Customers design and paint their own ceramics at a downtown Lawrence business.
When Cheryl Roth visited a ceramics shop in Phoenix several years ago, she knew she was onto something.
The studio had a coffee shop-like atmosphere where customers could relax by painting ceramics. They could choose, paint and take home a bisque ceramic piece.
A former art teacher, Roth thought the do-it-yourself ceramic concept might appeal to Lawrence's strong arts community.
"I knew Lawrence was an artsy town," she said. "So I saved up money and did a business plan."
In October 1998, Roth opened Sunfire Ceramics in an old Phillips 66 station at 1002 N.H. Roth and several volunteer staff help customers select from unpainted ceramic items, ranging in cost from $2 to $30. The pieces include such items as plates, cups, picture frames, bowls and statues.
After the piece is chosen, customers create designs using the studio's reference books, stencils and examples of completed ceramics. Fruit and celestial-inspired designs are among the most popular choices, Roth said.
Customers can paint their designs using more than 25 non-toxic colors. The shop charges $6 an hour for the painting process, with reduced group rates. The studio's staff, which does the final overglaze and on-site kiln firing, finishes the pieces within three to five days.
Once completed, the ceramics are food, microwave and dishwasher safe.
"There are decorative pieces available, but many of the pieces we have here can actually be used when they're finished," Roth said.
When the shop is closed Mondays and Tuesdays, Roth uses it as a production area. She pours the unfinished bisque ceramics that customers purchase for their projects.
To emphasize the business' creative focus, Roth incorporated the building's many windows and high roof angles into the rooms' design. The studios have an airy fresco feel, which is reflected by their vibrant wall colors, handmade gourd art, celestial-shaped ceramic decorations and Roth's hand-painted ceiling murals.
Even though many people don't yet know about the shop, Roth said business has been good. Women and children comprise most of her customers.
Lawrence residents Carol Watkins and Mary Jo Vanderwarker often visit the studio with their children's Brownie troop and for birthday outings. Last week, they accompanied their daughters Amy and Sarah Watkins, 8 and 6, respectively, and Taylor Vanderwarker, 6.
Amy Watkins painted a plate she intends to give as a Christmas present.
"They have lots of stuff we can draw here," she said.
Carol Watkins agreed.
"They have such a neat selection," she said. "There's enough that everyone can do something."
Recently, Roth added a rear garden room that accommodates groups. In the future, she hopes to offer glass-painting facilities and more finished ware.
The business' evening hours enable customers to visit at convenient times without an appointment, Roth said. Guests can bring food, drinks and even play music on the studio's stereo.
"People find it relaxing when they come in," she said.
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