Show me the Way to Clay Café

Why not paint a ceramic duck green this weekend at Clay Café in Hout Bay?

If relying on public transport, it is advisable to take a taxi to Hout Bay from the main bus depot in Cape Town. My partner and I, on he other hand, decided to walk from Camps Bay. Even as the taxi diver dropped us off, we failed to read his ‘are you mad?’ expression (and our dodgy map that wasn’t to scale). After half an hour of traipsing along winding coastal roads, we sought the advice of a passing jogger, who advised us that we still had 25km to go. The beautiful scenery encouraged us to soldier on, but another two hours of scaling hills, dodging traffic, wiping sweat from our brows and surviving on one can of coke, had us caving in. So, just past Llandudno we ran for the first taxi we saw.

Clay Café is a US inspired concept created by owner, Christine Bradburn, in 2000. From humble beginnings, the café in Hout Bay’s Main Road has blossomed into a successful pottery studio, a project to support young people from a squatter camp in Hout bay and a popular craft café that is open to the public. We all need to get away from it all, don’t we? I challenge Capetonians to rid themselves of all distractions and leave their city lives behind, in favour of some art therapy. Clay Café is not too far from the city, yet obviously far enough, where you can go wild with a paint brush in a pretty garden. Interested?

The unfamiliar sound of silence and a delightful pottery studio

Despite the lengths I’d gone to get there, I was charmed by what I saw when our taxi dropped us off. If I recall, I even cracked a smile. Far from Cape Town’s bustling city centre, we were greeted by an unfamiliar sound – silence. In front of us was a delightful pottery studio with an outdoor terrace, a pretty garden and panoramic views of the mountains. We stood for a moment to enjoy this magnificent view. ‘Are you here to paint?’ asked waitresses, Monica and Amy.

Clay Café’s passion for making things is inspirational

Of course we were there to paint, but first things first, we were weary travelers in need of refreshment. Clay Café’s passion for making things was so inspirational that we couldn’t wait to get started ourselves, from homemade toasties and cakes, to locally sourced coffee, served in handmade pottery from their own studio. We sipped our aromatic coffee and satisfied our hunger with a melted cheese and ham toastie, at R20, whilst soaking up some sunshine.

There was so much to choose from. The shelves were stacked with ceramic bisques, like plates, mugs, and even ducks, priced from R25-R90 (we paid an additional R20, for use of materials such as, paintbrushes, crayons and palettes). Clay Café also make their own ceramic under glaze paint, which is specially designed to wash off with water, in a range of colours, from ice blue to sunshine yellow. ‘When was the last time I did anything artistic?’ we both wondered, eyeing brushes and pots of paint dubiously. But we quickly discovered that Clay Café is both child and adult proof. Monica and Amy were on hand to offer advice on various techniques, the paint dries quickly and doesn’t run and, most importantly, the vibe is all about having fun.

Christine’s philosophy is that everyone must have fun. We certainly felt relaxed and no one took themselves too seriously. On the table next to us, a family was painting ducks and plates – even grandma was getting stuck in. On the far table, a group of about fifteen 20-somethings were even sharing a joke about whether one of the pieces of pottery looked a little on the phallic side. Clay Café caters for everyone, from adult birthday parties to school groups. Although Clay Café started small, they’ve since had to put up a tent to accommodate extra patrons and are especially busy during the holiday period. Clearly, Christine’s philosophy has cemented Clay Café’s popularity in Cape Town.

A therapeutic experience and a chance to express yourself

I found my experience therapeutic and a chance to express myself. I painted my background and painstakingly stenciled dolphins onto my mug. I thought that my blobs of paint resembled sea pearls and was proud of my creation. My partner set about making quite a mess with an array of paints and crayons.

We observed our ‘masterpieces’ with satisfaction. The exciting part is that we will have to wait for ten days to see how the finished product turns out. The paint will be hardened to 900 degrees and glazed, which will give our mugs a darker and glossier colour. The kilns take about 15 hours to heat up and 24 hours to cool. Christine informed me that our mugs will be robust enough to withstand even dishwashers and microwaves.

So, was our trek to the four corners of the earth to paint a mug worth it? I would have to say yes, because Clay Café is a lot more than just painting a mug. It captures life’s simple pleasures quite effortlessly - good conversation, relaxation and an inspiring setting that is sure to keep Cape Town’s creative juices flowing.

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By Lisa Nevitt

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