[ Edit: Just added lots more photos. Find more photos of the seminar than you would ever want to see here. ]

Guess what arrived on my doorstep today: my model car made of clay, shipped straight from Toyota’s Calty Design Center and enclosed in plexiglass (which happily give the impression that this is an important clay model and not just my sad little attempt at automotive design). It arrived with some bumps and bruises, which is fine by me — makes it all the easier to let my kids have at it and create something which will be, no doubt, a thousand times more memorable.

Receiving this today means it’s the perfect opportunity to tell you about the Toyota Design Seminar. This past Tuesday, Toyota opened up it’s Calty Design Research doors to a tiny media group: NotCot, Core77, KCRW/NPR, Architect Magazine, Dwell, Inhabitat, Zaproot, and myself. (I know. I know. I’m the luckiest person ever.) This was pretty much a landmark day, because secrecy in the automotive industry is so completely complete, that Tuesday was the first time ever Toyota has invited the journalists in for such a thorough tour. We were able to see their design process from concept to reality. And I’m so happy to share what I saw with you.

Visiting the clay modeling studio was one of the best parts of the Calty Design Seminar. It was absolutely the glorious school-field-trip I had imagined. But way cooler. And no fighting over who got to sit in the back seat of the bus.
First we had the chance to try our hand at shaving away on the life-size model — using tools custom-made for this task by the Toyota clay modelers. The carving required more hand strength than I expected. But (because I wasn’t held accountable if I made a mistake) it was also quite therapeutic. Way more fun than say, a desk zen/raking garden.

We learned it takes 4-5 years of in-house Toyota training to become a skilled clay modeler. Possibly this is true. Possibly we were told this so that we didn’t feel bad about our mad-clay-carving-skilz.

After we had our fill on the life-size model, we were each given our own small car to mess around with. As well as a warm fist-full of softer clay to repair any particularly bad decisions. The sharp implements made it kid prohibitive, but I was itching to have my kids with me anyway. They would have loved this! And will no doubt love digging into my mini-clay model on the kitchen table.

I’m thinking that carving model clay cars at Calty would pretty much be the coolest (won’t-ever-happen) birthday party activity ever.

And you should definitely go see these really gorgeous photos of the Clay Studio by Jean from NotCot. Coming shortly: more about the seminar — including a peek at the soon-to-be-introduced Toyota Venza. Sweeet!