythm. My son slapped layer upon layer of paint on his dripping bulldozer while my husband lovingly painted his mom’s keepsake just like he would have done in elementary school. I efficiently painted my mom’s cup with a discerning eye. My son finished before we were done. So, we let him pick another piece to paint for his baby brother. He picked an Illini bear. He was starting to get ants in his pants at about this time—45 minutes out. We picked another palette of colors for the bear. Unfortunately, he picked black as one of the colors. He was heavy-handed on the unforgiving black paint. I tried everything I could to get him to add some color. He would always go back to that black paint! So, the bear is realistic if nothing else. That’s the thing. You should let them do their thing even if every inch of your being is telling you to control the situation. Colors are going to get mixed, paint is going to go outside of the lines. They all turn out adorably imperfect in the end.
There were not many boys in the studio. At all. In fact, our son may have been the only one. After about an hour, all I could hear was him. It was fairly calm and quiet in there. It will take you about an hour to complete the entire process. With that said, take your kids age and temperament into account when choosing this activity. When we were finished, the worker helped us paint their hands so we could stamp each of the gifts. This was not easy, and I broke into a sweat while trying to get my baby’s hand to open and steady over the freshly painted surface. I recommend using the feet of little babies in lieu of hands. Again—adorably imperfect.
My oldest licked his hand after the stamping to the horror of onlookers. Luckily, the staff member assured us the paint is nontoxic and washes out of clothes. Phew. Plus—they clean up all your mess! Let me just add—the only staff member that was working was so attentive and helpful. She made the process go very smoothly.
Lastly, we dated our pieces with paint pens. The finished pieces are glazed with a clear coat before going into a kiln where they cook and cool. Around four days later your shiny pottery will be ready to pick up.
My son takes so much pride in his works of art. He carries the bulldozer around all over the house. I’m apprehensively waiting for it to shatter into a million pieces. In the meantime, it’s in one piece. (Well there’s the one little chip that I glued without him knowing.) He can’t say I didn’t warn him! For now, I’ll let him play with his creation. I hope it’s still in one piece when he goes off to college, and I can still hold it in my hands while fondly remembering the day he made it.
Emily Harrington is a Chambana townie. She left her 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job in communications so that she could be a 24/7 mom to two busy boys. Still interested in writing, Emily uses some of naptime to practice her passion and keep her mind right. Emily is a happy wife with a happy life because she fell for a fellow townie. Emily usually finds herself engulfed in balls, blue and belly laughs.