Riffing on the restaurant model, this ceramic artist and educator offers carry-out-style clay projects for customers looking for a fresh and engaging creative activity.
Born of a global pandemic, Craft Takeout is a small business providing branded to-go art kits for a socially distanced community.
I am an educator and invest my time into making or teaching art, with clay as my material of choice. Teaching keeps me energized, challenged, busy, and connected to a wider community. Over the last 20 years, I have taught college courses, workshops, and evening community classes at a local art center here in Bloomington, Illinois.
As an educator, my aim is to provide a creative, positive, and encouraging community environment for various ages. People work with clay because they enjoy trying something new, improving that new skill, connecting with people as they build community, and engaging their minds and bodies.
Before COVID-19 changed all of our lives, I was busy flying out of town to be a visiting artist while simultaneously juggling the demands of teaching at two colleges and a community arts center. Then it all came to a screeching halt.
A New Creative Journey
It was clear to me that we were going to rethink everything we do. I knew I could not recreate hands-on creativity and an in-person community. Could I find an alternate way to teach ceramics? As I pondered this question, I started to think about what goes on in someone’s brain when they make art, which led to more questions. Why does making art feel so right and important? Do we need this more now than ever? How can I share my knowledge and resources with others? How can I take people who may not consider themselves artists and start them on a creative journey? How can I get people to step outside of their comfort zones and try something new when everything feels stuck?
As quarantine has dragged on, many people want to try new things in the comfort of their home, but it can be difficult without the right tools. Anyone wanting to work in clay needs a kiln, which was inaccessible at that time. Even with the proper materials and tools, envisioning your creations can be intimidating for a casual maker. I wanted to streamline the process and make something user friendly, with the right amount of challenge, that would creatively engage participants.
Beginning the Clay Kits
As I spoke with my artist husband about developing art kits for people to do at home, we discussed how dining at restaurants was no longer an option, and everything seemed to be moving to takeout. Instantly the idea struck us: how fun would it be to receive a pizza box that contained a clay slab and all of the things you need to transform it into a piece of art? Taking our cues from the restaurant world, the branding of Craft Takeout began.
A Craft Takeout Kit contains everything needed to make the project—a slab of clay, portioned containers of Amaco underglazes, brushes, a board to work on, basic clay tools, along with specialized accoutrement to execute specific projects. Items in the kit are borrowed and returned after the project is created. Kits go out on a Friday afternoon and are returned with the completed project the following Tuesday. Once the projects are dry, I bisque fire them, apply clear glaze, and glaze fire them. Finally, I place the completed projects in a bin by the studio to be picked up by the participants at their convenience. The entire process from receiving the kit to the return of a completed project typically takes twelve days. To streamline the process, only one project is offered at a time, with pick-up and drop-off scheduled on specific days.
Detailed, step-by-step instructions and basic ceramics information are included in each kit. Since makers are working at home, I discuss how to set up a workspace that is not at the kitchen table, with minimal dust creation. I also include information on how to look up materials safety data sheets (MSDS) for the materials in the kit.
Like many during the pandemic, I became a YouTuber. This allows me to provide makers with a link to a private YouTube video for each project to mimic in-person instruction as closely as possible. The videos take participants through step-by-step instructions while also providing additional examples. These 45-minute videos allow people to follow along at their own pace. Unhindered by the constraint of class time, I am consistently impressed with the creations produced through the Craft Takeout Kits.
Projects are designed to be easy to follow for those new to clay, and challenging enough to engage those with previous clay experience. I provide project examples in the video and display finished pieces for people to touch and see when they pick up their Craft Takeout kits. I strive to design projects that appeal to both adults and children, can be safely transported, are engaging to a diverse group of people, and will look good without being too technically difficult. Some projects that I have done are garland created with small ceramic shapes that were strung up along with felted-wool pom poms, slab-built birds that have hooks for display, flowers that have 3D-printed backs that slide onto a garden stake, and pinch pots. Often I provide custom vinyl templates or 3D-printed tools that can be reused. I test and offer an underglaze color palette that is appropriate for the project. These thoughtfully considered details lead to successful outcomes.
Reaching Potential Makers
Effectively utilizing social media helps me reach potential makers. Posting short teaser videos, example projects, and images of completed projects entices Craft Takeout participants. I create up to twelve kits a week and one kit can accommodate multiple people. Kits cost between $35 and $45.
The bulk of my customers are adults and teens. Home schoolers and Girl Scouts have purchased kits for a distanced group activity. I recently started doing birthday party kits from what I call the catering menu. I have also seen an increase in people purchasing kits as special-occasion gifts and for older family members who are feeling isolated. I feel grateful to hear from customers that teens struggling with depression engaged on a deeper level through the kits and that families used them as a multi-generational project.
Creative challenges come in different forms. Using my entrepreneurial skills is a creative endeavor. I trusted my idea and dove into Craft Takeout with the hope of bringing something new into peoples’ lives during a challenging time. When one crafter returned her kit and said with intensity, “Wow, the ability to share what you know and inspire individual creativity at this moment, what a gift!” I was confident I had inspired a new community of makers.
the author Erin Furimsky is a studio artist and educator in Bloomington, Illinois. Her work has been shown at galleries and museums in the US and abroad. She has been a resident artist at the Archie Bray Foundation and Red Lodge Clay Center. You can see Erin in a variety of streaming videos on CLAYflicks.