All Fired Up a playground for the creative

A little girl, about 4 or 5 years old, comes out of the back room carrying a ceramic figurine of a fairy stretching herself out on a rock. The fairy’s hair has been painted in bright yellow glaze, and her butterfly wings are two-tone, one side a pale shade of lavender, the other a deep plum. Gabby, the little girl, seems extremely proud as she holds the piece up for display, beaming with a baby-toothed smile.

“Look how it is!” Gabby said to her mother, Chantel Ayers, owner and operator of All Fired Up, a studio on Arctic Boulevard and International Airport Road that specializes in paint-your-own ceramics.

Ayers has had a passion for beadwork since moving to Alaska 11 years ago, but didn’t know anything about ceramics until she attended a ceramics painting workshop in Madison, Ind., last year.

“I was completely absorbed,” Ayers said. “I just sat there painting for three hours straight, and didn’t say a word the whole time. I’m a very talkative person, so I figured anything that keeps me quiet for three hours must be something special.”

On returning to Anchorage, Ayers was determined to start up her own ceramics studio. All Fired Up opened its doors October 17 of last year. Just walking in takes you straight back to nostalgic memories of kindergarten art classes. The central space of the front room is filled with tables covered in butcher paper. Lining one wall are shelves packed tightly with art supplies: fan brushes, sponges, die-cut stamps in the shape of stars, cowboys and heavy bottles of food-safe Mayco paint in colors such as Orange Sherbet, Birthday Suit and a light green called Lettuce Alone (one of Ayers’ favorites).

The opposite wall is lined with a menagerie of unpainted ceramics ranging from thimbles and miniature hats–not much more than refrigerator magnets–to full-sized ceramic birdbaths and painstakingly rendered giraffes that reach up to the knee. Most of the shelf space is given over to cups and saucers, vases and goblets which emphasize Ayers’ preference for function; she wants her customers to go home with something they’ll be able to use again and again.

“Most of the people who come here aren’t artists,” Ayers said. “That’s why I have a lot of idea books on hand. I’ve been learning new techniques [for painting and glazing] every day since starting this place, and most of them are so simple.”

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One of the techniques Ayers has recently learned involves making a bubbly mixture of soap, water and paint in a Dixie cup by blowing through a straw. The bubbles are spread onto a ceramic plate or tile and then put into a kiln in the back room and fired at 1,923 degrees. Once the firing process is finished, phantom images of the bubbles remain in the glaze coating.

Other techniques Ayers has used include making zebra stripes on cups using masking tape, and creating a marbled effect by letting paint be absorbed through a layer of tissue paper. Ayers likes encouraging her customers’ creativity, and puts photos of some of her favorite work on display at her Web site, www.allfiredupccs.com.

“Working here feels like being a parent,” Ayers said. “I’m so proud of what people do here.”

All Fired Up is also open to doing commissioned ceramics, but Ayers plans to keep the studio focused on the process of customers painting ceramics themselves.

“I want this place to be a cozy, welcoming place where people can enjoy themselves,” said Ayers, who made sure to supply her studio with a spacious, toy-filled children’s lounge to accommodate families. “One day I’d like to have live music here, or open-mic comedy.”

Above all else, All Fired Up seems like the ideal location to regress into childhood. Ayers readily confirms that there’s a very real connection between creativity and the mindset of children.

“Kids don’t know any better. They have no problems getting started painting. It’s only adults who fret about what they do.”