One of my new year’s resolutions for last year was to make most of my Christmas gifts. Mission accomplished! I made these half-moon Cocobolo serving boards for everyone in my family.
It was a team effort, though! My (soon-to-be) father-in-law introduced me to his favorite exotic wood supply place, and my Maker Fam bud Jeff Goodwin from Krakatoa Design helped me with every step of the fabrication at his woodshop in Alameda.
Surprise: Wood is fun! What a revelation. Might consider making some of these to sell if there's interest...
I showed off some new work at Renegade Craft Fair this past weekend -- which included my largest piece to-date, a six-foot high ribbon wall hanging. Thanks to everyone who came out and said hello!
I've got a couple more holiday events on the calendar, so if you'd like to come check out these pieces in person, check out the events page. And if you'd like to place an order for one of these four pieces, you can do that through my online shop.
I recently made a Maple Loop for a San Francisco-based interior designer's home. His taste in decor is obviously impeccable, so getting a commission from him -- for his own home, no less! -- was an honor.
If you'd like to discuss a custom piece of your own, get in touch through this form.
I'm moving into a new studio space* next month, and because I'm all about that Marie Kondo life, I'm paring down my possessions. I have a handful of one-of-a-kind pieces in my studio that I'm never going to make again, and I'm ready to find homes for them. Take a look, and let me know if any of these strike your fancy!
Claro Cart: Normally $1,800, on sale for $1400
Dodecahedron Floor Lamp: Normally $1,200, on sale for $980
Nest: Normally $2,2,00, on sale for $1,800
Large Geo Vase: Normally $580, on sale for $450 -- UPDATE: SOLD
Cube Rose No. 2: normally $1,200, on sale for $700
Mountain: Normally $400, on sale for $250
On Thursday, I had an opening reception to celebrate some new works going on display at Harmonic Brewing in the Dogpatch. The three new wall hangings feature some new materials for me: maple, walnut, and mirrored acrylic. Check it out:
As an extrovert who's running a business solo, events like these totally give me life. It's highly motivating to have a deadline, and it's such a treat to have customers, friends, and loved ones show up and hang out for a few hours. Some of the neighbors came by, too -- folks from both Center Hardware and Philz Coffee stopped in to chat!
I also used the event as an excuse to do a soft launch for my new line of enamel pins, which are essentially wearable, micro versions of my wall hangings. Pins are available now in the shop.
This is a guest post written by Elektra Steel's summer intern, Alexis Bullock! Alexis is a rising sophomore at Northwestern, majoring in Art Theory and Practice and Psychology. She made herself totally indispensable this summer -- she produced and photographed a line of enamel pins, developed a launch plan, researched potential wholesale accounts, and helped paint a mural. In this post, she reflects on what she took away from her two internships this summer.
I started this summer wanting to get a better idea of the different paths that art offered. I had two jobs so I could test the waters in two different areas of the art world. The first was with Elektra Steel, so that I could see how a maker operates. The second with Catharine Clark Gallery, so that I could explore the gallery-side of artistic careers. Over the course of the summer, a simple two-month investigation of gallery and maker careers morphed into a reflection about my own artwork and how I wanted my future in the arts to take form.
I began to understand what it took to develop a portfolio of my work in a comprehensive and professional way. That understanding was supplemented by the work I did at the gallery, where I learned about the represented artists, their bodies of work, and how they documented them. I became invested in documenting my own work: I kept a journal of all previous, current, and future projects, photographed my finished works, and created a website and Instagram account to serve as my artistic portfolio.
Working with Zai gave me the opportunity to see the behind the scenes of all of her Instagram posts, blogs, and design thinking. It helped me to see my art not only as a hobby or a side project, but as a career. Despite this new outlook, putting together the portfolio often felt overwhelming: I had never created a website, and felt like I was posing as a maker when I didn’t have the authority to put my work out online.
Making a journal to track my works, the professional connections I made this summer, and my website and Instagram activity helped me focus on building a portfolio for my own sake, not for the sake of others to see it. Zai made sure I understood the most important part of building this portfolio: to document my work for the future, not for the present. I wasn’t starting an Instagram to get a certain number of followers or likes, but rather to have an established platform where I could collect and share my work going forward.
With that in mind, I began creating my website on Squarespace, and set up a professional email and Instagram as well. Although I only have three of my projects on the site right now, it has made me more sure that I want to continue creating and sharing work. I truly believe now that all makers should collect their work online in some form. For me, it has become the foundation of endless inspiration for more projects.
