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Pottery Painting Studio Operator

It's one of the latest retail concepts, and it's changing the shape of the traditional ceramics studio. Also known as do-it-yourself pottery painting stores, these cafe studios are glazing their way across America.

Put simply, pottery painting studio operators provide the pottery or bisque, and their customers paint it. Then the operators glaze it and fire it in kilns, and their customers pick it up a few days later.

Once the customer sits down to paint, the hard and messy work of creating pottery has been done. Water and clay have been poured into molds to create greenware. The greenware is then cleaned and fired in a kiln to produce bisque, a grayish-white pottery that is ready to paint.

The process can be used for a wide range of items, from plates and bowls to casserole dishes, teapots, cookie jars, candleholders, vases, picture frames and coffee mugs. The finished products are non-toxic, lead-free and dishwasher-safe.

Glazed and Confused?

Pati DeLong's love of painting and 10 years of experience in interior design led her to open At The Art Cafe in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. "I took notice of a few other shops cropping up, but none in my area. Being around color and design, and taking formal classes in art school, were both advantageous for me, especially when it comes to determining color and balance."

The better her customers' work is, the better the chances that they'll come back to DeLong's shop. "My own artistic ability plays a large role in the success of my business."

And while some studios have a wide variety of knick-knack items, DeLong stocks only functional pieces.

"They come in and select a piece of pottery -- like a plate, platter or a vase -- and decorate it using paint, stencils, stamps and idea books that I've assembled over the years. I glaze the item with a clear coat, fire it, and it's ready to pick up in two to three days."

In reviewing her initial business plan, the business was projected to gross $50,000 a year. She says that a figure between $20,000 and $50,000 would be reasonable for such an establishment in any part of the United States.

"It's a real growth industry, and a growing trend. People call me from all over to find out how they can start their own studio."

Nitty-Gritty Pottery

Most studios are designed like cafes or coffee shops, and are individually owned. Customers pick out objects ranging from $2 Christmas ornaments to lawn statues that can cost $100 or more. They create their own designs, choose colors and paint the objects. In addition to buying the piece they want to work on, customers pay an hourly charge for painting time in the shops.

Depending on the particular studio, guests can either leave the same day with a painted plaster figurine, or come back in a week for a glazed pottery plate, mug or bowl. Other options include candlesticks, platters, wine coolers, baby cups, picture frames and toothbrush-holders.

But studio owners aren't limited to walk-in customers. Business conventions, showers and birthday parties are all great reasons for people to reserve space in the shop.

"I do a lot of parties," says DeLong. "I recently had the staff of Family Circle magazine in here, as well as several ladies' groups and showers. Depending on the size of the group, I can even close up the shop and cater strictly to one single party."

So whether you want to offer a variety of services, or simply help customers paint up a storm, a do-it-yourself pottering painting studio may just be the answer to your entrepreneurial spirit.

"The best reason to get involved in this type of business is simply because you really love it," DeLong stresses. "It helps to have an artistic flair. Customers will be asking you a million questions a day about color, style and balance. So be prepared!"


Contemporary Ceramics Studios Association
A group for those in the business

Clay World
Information for those in the clay business

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