Building A Business Out Of Clay

Everything I learned in September about running a business, I learned from a lump of clay.


On September 16, I joined a dozen other participants in the first of three sessions that make up the Visual Art Center of Richmond's new "Creativity at Work" program. Having participated in the original design team for the program last fall, I thought I knew what to expect. Of course, the difference between intellectually designing a program and sitting through it in t he flesh with 11 other human beings is not minor.

Things were going along rather swimmingly until we headed downstairs to the clay studio, where artists Richard McCord and Chip Jones waited for us – aforementioned lumps of clay sitting patiently on a table. As Richard talked about clay and how to work with it – one part artist, one part avuncular uncle (same difference, right?) – I did what I am most famous for doing in learning environments.

Right. I ignored him, and began to slowly shape my lump of clay into a bowl. While the rest of the group – following instructions, mind you – individually crafted bowls of similar size, shape and form, I wandered off into some other dimension where clay bowls flare out around the edges. Before I realized it, I was staring at a slightly mishapen tulip bowl – and at everyone else's sturdily crafted urns.

My first instinct – self-criticism, of course. This, my inner voice reminded me, is exactly why you always get feedback about being an avant-garde freelancer.

The problem, of course, was that my bowl was not like everyone else's bowl. Well, it was a problem until I stopped to reflect on the business issue I brought into the Creativity at Work program – namely, insight into ways I could continue to creatively grow and expand my business.

It was Chip Jones who pulled it all together for me. Standing over my shoulder, he commented on the individual nature of the bowl I had crafted. "It's not a problem if the structure is sound," he said. "That's what creatity is all about. It gives you a chance to ignore the rules, stretch the boundaries and discover new approaches."

A bit like my approach to Floricane.

I wonder what I'll learn when class reconvenes on October 14...