Monthly Archives: March 2016

Getting laid, locally laid

Locally Laid: how we built a plucky, industry-changing egg farm- from scratch by Lucie B. Amundsen

I don’t blame you if you thought, “What does starting a chicken farm have to do with growing a ceramics studio?” This is why I bought the book. And also because I follow LoLa on social media and she’s hilarious. Also, their eggs are fantastic. Apparently, pasture raised chickens lay delicious eggs.

This book is well written, captivating, hilarious, heart-wrenching, real, delightful, and engaging. It took me fewer than 3 days to read it. Amundsen tells the story of how her husband convinced her to join him in raising a bazillion chickens on an open pasture in Minnesota where winter lasts 363 days. Amundsen never dreamed of raising chickens on this scale and was frankly not excited about this prospect. Read this book.

So, what did I learn about Amundsen’s experience that I could apply to S2C? She and her husband relied on the help of their friends, family, and community to make the farm work.  In fact, their business would not be where it is today, and would not have survived the first year, without the relationships they made within their network. Furthermore, they created what they call their, “Kitchen Cabinet.” This is an advisory board to support them and to keep them accountable. (Let us pause and reflect on how hilarious it is that the board is called the “Kitchen Cabinet.”)

A temptation for small business owners might be to hide out in their basement and only work with each other. Jim and I run into this temptation. We are both introverts. We love our business. We love working together. We forget other humans exist. Our studio is in our basement. Our business is our pride and joy, so to let others in is risky. However, by shutting others out, our business can only grow to the size of our basement. It’s almost like the [false] idea that a goldfish will only grow to the size of its bowl.

Recently, we made the decision to hire a part-time studio assistant to join us. At first, we were motivated to hire her to help with production, but we quickly realized that inviting someone to join us will bring more than a faster turnaround on orders. She doesn’t start until the summer, but already she has broadened our perspective. She has insights and critiques that are critical for our growth as a business. We are lucky to share our business and we realize that the health of S2C depends on welcoming in other artists.

Locally Laid isn’t just Amundsen, her husband, and the chickens. It’s a community driven farm that invites the strengths and gifts of others. Like all healthy businesses, this farm, and hopefully our studio, will continue to flourish after the founders have moved on.

For some small business owners, it is hard to let someone new into the company- and not just because of payroll costs. When did you know it was time to hire someone? What value did they bring to the company that you weren’t expecting? Engage with us on Facebook or Twitter and share your stories!



Fitting in with the misfits

The Misfit Economy: lessons in creativity from pirates, hackers, gangsters, and other informal entrepreneurs by Alexa Clay and Kyra Maya Phillips

This book tells the stories of entrepreneurs who are more commonly found in the “underground economy.” These would be the folks whose trades aren’t accepted in mainstream society. I picked up this book because, like some of the folks interviewed for this book, I consider myself a misfit. I am quirky and weird. I speak my mind and don’t wear business suits to work. I forget my manners when I get excited in meetings. I am an artist. I wanted to read a book about being creative in the business world. Too often, I find business people boring. I find a stronger commitment to the status quo than to innovation and bravery. What I found was that this book told the stories of folks who have had to be creative to make their businesses work. The authors explore the commonalities between the misfits and share what difference they make in the business world. They argue, and I agree, that we all have something to learn from them.

According to Clay and Phillips, misfits are natural risk takers, are counter-cultural, challenge systems, and are self-driven. What popped out to me as the most eye-opening, is the importance of informality and self-governance to the misfit. It’s not simply that the misfit is informal or cannot obey orders from someone else. It’s that without the permission to self-govern and to be informal, the misfit’s creativity dies. This was a theme throughout the book that came alive to me, and thus, I’d like to do a little self reflecting.

Informality (could be interpreted as lack of structure from an outside party like a boss or workplace atmosphere) provides the space for me to be strategic, creative, and adaptable within the demands of the industry. There is flexibility in informality. Informality gives me the space to respond to what is alive in me at that moment. Because of informality, I can let inspiration and ideas govern my productivity. Within a formal structure, I would have to shelve the ideas and come back to them later. The risk for me, and I’m curious if other creatives agree, is that if I wait too long to follow an idea, the energy behind it will be gone. The idea will be lost. The inspiration dead. Informality is essential for me to act on inspiration.

