Natasha Gill is the jewellery designer behind Sundara Artisan Jewelry. But if you ask her, she’ll say she is in the business of creating beauty. Our contributor Nikeisha Joseph spent some time with the designer to find out about her inspiration, philosophy and just how magic plays a part in her process.
Cover photo by: Nikeisha Joseph.
How do you define creativity and what does it mean to you?
I define creativity as using a combination of imagination and inspiration to make something that carries my unique expressive energy. Creativity also means freedom from limits to me, the ability to dream up whatever my mind can fathom and make a reality.
How much of your creative ability do you think is innate? Or is your creativity a skill that you have developed?
I think all people are creative in different ways. Especially as children, before we are taught how and what to think, we are creative in everything we do. I believe for our creativity to survive into adulthood it is something we have to foster. We have to keep dreaming, keep making, and also pay attention to everything around us that can also feed the energy of creativity.
When did you realise that you wanted to express your creativity? Was it encouraged by others (e.g., parents)?
Expressing myself artistically is who I am, I've always been a creative person. I was drawing before I could read and write. I loved art and being an artist is simply my nature. My parents definitely encouraged my creativity, they saw my inclinations from a very young age and supported all the different forms of expression that I engaged in.
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 projects?
It's really difficult to establish a standard for evaluating creative work. Originality would be one benchmark. I also admire great workmanship. I find it's very hard for people to put a price on creativity, it's really subjective, it depends largely on what the work is worth to the viewer/consumer. Yes, financial rewards are certainly relevant to some of my projects, I earn my living making jewellery, for example, but for some of my other pursuits like painting, I simply do it because I enjoy it.
Do you think your perception and evaluation of your creative endeavours are influenced by the views of other people? What role do you believe the culture that you live in plays in your creative efforts?
I don't create in a vacuum. I try to tow the line between creating pieces that please me and creating pieces that people will like. I can't say that the culture I live in plays a large part in my creative efforts. It has never been my aim to do jewellery or art with a "local" or "Caribbean" flavour. My goal as a jeweller is to create beautiful pieces but I tend to find my inspiration more from the raw materials I work with rather than the culture I live in.
When it comes to your line, Sundara, you handle not just jewellery making but, photography, marketing and advertising. What has that experience been like and are those roles just as rewarding?
I am lucky that I had a head start that most people in my position don’t have. I have a background in advertising, so for me, I was treading familiar territory.
The photography part was a lot more challenging because I wasn’t very experienced, so I read a lot of articles and watched a lot of videos on how to photograph jewellery. I’ve developed a look and a style that works for me and my brand and that my clients really respond to. Wearing all of those different hats has meant that I’ve had complete control over the look and feel of my brand and the message I put out there. It’s something I enjoy doing and has become a natural part of my daily routine.
How important has social media been to your business?
Social media has been crucial to my business. It’s how I introduced my brand to the world and it is responsible for a lot of the business I do, whether it be custom orders, wholesale, markets etc.; social media is how people find me and find out about me. When you don’t have a brick and mortar store it’s really important to get the word out to people that you exist and to tell them where to go to find your stuff.
What do you do when you experience a creative block?
I rarely experience creative blocks, but there are times when I have to drag myself into the studio to work for whatever reason. It helps me to have a set schedule and be very disciplined about my work hours. And when I don't feel like going in, I force myself to sit down at my work bench and take out some materials and start something. Eventually, the flow follows.
How do you make the leap from a "Spark" in your head to the action you produce?
I'm very hands on in my process. I'm not someone who tends to sketch things out before I make a piece. When I have an idea, I work it out in my head and then I just go in and make it. The spark can happen at any time so I try to make notes if I feel I'm going to forget an idea before I get into the studio.
You say on your site that your mission is to ‘create beauty’. What is a typical day like for you as you strive to achieve that mission?
I think creating beauty is my soul’s purpose, so it is a part of everything I do. I want everything to look beautiful, as I see beauty at least, so even something as simple as making breakfast, I like it to look pleasing. So typically I start the day checking emails, reading articles and easing myself into the morning. I have breakfast and then go into the studio once I feel ready to take on the day. I’m always looking to try new things, to experiment with new looks, new materials, and expand my horizons. I tend to get lost in my work so often I have to remind myself to stop to eat or drink.
At the end I’m usually quite tired; jewellery making can be very physical. My body is usually in pain after a day of work so I have to take the time to allow my muscles to relax. But if things went well in the studio that day I’ll usually end up feeling content and satisfied.
Do you have any special rituals that you do to achieve your creative goals?
No, I can't say I have any rituals, really. I just make sure to start work by a certain time every day and put in the hours.
Stylistically, has your creativity changed as you have matured? If it has changed, please explain how?
