In this installation of 'The Makers' our contributor Nikeisha Joseph spent some time With Crystal Antoine Alleyne. A Graphic Designer who decided to delve into her hidden passion of jewellery making and sculpting.
Thus Cocoa Vintage was born, Crystal focuses mainly on ceramic jewellery and also includes metals, acrylic, leather and wire. It’s a fusion of what inspires, her love for the Caribbean aesthetic, and her love for the island she calls home - Trinidad & Tobago.
How do you define creativity and what does it mean to you?
Creativity is having an idea and executing it in your unique way. For me, it means giving a part of myself and showing it in a tangible form to the world.
How much of your creative ability do you think is innate? Or is your creativity a skill that you have developed?
It's definitely both. I think ever since I was a child I was always very creative with my hands - drawing and painting all the time. Knowing what colours to put together, all came very naturally to me and without much thought. But of course as you grow, things change around you and you want to discover new forms of art. Before it was painting, now my art has developed into sculpting.
When did you realise that you wanted to express your creativity? Was it encouraged by others (e.g., parents)?
My mother saw the artistic ability in me before I knew I had it, and she bought me all the best supplies. I didn't appreciate it then and ended up wasting paints and taking such bad care of my brushes. Now I know the sacrifice she made then.
What is your jewellery making process like?
It begins with a slab of raw clay that I mold by hand to get the shape. Then there are series of steps before I get to the end – leaving it to dry, carving it some more, firing it in the kiln, sanding etc.
I work with glaze paints, which is always experimental and fun, because you don’t know what the true colour is until the piece is fired. Then I add a 22K gold glaze to give a sort of regal touch.
I particularly like the combination of ceramic and metals, especially brass. I love the vintage look brass gets when it’s old and worn out.
That’s a very layered process. Where did you learn about it?
Jewellery design was part of my Fashion degree at UTT. I would be so excited about the class that I would reach early and sit outside the classroom. Then I did one day course with SeeRique Caribbean when I became interested in ceramics and clay. I would call the owner, Rhonda, constantly with questions I had. Everything else I learned through books I bought, and trial and error.
Do you see any artistic ability in your three-year-old, Joshua? And how do you encourage it?
He is not the ordinary little boy; I could see he is already creative and making his own path, so I try to encourage that. Sometimes I would leave him in just his little pampers, set out his crayons and paper and let him go at it. There was one time he went into my wallet, took out my money then grouped all the notes by colour! I have to remember to put that up on Instagram!
What is your standard for evaluating your creative work and the works of other people? Do you think that monetary rewards can be compatible with creativity in general? Are financial rewards relevant to your work?
I think if you actually look at it, anyone with a knack for jewellery making can make a piece of jewellery. But what is your story? What drives you to create? What story are you trying to tell in your piece? For me, it is my craftsmanship and process. And in every piece, you can see what the inspiration was behind it.
For some time I struggled with the value of my work, wondering if people would want to pay for it. From the actual sculpting, drying, glazing and firing – one piece could take days to be made. It's a fulfilling process but also long and tedious. But do people know that? And would they pay you for it? I tell myself that if I value my work other people will value it. And if I undervalue it, then they would as well.
You mentioned the importance of telling a story in one’s work. What is the story you try to tell?
I want my story to consist of the many layers of my art, my craft and my inspiration. I want someone wearing my jewellery to feel like they are wearing a piece of Trinidad – I want them to feel happy. But more than that, they should feel like they were part of the process of love and labour that is in every piece.
How would you describe your overall style?
I try to gravitate toward elements that are classic, things that would never go out of style. Everything I do and what I surround myself with it has to have that organic, ‘old’, warm, homey feel to it.
I love old books, wine, clothes, furniture, houses and jewellery. One of my favourite things to do is visit antique shops and get lost in all the beautiful old things.
And what about your personal style?
My style is very comfortable. I am a ‘sandals and flip flops’ kinda girl. I love comfortable, flowing dresses, statement jewellery and a quirky handbag. I don't always follow trends; I like classic pieces.
Do you think your own perception and evaluation of your creative endeavours are influenced by the views of other people? What role do you say the culture that you live in plays in your creative efforts?
When I look at other people's work, I am drawn to craftsmanship, neatness, their packaging and the story behind the piece.