Self-governance isn’t too different from informality, in my interpretation. Within self-governance, I set the goals and the incentives to act. I am accountable to the standards I hold for myself. This works for me because I have higher standards for myself than anyone else. There is accountability within self-governance because I must be attune to myself and what is alive within me. Within these two opportunities, I can be creative.

These are two traits that are essential for the success and productivity of Studio 2 Ceramics. We have regular set studio hours, but have reserved the right to listen to what we need in the moment. If we are tired and in need of rest, after ruining many mugs, we have learned that it is better to stay out of the studio. If we are motivated and excited by a project, we follow that energy and stay in the studio past closing time. We are accountable to each other, our customers, and ourselves. But we are self-governing. We set the boundaries, the expectations, and the method.

Reflecting back over just these two traits in our work place, I am filled with gratitude. Not everyone has the opportunity to follow their creativity. Not everyone can ride the inspiration train. To have the opportunity for informality and self-governance in our studio is a gift for both of us. It feels like a luxury, but after reading this book, I realize that they are actually essential for our business.

For those of you who have read this book, what was your takeaway? How are you going to apply what you read to your own industry? Engage with us on Twitter or Facebook.




The growing iceberg

Considering the fact that I run a ceramics studio, I don’t spend that much time in a ceramics studio. Think of an iceberg. The mugs, magnets, ornaments, jewelry, and monsters you see on our Instagram feed make up just the tip of our Studio 2 Ceramics iceberg. What you don’t see are the 47 “what the hell are we doing?!” strategy conversations Jim and I have every day, or the 2 hours spent slopping clay. You don’t see me reading blogs that claim to know the “ten tips to boost social media audience engagement.” Under the glassy sea, the iceberg of customer correspondence about custom orders (“Just glaze it in a warm, sandy tone,” “No, that’s too warm!”) and frustrations of not finding the right size of box to fit the custom plate I need to mail out (“Why the F*&% don’t they make boxes to fit plates and mugs together!”).

Inspired by the Makers Summit put on by The Makers Collective based out of Greenville, SC., I have decided that now is the time to write about the Studio 2 Ceramics iceberg of business development. I recently posted a couple of articles giving you a glimpse into our life behind the studio. My first post was a summary of the first 10 years of our business. Following that one, I explored the complex emotional experience of finding our brand’s voice. Coming up, you will find a series of posts about books I am reading on innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship, and marketing. These will be part book review, part personal reflection and adaptation of the concepts presented in the books.

Collaboration is key for any successful entrepreneur and artist, and I hope to be both. You are invited to join in the conversation on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. What have you found helpful in your own creative endeavors? What helps you create? How have you grown as an entrepreneur? What struggles do you have? Share your thoughts on social media, or email me at




Finding our voice

When growing a small business and establishing a brand, the first thing the gurus tell us is to find our voice. This is all fine and good, but if we don’t know what we are listening for, how will we know when we find it? And is finding our voice something we just discover by chance- like finding a pair of limited edition Heritage cowboy boots at a consignment shop?

The simile might be a stretch. Do normal people even know what Heritage boots are?

Heritage boots are handcrafted, high end cowboy boots made in Mexico by actual boot artisans. Each boot is custom made and stitched by hand. Each boot is its own work of art. These shoes are made to last and made for class. There is a higher chance of you being hit by lightning while doing laundry in your basement than you discovering a pair of Heritage boots in a consignment shop. Owners do not part with their Heritage boots, nor should they.

The style of these boots is recognizable. The superior leather (they sometimes even use shark skin), the highest skill, the fastidious attention to detail- all make up the finest footwear. And the price, though lower than some boots on the market, can be prohibitive. Again, normal people might not be able to afford a pair of these boots- thus is the cost of superior and ethical craft. Normal people might imagine the feel of slipping on a pair of custom made cowboy boots. The rise of the heel just high enough to feel confident, but low enough to still be practical. The tooling across the leather reminds you that on your feet are two pieces of art. A boot so captivating that you actually think you’re wearing it, but you’re only reading about it on a website.