Here are some process photos from an experiment I did earlier this summer. It was technically challenging, and I learned a lot. This piece isn't quite ready for prime-time yet, but it was a pretty cool v1 prototype!
For the fabricators and tinkerers out there who are curious about how I made this:
- Created a sphere with Voronois facets in Grasshopper/Rhino (thanks, Phil!)
- Stretched out the form and removed facets in SketchUp
- "Unfolded" the model in the buggy and (I think?) now-defunct 123D Make (probably gonna switch to Pepakura or Fusion)
- Cleaned up the file in Illustrator and created the vector drawing for lasercutting
- Had the parts lasercut
- For two of the bowls, I tried TIG welding the parts together; for one, I MIG welded it. The welding would have been much easier if I'd had a second pair of hands. The parts required a lot of strength to hold them in the right spots (you can't clamp an irregular beast like this!), and TIG welding with filler rod requires two hands. I ended up getting crafty with weights, props, and using my elbows and knees to hold the pieces in the right place in order to weld. It was not pretty!
Things I still need to figure out:
- The edges and corners are super sharp, so it's unpleasant to touch
- I'm trying to avoid welding all of the edges
- I'm not sure I like the look of either tabs or perforations
For now, this piece is on the back burner. But it inspired another set of irregular, faceted vessels, so stay tuned for that!
I painted my first mural! Thanks to Redwood City Parks, Recreation, and Community Service, I recently got the opportunity to beautify a set of utility boxes at the corner of Middlefield Rd. and Willow St. in Redwood City, California.
One of my goals for this year was to paint a mural. I'd been wanting to explore my favorite patterns but on a larger scale. I saw that Redwood City Parks, Recreation, and Community Service had put out a call for artists, and I applied. I put together a proposal based on the maze motif I'd developed in a previous steel project. My design was selected, and I dove in!
This project came with a number of challenges, all of which made me a better artist. First, I learned how to work with paint! I hadn't painted anything in years, and this project was a crash course in primer, mixing colors, and using painter's tape. Secondly, working away from a studio -- and away from tools, a sink, and supplies -- meant that I had to plan ahead, and keep a mobile studio in the back of my car. Lastly, it was 90 degrees. Some days, my shirt was drenched with sweat by 8:30am! I have a newfound respect for anyone whose job requires them to be out in the elements all day long.
The best part of this project was getting to know the community during those six days I spent on that street corner. I had lovely chats with curious folks stopped at the red light. I fielded questions and waves from little kids. I chatted with Mexican workers in broken Spanglish. I got a joyful pep talk from a homeless woman pushing a shopping cart. On an especially hot day, an employee from the grocery store nearby came by and brought me a coconut water. An hour later, a woman in a passing car literally offered me the hat off her head. I got more smiles and thumbs-ups from strangers than I could begin to count.
I feel like I've gotten to know this corner of Redwood City so well. It's been an honor and a privilege. This sounds cheesy, but it was humbling to see how a little splash of art on a street corner could bring smiles to so many people's faces. This project was my first foray into public art, and I think I might be hooked.
If you're in the area, go check out the boxes in person! Here's a map of where they're located. And if you'd like to check out all of the other public art in Redwood City, check out the Explore RWC app for Apple and Android phones. (Side note: How cool is it that Redwood City not only invests in public art, but even built an app to help people discover it!)
Here are some process photos:
Thank you to the following folks:
- Redwood City Parks, Recreation, and Community Service: Thank you for selecting my design and giving me this amazing opportunity! Sheila Cepero and Beth Mostovoy, thank you for supporting local artists and giving us a platform to share our work.
- Alexis Bullock: Thanks to my awesome summer intern for being down to help me paint this mural in the blazing heat!
- Sigona's Farmers Market: Thanks for being my "home base" throughout this project! Your food, parking lot, and bathroom were lifesavers, and I really enjoyed getting to meet Carmelo and a handful of your employees.
- Johnathon DeSoto: Your tape tutorials were a game-changer, Johnathon! Thanks for sharing your secrets with me.
- Jeff Goodwin, Emi Grannis, and Nicole Sweeney: Thanks, Maker Fam, for your moral support throughout this project (and always).
- Phil Reyneri: I will never forget that you drove all the way down to Redwood City just to help me with that damned shade structure -- I owe you one!
Just wrapped up my biggest job to date: Six custom wall hangings for a San Francisco hedge fund office! These photos are from before the installation, so stay tuned for pics of the pieces in their beautiful new homes.