When it comes to my work, I always put myself in the position of my wearer and ask myself, would I pay for this? Sometimes I am my own worst critic.
What do you do when you experience a creative block?
I open my handy scrapbook lol. I take it around with me everywhere I go. It’s filled with doodles, sketches, ideas, poems, scraps of fabric. It's like a bible. If I'm in a rut, I just go through that book and almost instantly I'm reminded of all the things that inspire me. Every artist should have one.
How do you make the leap from a "Spark" in your head to the action you produce?
I have an appalling memory, so when I get a ‘spark’, I have to write it down or sketch it. Then I think about the medium and decide which is most aesthetically pleasing, whether it’s clay, wire or fabric.
Do you have any special rituals that you do to achieve your creative goals?
An ice-cold can of Coke and my thumbnails/sketch book.
Has your creativity changed stylistically as you have matured? If it has changed, please explain how?
Definitely. I remember when I embarked on jewellery design, I pretty much just dived in. I only did a short introductory course, and it was there my passion grew. I started off making beads out of paper; then I started incorporating wire, then polymer clay. Now I use the purer ceramic porcelain.
I now think more about the execution of my craft from beginning to end. Colours, materials, form, wearability, comfort. And of course, whether the piece tells a story.
And how do you believe you have grown as a person?
I think I have learned to speak up for myself more. Sometimes I have to stand up for my design or as a business woman I have to stand behind my prices. I find that it's imperative when it comes to doing business with others.
What has been the greatest sacrifice that you have made for your craft?
Lots. I gave up a pretty good job as a Senior Art Director at an advertising agency and the security of having a paycheck every month. I also gave up sleep and a social life! All my extra time is basically for my family and my craft because there is so much to do. I have so many ideas and things I would like to execute, it's challenging, but I love it.
Who or what has helped you to persevere and not quit?
Definitely my customers. The gracious folks who buy my pieces; the ones who email to ask when I'm getting more stock of a particular piece; those who compliment my work; those who have been following me since the inception. Because they constantly want to see more ideas, they push me to keep creating.
I also have a business coach, Adanna Austin of Marketing Dynamics Business Solutions. She gives me advice when I need it.
Do you believe that it is important to be accepted by others as being creative or is just doing what you love to do enough to justify your work? Explain.
Well, I want to do what I love, which is creating beautiful pieces of jewellery! But to do that, and to be successful, I must think of the business. And for a successful business, I need to have the love and support of my customers, so it is important to create so that they would enjoy and accept the work I do.
Has rejection ever affected your creative process? Explain.
Sometimes it gets you in a bit of a rut and you begin to question yourself, your ideas and process. Sometimes as artists we take rejection very hard because the process comes from a personal place and we bear it all for the world to see.
Looking at what you have created in the past, would you change anything today? Why or why not?
No, that journey of self-discovery and mistakes is what has helped me to grow in my craft. It's why I'm where I am today.
Have you ever doubted your talent? If so, how did you work through your doubt?
Many, many times. I would look at the works of artists abroad that I admire, and think to myself, how can I compete with that level of craftsmanship? I would judge myself so harshly.
But I realise that I can only be true to myself and my craft. What I do is from the heart and my hands, and it's beautiful in its own way. No matter if it were handmade and created in a small studio at my home, it's made with thought and love.
What piece of work are you most proud of? Why?
I am proud of my cocoa pod pieces, from inception to now they have indeed evolved. I think they're rather beautiful and unique - especially the pods with the pearls cascading out of them.
What is the best advice you've received that helped you move forward on your creative journey?
Never undersell yourself.
To a young Creative emerging in your field, what advice would you impart unto them?
Be true to yourself. Find that something unique in your work and build on that and make it absolutely your own.
If there were any way you could meet the younger version of yourself, what would you tell her?
I would tell her to be more focused and not take your talent for granted. I wish that I found my passion earlier on so that I would be in a different place now, but I guess some people find themselves later on in life and everything happens for a reason.
What would you most like to be remembered for?
If you were a crayon, what would be the name of your colour?
That's the hardest question. Faceted Rainbow. I am and appreciate all colours.
We would like to thank Crystal for taking time out to chat with us. If you're interested in attaining a piece of Cocoa Vintage you can enquire via an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.cocoavintagejewellery.com