Studio habits of mind bring visions to life

As art educators, the faculty in Colorado Academy’s Visual & Performing Arts Department have multiple goals. One of those goals is to teach our students that they have the courage, power, and skill to create something out of nothing. This might be a painting, an onstage set, a choreographed dance, a song, a play, or a hand-thrown mug. What one might not realize is that the learned skills an artist uses to create these products are not all that is necessary in bringing them to fruition. There are critical habits the artists must practice in order to create their work. These habits empower them to design and fabricate anything they can think of.

The Visual Arts Department has been paying close attention to the studio habits of mind, originally designed by researchers at Harvard’s Project Zero. The habits we have been emphasizing the most are to engage and persist, to stretch and explore, to collaborate, and to make connections with the world.

Willa Wang, a Ninth Grader at CA, has already been practicing all of these habits in a real-world manner. Last year, she started her own business, silkscreening her own designs onto eco-friendly t-shirts. Her business idea began two years ago, as she created numerous doodles in math class. Luckily, her math teacher, Jason Koza, gave her drawings praise, rather than giving her a hard time for drawing while taking notes in math class. In fact, Willa remembers his encouraging her to continue her stunning drawings of wildlife, and even to consider marketing and selling them.

This is when she went to Becci Marzonie, her ceramics teacher, and asked her how to start a business. She knew that Ms. Marzonie had been making and selling her own ceramics in a business of her own. She then went to the Young Americans Bank, an organization in Denver that is committed to developing the financial literacy of young people through real-life experiences and hands-on education. As a result, this summer, Willa worked hard to build her products, and then attended multiple art markets. Her business was born.

I sat down with Willa recently and asked her about her business and how it all started. She said, “I had been dreaming of starting my own business, and because of my passion for wildlife and art, the idea just came together.” When asked what advice she would give other young entrepreneurs, she said, “You need to believe in your product and be willing to put yourself out there, even when someone tells you ‘no.’ Believe that you can make a big difference, even if you are only using simple supplies.”

Willa donates 10% of all her sales to wildlife conservation and has chosen t-shirts made of a tri-cotton blend of recycled material. There is nothing simple about her product. Her business message is a powerful one.

Check out Willa’s website and find her on Instagram @willamiettestudio.