Here's Maze, a giant triptych for their main conference room:
And here are the three pieces in the Folds series:
If you're interested in a custom piece for your office or home, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I was recently interviewed on Tiffany Han's dynamic and charming podcast, called Raise Your Hand Say Yes. Tiffany and I covered a lot of ground in this deep-dive conversation: What it's like being a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field, the importance of building relationships with mentors, and how to go about finding (or creating!) community when you're running a business on your own. Listen here!
Here's how Tiffany describes the episode: "I was so excited to talk with designer, metalworker, and entrepreneur Zai Divecha for this week's episode! You'll hear the story of how Zai went from Yale grad (undergrad and grad) to a career in tech to where she is now, specializing in TIG welding and producing gorgeous fine art wall hangings.
"You'll also hear us talk about the steps Zai took as she was deciding to leave tech and become a full-time artist, and what helped her in her first year of the transition. Finally, you'll get the scoop on what kinds of support networks carry her through and some of the digital ways she keeps her fine art business organized!
"If you've considered walking away from a looks good on paper career or degree to raise your hand and say yes to something creative, this episode is for you! Oh, and if you're looking for a dose of empowerment, you'll get that too! You guys - welding is so badass!"
Give your phone a quick makeover with these mobile wallpapers! Open this website on your phone, then touch and hold to save an image. Go to your phone's settings to swap in the new wallpaper. Enjoy!
I recently wrapped up this curvy, custom ribbon, and shipped it off to its new home in New Haven, Connecticut. My clients, Marc and Horacio, were wonderful to work with. Marc was one of my professors at Yale (he runs the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence) and his husband Horacio is a talented documentary filmmaker. Their request for flowing, organic shapes pushed me out of my comfort zone a bit -- I can't remember the last time I made anything with curves! I love how this piece turned out, and I'm looking forward to exploring curves in future pieces.
Some behind-the-scenes photos from the process of designing and fabricating this piece:
Interested in a custom piece for your home or office? Email me at email@example.com and let's discuss!
I'm in the latest issue of AGLOW magazine, a beautiful publication geared at makers, photographers, and creative small business owners. It's cool seeing myself and my work in print for the first time. My injury and disability has put a damper on my work for the last few months, so this feels extra special to me right now.
If you or a creative person in your life is looking for some inspiration, consider ordering an issue of this beautiful magazine! I'm in volume 4, which you can purchase here.
Last night, I had two pieces on display at the Sama [UN]Gala at Gallery 308 at Fort Mason in San Francisco. The event is an annual fundraiser for Sama, an international organization that connects marginalized people in East Africa, Haiti, and India with dignified work via the internet. All money raised at last night's gala went to support their programs.
I've been drawing a lot because I broke my ankle a few months ago, and haven't been able to do much else. Take lil flip through my notebook!
For more stuff like this, follow me on Instagram at @elektrasteel!
I'm both excited and incredibly nervous to announce that I got to guest star in the most recent episode of Career Relaunch with Joseph Liu! This stellar podcast is all about how people like me have navigated dramatic career changes.
Joseph is a fabulous host -- so articulate and engaging -- and every episode features an in-depth interview with a guest, as well as concrete action-items for any listeners who are considering making the leap themselves.
Many folks have asked me what it was like to make such a big career change. Here's your chance to find out! In this episode, I talk about how important it is to be in "flow" when working, what it was like to switch from software marketing to starting my own business, and what kind of homework I did to prepare for the transition.
A few weeks ago, a writer from my high school's newspaper, The Paper Tiger, reached out to me to see if she could interview me for their literary magazine. She found me on Instagram, and sent over some of the most interesting and thought-provoking questions I've gotten in a while! Here's a repost of the interview in full. Enjoy!
For this week’s LitMag interview, we interviewed Zai Divecha, designer, metalworker and owner of Elektra Steel (and an ‘06 LW alum!). As Elektra Steel’s website states, the company produces unique mosaic wall hangings. Zai specializes in the very precise, flexible type of welding called TIG welding, which allows her to create her bold, detailed work. Check out Zai’s work at www.elektrasteel.com or follow her company on Instagram at @elektrasteel.
How did you first get involved with metalworking? What advice would you give to people looking to take a similar career path?
I first got into metalworking at age 14, as a high school student right here at Lick-Wilmerding! I knew I liked art when I first got to Lick, but I knew nothing about metalworking, and to be honest, I was a little scared of the shops. Once I learned the basics in the metal shop and started to feel a little more comfortable with the tools, I fell in love. I realized I could create furniture and home goods from scratch. It was deeply empowering.
