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Breaking Out of the Mold

Ceramic store helps transform dull clay into colorful creations of your own design.


Tom Almon spotted a fancy ceramic centerpiece for his dining room table at a Macy's store, and he just had to have it.

Problem was, the fruit holder with ceramic apples, oranges and leaves sells for a steep $275.

So Almon, who lives in Burbank, decided to make his own--for under $30. And the resulting centerpiece, coated with mother-of-pearl white glaze and trimmed in 14-karat gold, looks marvelous. With its oranges and bright green and red apples, it is every bit as beautiful as the one that inspired it.

It took Almon about nine hours to complete the project at Ceramic Castle in Glendale. The 8,700-square-foot warehouse stores more than 6,500 pieces of green wear, or unfired ceramic in its raw form.

For an average of $25 to $50, you can purchase an item, paint it, glaze and fire it. There are three types of paints to choose from and an array of colors so you can create your own unique design.

"It's wonderful when you see the finished product," Almon said. "And, for me, it's also a great stress release because when I do this, I'm totally focused on it. It's very therapeutic."

Ceramic Castle is equipped with two 225-gallon clay mixers, and each day 100 to 150 pieces are produced. The liquid clay is poured into a mold and four to five days later it's ready for customers to work on.

Clients can choose from a variety of molds, including more than 300 vases and dishes, 200 animal figures and hundreds of holiday figures for Christmas, Easter and Halloween.

The 225 Easter items are especially popular as March 30 approaches. There are all sorts of rabbits, ducks, eggs and baskets.

All the items start out a dull, clay color.


Ceramic Castle offers several weekday evening classes and a popular Saturday class beginning at 10:30 a.m. There are never more than 25 people in a session.

Store owner Ellen Francis and her son, Bob Francis, teach classes that cover all the basics. The cost is $5 for three hours of instruction and use of the facility for up to eight hours to complete the project.

After a brief introduction, students learn how to clean rough spots on the piece using a special tool and knife. Then it gets scrubbed with a pad, in a circular motion, before being sponged off.


This may be a good time to take a break and contemplate the design and color of your green wear. Bob Francis usually makes a run to nearby Willie's deli, where you can get a great sandwich for under $5. The grilled pastrami is popular, and so are the meatball sandwiches and oven roasted chicken. Or you can pack your own lunch and eat it in the studio, which is equipped with several long tables.


Now it's time to start painting the item with tiny brushes. Depending on the design and size of the piece, it could take as little as two hours or as long as 25 hours.

Everyone is allowed to work at his or her own pace, with Ellen and Bob standing by, available to trouble shoot when necessary.

During a recent session, one woman painted a cute bunny hugging a basket, and another blow-dried a vase after cleaning it.

"Sometimes it's amazing to see how everyone starts off with the same plate and they all turn out so different," Bob Francis said. "People love the fact that they're going to have a very unique item at the end."

When painting is completed, items must be fired in large kilns before they are glazed. After glazing, which is done with a paint brush, the item must be fired again before being taken home.


Ceramic Castle, 1841 Flower St., Glendale. Take Victory Boulevard north, turn right at Western Ave., turn left at Flower Street. Classes are $5 and are held on Tue., Wed. and Thur. from 7-10 p.m., Tue. from 12:30-4:30 p.m. and Sat. from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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