Finding our voice is like finding this unicorn of a boot in a consignment shop. We’ve seen it before, but only briefly and in part. We’d recognize it, if we were digging through a bin. But no one will just give it to us. Our voice is our own. It belongs to our brand, our work. No one can make our voice for us.

Listening to the stories of other entrepreneurs shaping their businesses, their brands, and finding their voices, I’m beginning to realize that we aren’t just going to discover ours. We are going to try it on, put it back on the shelf. We’ll pick up another and try that one on, too. Eventually, we will get closer and closer. Eventually, we will discover that, in fact, our voice was there all along, being handcrafted, stitched together, piece by piece. We will look back on our journey, and we will see that we were shaping it, together. We will see it emerge, and we will name it.

How did you discover your voice? If you own your own business, how did you shape your brand? Leave a comment on our Facebook or Twitter, or email me at



What the heck are we doing?

While Jim has been throwing pots for 15 years, and I (Grace) have been an artist and entrepreneur-spirited gal for 33 years, we still feel new at this whole “own your own studio” thing.

In 2005, I moved into Jim’s studio in the basement of the Thorpe building. He had his side where he threw pots and then took them up to Bethel University to fire them in their soda kiln. I had my side of the studio where I painted and drew and made collages. It didn’t take long for me to come up with an idea to add a gallery to our space. Something Jim learned very quickly about me is that I’m always thinking of ways to build revenue.

We built a gallery, named it Gallery Courbet, had some shows, sold some work. We showed and sold our friends’ work as well and began shaping our “brand.” At the time, we did not know that’s what we were doing. At the same time, I was fresh out of college with  not-so-hireable English and Art History degrees. I was working odd jobs to make rent and Jim was working at Caribou from 5am-11am before coming into the studio.

Eventually, we realized that we couldn’t afford to keep paying rent on our apartment and our studio, so we shut down shop for a few years. We sold the kiln, moved the wheel to my grandma’s house, and worked hard at increasing our cash flow in and reducing the cash flow out.

The next few years were a dark few years. While we were improving our financial situation, we were not improving our emotional situation. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, when you take the studio away from artists, you take away our life force.

Praise the maker for the housing market crash. Not for all the people who were victimized by the banks or lost their homes. But this market crash was our way to buy our life force back. We began looking for homes with unfinished basements. Because of the crash, we were able to buy a historic home with a full, unfinished basement, with a kiln room (root cellar) in the artist district of Northeast Minneapolis. We moved in May of 2012, bought our kiln in August of 2012 and we were back in business.

As we look back over the path of Studio 2 Ceramics, buying our own kiln made all the difference for our business. We now were able to fire in small batches -16 mugs at a time. When we were taking our ceramics up to Bethel, we would only go a couple times of year. The kilns there are made to hold whole classrooms worth of work. We are just two artists- one potter, one glazer. This quicker turn around helped us shape our style, and ultimately, our brand. Firing in small batches, we were able to make tweaks to our designs and our methods regularly. We were now able to turn custom orders in just a few weeks, rather than a few months. We could shape and design our identity as Studio 2 Ceramics. And best of all, we could fire at home, rather than 15 miles away.

We are coming up to our 4th anniversary in our home (and studio) and we still don’t know what we are doing. We are still trying to figure out where we want this business to go. We are still shaping our brand, though we do know we are getting closer. We now have 7 retail partners, a regular booth at the Northeast Minneapolis Farmers Market and an Etsy shop. Our confidence is growing and our partnership is paramount to our business (and of course our life together.) We have a new website coming soon, and a growing social media audience. Looking back over the last 11 years together, there’s no way I would have imagined that we would have sold 200 MN Mugs in one year or that the Minnesota Zoo would want our work!

We might not know exactly what we are doing, but we believe we are doing it well. Jim and I have the fortune to be able to be life partners as well as business partners. We love working together and our creativity feeds each other. We feel so thankful to be able to make pottery together and grow Studio 2 Ceramics.

Going forward, I hope to be blogging regularly about our development as a business and as artists. I am reading a number of books on entrepreneurship and plan to review them on this blog. I also intend to share with you how we think about business development, what struggles we encounter as we grow, and what I’m learning about social media marketing.

Questions, comments, hopes, and dreams? Email me at