It took me a while to figure out that I wanted to do metalworking as a career, though — I studied other subjects in college and grad school (psychology, public health) and worked in a few different fields (nonprofit, tech) before diving into the art world full-time. It’s okay to change your mind a few times.
If you think you might want to pursue art for a career, the most important thing you can do right now is to start building up your portfolio. Make as much art as you can, and take photos of both the process and the finished pieces. Research “product photography” online — there’s a lot of great information out there about how to take high-quality photos of your pieces. Once you have a few pieces photographed, create a simple website and an Instagram account to show off your work. Whether you’re applying to art programs or just showing your work to a family member, it’s incredibly helpful to have photos of your work gathered nicely in one (or two) places.
If you know you want to pursue art as a career, you could go to an art school for college, or attend a liberal arts school that has a strong visual arts program. But you don’t have to go to school for art — I didn’t! If you’re not sure you want to commit to going to art school, explore art in your free time instead: You could take summer or evening classes at a place like The Crucible in Oakland, or TechShop in San Francisco.
Is there a specific person you look up to who has inspired your artwork or influenced you in general?
The most important person who shaped me as an artist was Mr. Clifford, who was the metal shop teacher when I was a student at Lick. He introduced me to metalworking, and helped me build my confidence in the shop. He pushed me out of my comfort zone, encouraging me to tackle more complex skills, like TIG welding and anodizing. Over a decade later, I still consider him a mentor. Two years ago, I went to him for advice when I was starting Elektra Steel, my company. He gave me encouraging, specific, and practical advice, and it helped me prepare to take the leap.
Many of your art works are installed or photographed in very specific places — when you create these pieces do you think a lot about your audience and the space you’d want them to be in, or not?
Depends on the piece! Some of my pieces were commissioned by clients — they hired me to make a piece for a specific location, like over their fireplace, or in a conference room. In that case, I definitely take into consideration how the space is decorated and lit, how and where the piece will be hung, and who the audience will be. But sometimes I just make a piece for fun, and then afterward try to find a customer to buy it. In that scenario, I’m less concerned about the audience and the space, and more focused on just making what I want to make.
What do you hope people learn or take away from looking at your art pieces?
Right now, my main goal is for people to look at my work and just think it looks cool. My priority at the moment is to refine my fabrication techniques, develop a coherent aesthetic, and make stuff that people like. That said, I’d like to eventually make pieces that tell a story and have messages embedded!
There are a handful of causes I care deeply about, like HIV/AIDS in California, and I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a series of pieces that explore some angle of the history, epidemiology, or stigma associated with HIV. Every year for the last five years, I’ve participated in a fundraiser called AIDS/LifeCycle, which is a seven-day, 545-mile bike ride from SF to LA. Each year, I raise over $3,000 for the cause. Perhaps next year, I’ll make a few pieces about HIV and auction them off to raise money for these two organizations…
Obviously the field of fabrication has been traditionally dominated by men — how does this disproportionate representation affect the way you work?
Great question! My feelings about it are complex. Sometimes I love that I’m a woman in a male-dominated field. The fact that I’m a woman who learned to weld at age 14 is a unique and memorable story, and I certainly use that narrative to my advantage in my marketing and branding efforts. But other times, I feel annoyed. Some men in the field don’t take me seriously, or they try to “mansplain” things to me in a condescending way.
At a previous metal shop, where most of the folks were white men, I experienced subtle sexism on a regular basis. Staffers would ask things like, “So, are you here for the jewelry class?” just because I was a woman (I was actually there for the waterjet cutting class). They constantly made assumptions about what type of work I was there to do. Other members of the shop would come over and try to tell me how to use a tool, even when I clearly wasn’t looking for help. I felt like I was constantly on the defensive, trying to prove to everyone that I was a competent metalworker. I think it helped me grow a thicker skin, but it wasn’t always fun, and it certainly distracted me from my work.
But at my next shop, The Crucible, I had a totally different experience. The community there was much more diverse — there were lots of women, folks of color, and queer and trans people. I never once experienced sexism or felt self-conscious about my identity as a woman (or as a queer person of color, for that matter), and I had talented role models all around me who looked like me. I felt so much more confident and comfortable in that space! And since then, I’ve made an effort to find friends and mentors who are other strong women who run their own small businesses. I’ve learned so much from them, and we help each other out constantly. Their advice and support has helped me grow tremendously.