In Conversation with Jana Nel
A Pretoria girl at heart, Jana Nel was blessed with a creative family environment and a high school teacher who really built her confidence. She mentions her husband as her biggest supporter and someone who has, from the beginning, always encouraged her to create.
Jana studied Visual Communication at the University of Stellenbosch where she was encouraged to develop her creative processes and methods. Later, she studied a project management course through UNISA which she is now truly thankful for. These skills have taught her to manage herself and her new business successfully.
In early 2020 Jana decided to leave her corporate job and focus on her craft full-time. Before this, she would do ceramics and oil paintings every day after work, but ceramics is what stole her heart. She finds the process thrilling and with so much that can go wrong, we totally understand why. She believes that creativity can be applied in many ways, but ceramics is what fuels her passion to stay creative.
Jana is known for her one-of-a-kind ceramics. Perfectly imperfect is how she describes her aesthetic. With a flair for design and an eye for beautiful things, you simply cannot pass up a gorgeous Jana Nel Design.
We caught up with Jana recently to share a colourful insight into the artisan’s life.
Let’s catch up! Tell us how you handled staying creative during lockdown and what new collections can welook out for?
I resigned from my corporate job in the medical scheme industry in February 2020, just before COVID made its appearance in South Africa. Little did I know it would have such a massive impact on me, personally and professionally. Upon my resignation I had my business plan for Jana Nel Design worked out to a tee – new projects in the pipeline, markets and events, etc. But with lockdown, and having all the projects impeded and events cancelled, I had a baptism of fire in terms of what my newfound career required as a small business owner. I had to pivot and strategize a new way of generating an income.
Lock-down gave me the opportunity of time – a luxury not many new small business owners have – to develop a brand-new range, where I could devote my time 100 per cent into formulating a new range of bespoke ceramic art-pieces. Resigning and focussing on my craft full-time has made me see a big difference in my work. Having my studio on our home property, filled with bags of clay and all the tools I need, I truly felt blessed to be able to express my creativity daily in a time where most people felt so ‘locked-in’.
Tell us more about your collaboration with H&M and how it came about.
The H&M team approached me just before lockdown to collaborate on their Conscious Exclusive Collection Range that launched on 24 September. The launch would have included a live event, but this was cancelled due to COVID restrictions. The project had to adapt and I had the amazing privilege to hand-form stoneware cups and create custom gift boxes for the subsequent launch at H&M’s Sandton store. The gift boxes formed part of an invitation for a curated group of H&M clients.
The Conscious Exclusive Collection is a recurring fashion collection at the forefront of H&M’s sustainability work, aimed to move their fashion and sustainability development, as well as innovation forward, to lead the change towards a more sustainable fashion future.
It was such a wonderful project to work on, and it showed how dedicated H&M are to support local artisans and promote artistic talent in South Africa. I’d say it was a blessing that fell straight from heaven into my lap.
Take us through your creative process. How does a collection go from concept to production?
Without being overly philosophical, I do feel the first inkling towards a new range, shape or design, originates from the creative gift that you’ve been entrusted with. Creativity is not something you can just go on a course to ‘learn’ but much more a gift and a feeling. Of course, there are a few practical aspects of designing a new range. I like to start out with a few rough sketches and then move over to build and form the pieces in clay to get a feel for the shape, size etc. It’s important to see how the clay reacts to the shape you want it to take. It needs to be fine and feminine but still sturdy to withstand the kiln’s temperatures of up to 1260°C. There’s a whole lot of trial and error to get to the final result, similar to how a chef would test and try a recipe for weeks before he feels it’s good enough to go on the menu.
If you could only choose one piece of furniture in your home, which one would it be?
No doubt – our dinner table. It’s the one place my husband and I have gathered and shared so many special memories with friends and family. Sharing your hospitality around the dinner table is a gift, an act of love and an opportunity to bless others, and our dinner table allows us to do just that.
Being a creative, do you like to DIY or get a pro to do it for you?
DIY most definitely! I love DIY stores – much to my husband’s dismay. We live in an older neighbourhood with beautiful old-school parquet flooring, so it’s given us plenty of opportunities to tackle various DIY projects in and around our home.
Who are some of your most inspiring artists or sculptors?
South Africa boasts a whole array of ceramicists and I have so much admiration for each of them, purely because I think we all share the burden of the painstaking process of working with clay. I always say that you can follow all the steps to a tee, without making one error, and even then there’s a chance your piece might crack or warp in the kiln. I guess all ceramicists are really-really good at being patient and accepting the loss of an art piece.
Any favourite accounts on Instagram that you follow or think we should follow?
There is a Danish design house called FERM Living, and I just love how they collectively address having beauty in all areas of your home. They offer beautiful furniture, ceramics, soft furnishings etc, for all the different spaces your home offers.