Crafting personality pieces

A wide variety of ceramic goods, including tiles and vases, are available for painting.
A wide variety of ceramic goods, including tiles and vases, are available for painting.

M onica Detrick is living proof that you don’t need to be an artist to paint a lovely piece of pottery.

Before purchasing San Luis Obispo’s Red Hot Pottery in 2005, Detrick was a dental hygienist for more than 10 years.

“I had no art background whatsoever — except going to paint-your-own-pottery studios with my kids,” she said.

After a steep learning curve, Detrick is now a pro at showing pottery

novices how to create pieces that, although they might not be museum- worthy, can certainly add style and personality to a home.

The process goes like this: A customer selects a piece of unglazed pottery. After a brief lesson, Detrick leaves you alone to select paints and begin your work. For the less artistically inclined, she offers plenty of tips along the way.

There are also tools and shortcuts available. You can take a look at books and pottery samples for inspiration. There are pre-made stamps with a host of popular motifs. Or you can use Detrick’s favorite method and pull out the tracing paper. Once a traced design is painted in, pencil or marker lines simply burn off in the kiln. It’s how many Red Hot Pottery patrons have reproduced favorite photos, graphics and motifs, often with impressive results.

The selection of pottery at the studio goes beyond mugs and vases. Tiles, for instance, are a popular item. Many customers create their own hand-painted kitchen backsplashes, decorative stair rises, or accent tiles. Detrick can also special -order 1-inch mosaic tiles.

Other popular items for the home include switch-plate covers, plaques, frames, jewelry boxes and kitchenware (the glazes are food-safe). Plates and plaques can be made into a clock. Springtime brings outdoor pieces like pots, garden markers and garden art.

According to Detrick, the average time it takes to complete a piece is an hour and a half. The staff encourages customers to take as long as they need and even allows them to bring in food and drink. You can turn your studio session into a social event; Red Hot Pottery frequently hosts parties such as birthdays and showers.

Once a piece is painted, it is left at the studio to be glazed and fired, ready to be picked up in a week. If you can’t finish your piece in one sitting, you can come back as many times as you need to. Because the cost of each piece is all-inclusive, there are no additional fees for using the studio and its materials.

That said, Detrick discourages people from insisting on perfection. Once a piece of pottery is glazed and fired, even kids’ art looks gorgeous, and small imperfections only add to its character.

“If you wanted something perfect, you probably would have gone out and bought it,” she said. “The fact that it’s hand-painted by you makes it special and completely unique.”

Red Hot Pottery is at 940 Chorro St. in San Luis Obispo, phone 545-7687.