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Bits and Pieces of Artistic Fun

Bits and Pieces of Artistic Fun

By Cheryl Kenny
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, August 23, 2002; Page WE41

"THE HORNS are the hardest," muses 10-year-old Tim Norland as he manipulates bits of glass and ceramics into the shape of a dragon's head. The garden stone mosaic workshop at Clay Cafe Studio in Falls Church is Tim's first experience with mosaic art, and he is working hard to make it a success.

At a nearby table, Carol Brodie and her children Steven, 10, and Stephanie, 8, are engrossed in designing an arrowhead on a foot-wide, hexagonal concrete stone. Her family is moving to New Mexico and she wants the garden stone to have a Southwest flavor. "We used the computer," Brodie explains as she carefully glues a tile into place. "The design is from clip art."

Above the congenial buzz, Clay Cafe Studio manager Gayla Hassett offers suggestions on designs ("keep it simple") and color ("make the background a lighter or darker color . . . look at what you want to 'pop out' ").

My 12-year-old son, Tim, and I finally choose our own design, the face of our mischievous tomcat, Butch. We sketch it on paper before transferring it to the surface of our stone. Then we begin a series of trips to the tile jars to choose from a variety of stones, including stained glass, ceramics, mirrored stones, and flat-backed marbles. We select large and small squares, and a potpourri of "nibbles and bits," the tiny pieces helpful in filling small, odd-shaped areas. When the stock of popular sky blue tiles is depleted, and our blue background is still unfinished, Tim and I pinch-hit with a darker hue. We like the result, but decide that next time -- and we enthusiastically agree there will be one -- we should take all we need of any crucial color during our initial trip to the jars.

As the session winds down, Hassett distributes bags of grout, a sponge and craft sticks. She provides written instructions on grouting the tiles at home, after the glue dries, and encourages us to telephone or return to the studio if we encounter problems. The workshop, recommended for ages 7 and up, has run two fleeting hours.

In addition to workshops, Clay Cafe offers walk-in mosaic projects such as "wiggle picture frames" and "funky heart mirrors." All-inclusive prices cover the base, glass, adhesive and grout.

While mosaics are a growing segment of Clay Cafe's business, ceramic painting makes up its core. The studio is lined with clay pieces, from colorful preschooler-painted tiles to intricately decorated vases.

For Clay Cafe owner Helene Safford, clay has been a lifelong passion.

"I used to make my own clay when I was a kid," Safford explained. She grew up in Annandale near a neighborhood sculptor and was fascinated with his work. "I got it in my head, when I was maybe 8 or 9, that I was going to make clay," Safford said. "I dug clay from a creek embankment, then soaked and filtered it. I sun-dried the clay and carved it. It ended up being a heart-shaped paperweight that I gave to my mom for Mother's Day."

As an adult, Safford explored computers, finance, music and education, but her love of art continued. In 1997 she left the computer field and opened the Falls Church Clay Cafe in early 1998. With a partner, Anita Huffman, Safford opened a second Clay Cafe Studio in Chantilly. Safford hopes to add a third studio within a year.

The studios' walk-in clay customers choose from a selection of pieces to decorate, using such techniques as sponging, masking and basic brush strokes. Painted pieces are then left for glazing and firing, and are ready in one week.

Clay Cafe also offers a "paint-at-home" option, where customers purchase a ceramic piece and paints to work on the project outside the studio. They then return the painted piece to the studio for firing and glazing.

The desire to find a unique gift for his father drew my middle-schooler, Eric, to Clay Cafe about a year ago. Eric decided to paint a large coffee mug with a Japanese anime design. After an hour of penciling the complicated figure, he spent another hour applying just the right shades of maroon and brown. He went back the next day to finish blending and crafting the details. A week later Eric retrieved his final product, fired and glazed. The cost: about $30 for two afternoons of concentrated artistic endeavor and the creation of a family treasure.

CLAY CAFE STUDIOS -- 101 N. Maple Ave., Falls Church, 703/534-7600; and Sully Place Shopping Center, 13894 Metrotech Drive, Chantilly, 703/817-1051. . Open Mondays through Thursdays from 11 to 7, Fridays through Saturdays from 11 to 9 and Sundays from noon to 4.

For walk-in mosaic projects, all-inclusive prices cover the base, glass, adhesive and grout, and run approximately $20-$60. For walk-in ceramic painting, the cost is the price of the piece plus a $6 per hour studio fee, which includes paints, materials, instruction, glazing and firing. For mosaics and ceramics, materials may be purchased separately for at-home projects.

Clay Cafe offers birthday packages and scout programs, as well as workshops. Art camps are run during school vacation times.

The programs listed below will be held at both Clay Cafe locations. Advance registration is required; prices do not include tax.

Mommy & Me Tea: Sept. 17 from 11 to noon. Painting mini porcelain tea sets; juice and cookies served. $25.

Mosaic Clock: Sept. 19 from 6 to 8 p.m. $35.

Christmas in September: Sept. 28 from 11 to noon. Two ceramic ornaments. $16.

Kid s' Mosaic Workshop: Oct. 10 from 4 to 5:30. Butterfly, snake or fish plaque. $30.

Halloween Trick or Treat Bowl: Oct. 14 from 11 to noon. $35.

Christmas in October: Oct. 19 from 11 to noon. Two ceramic ornaments. $16.

Thanksgiving Turkey Platter: Oct. 26 from 11 to noon. The whole family can decorate a ceramic platter. $42.

© 2002 The Washington Post Company


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