The Case For: Painting Ceramics at Home Like the Control Freak You Are

My birthday this year was the all-too-familiar Vancouver COVID celebration—friends spread out on blankets at a park, sipping definitely-not-alcoholic drinks out of nondescript cups, pulling our jackets tight as we pretended it wasn’t too cold to be outside. It rained for about an hour, but they pitched umbrellas and stuck it out. They are good people.

They even got me the perfect Type A gift. (Thanks to the pandemic and my new need to control absolutely everything I possibly can, I could probably identify as the letter before A, if there was one). Two blank mugs. Instead of getting me something kitschy or annoyingly on-theme (say you like giraffes ONE TIME and you’re history), they gave me a project. 

I’ve walked by U Paint I Fire on West 4th many times, but I didn’t realize that they offered more than in-studio painting time. The folks there let you take both your purchased ceramics and their own painting supplies—paint, brushes and a welled palette—home. It doesn’t cost extra.

You can then take your time crafting your masterpiece. And I did. Sorry, U Paint I Fire: I received the mugs in May, and I didn’t actually paint them until July. I’m hoping they don’t have a Blockbuster-esque issue with folks failing to return their stuff. When I called the store in mid-July asking if I needed an appointment to get my mugs fired and praying that they couldn’t somehow tell I had been holding five paintbrushes hostage for two months, the owner John answered. He couldn’t have been more friendly. And when I finally went in two weeks later (no, I didn’t need an appointment), he remembered me from the phone call.

It took about a week before I received an email saying that my mugs had been fired. And when I went to pick them up, I didn’t even recognize them. The only experience I’d had with ceramics was an art project I did in elementary school, where some quirky lady came in, taught us how to make a piggy bank, swept all of our creations up saying something about a kiln, and returned weeks later with armfuls of exploded piggies (she did not tell us how to make them properly and many did not survive firing). The ones that did survive—mine included, brag alert—were covered in sad, muted hues. I assumed that the colours of my mugs once fired wouldn’t be too different than how they looked before braving the kiln.

But the paint had gone through a vibrant transformation. I was filled with a joy that I can only describe as parental pride (This just in: painting a mug and having a baby are the same thing). My mug children did so great, sweetie. In uncertain times, it felt good to do something creative in a space I felt safe. And each mug cost about $20—again, they don’t charge for paint or firing. Not bad for a fleeting taste of that sweet, sweet control.