I think as I've matured, I'm more willing to experiment. When I was younger I often would approach a new piece with a certain amount of trepidation because I always wanted it to be perfect from the get-go. Now I am much more relaxed in how I approach my work. Sometimes things don't go the way you want but something else quite magical can surface in the process. I've learnt to allow for those spaces where things can go awry and not necessarily see it as a negative. Sometimes my original design turns into something completely different, and often it's better.
What is your favourite part of the jewellery making process? (And it’s ok to be technical!)
That’s a tough question to answer. There are a lot of different aspects I love about making jewellery – taking raw materials and turning them into something you can wear, that’s a pretty cool thing.
When I was experimenting with etching, for example, it was really fascinating to draw a design on the metal and then place it in an acid bath that ate away at the metal. Then you take it out and the design you draw is left there in a higher relief and it just really feels like magic. I also enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to solve problems. Sometimes you have a design in your head and you have to work out the process of how to make it.
But if I have to choose I’d say that I love the magical aspect of it. It’s not quite alchemy but if feels like something close.
What has been the greatest sacrifice that you have made for your craft?
Financial security would be the biggest one. It's a tough path to follow when you don't have a set income every month.
Who or what has helped you to persevere and not quit?
My husband has definitely been my biggest supporter and without him, I wouldn't be doing this. I've also had a lot of encouragement from my friends and family. And seeing the reaction from my customers to my work has also helped me to persevere.
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.
I think all creative people want to be accepted by others as being creative. Creative people know we are different from a very young age, and so from early on, I think we need that acceptance to feel validated. As we get older it's about establishing ourselves within the identity of being a creative person. However, I don't think to do what we love requires any justification.
Has rejection ever affected your creative process? Explain.
Oh gosh yes. When I had first returned to Trinidad from a university abroad I took part in a mixed art exhibition where I displayed several pieces. I think only one sold, and I was devastated. I took it very personally, and it took me years before I would show my art to anyone who was not a close friend or family member. I still continued to create art but for a good while after that show, I know my creativity was curtailed by me wondering how it would be received.
Now I think I have a much more balanced approach to the whole thing. Not everything I make is going to be everyone's liking and if people don't like my stuff then it just doesn't resonate with them. It's really hit or miss anyway I'm sometimes really surprised by what resonates with my customers and what doesn't so I just make stuff and put it out there and see what happens.
You said that there are some things that your customers gravitate to? What are they? Does it surprise you?
Generally, anything that is very sparkly, such as my druzy jewellery (glittering effect of tiny crystals), customers tend to gravitate to first. And they also love very brightly coloured pieces, as we tend to do here in the Caribbean. I wouldn’t say it surprises me because I’m attracted to the same types of pieces for the same reasons.
Looking at what you have created in the past, would you change anything today? Why or why not?
No, I wouldn't change anything. My work is an evolution and it reflects my personal progress. I like seeing how far I've come, how much I've learnt, how I've finessed my skill. Whatever I made in the past was who I was then. What I make now is who I am now. It's all part of the journey.
Does your muse exist in reality, is she in your mind, or do you meet her in every customer?
My muse exists in reality, definitely, but she’s not one person, she’s several people, all of whom I’ve encountered. Because I’m always diversifying my line, I make pieces that different types of people gravitate to. My general customer base tends to be women in their 30’s-40’s who are stylish and adventurous with accessories and want something unique that will stand out. But I also have many women who occupy an older demographic who are also drawn to my pieces and so I keep them in mind too when I make new things.
I also like to cater part of my line to women who love accessorising but aren’t so much into the shiny, blingy stuff, so I would make the more toned down pieces with her in mind. Really all of those women are parts of myself I can relate to. So I tune into those parts when I’m making different types of pieces.
Again on your site, you said you find that crystals best represent your energy – can you explain that energy? Is that something that you see in the repeat customers?
I love the natural energy of a raw gemstone or crystal. It’s gorgeous in its own right without having to be further refined. And I suppose for myself, I like to be me as much as I can – unedited, natural, but beautiful in my own way. And I have found that the people who gravitate to my jewellery are people who gravitate to me. I do have quite a few repeat customers and I feel a special rapport with them. My soul goes into my work. And so when people respond to it, they are responding to me, whether they know it or not.
Have you ever doubted your talent? If so, how did you work through your doubt?
Hah, all the time. I've been a graphic designer for almost 15 years and I think it's safe to say that every one of us at some point in time suffers from imposter syndrome. Where we think that this is the day I'm not going to hack it and come up with anything good and they'll discover that I've been a fraud all along and I really suck at this. Being creative for a living, on demand, is very hard and it can be very taxing on your psyche. You just have to push past that and just start. Just do something. Make something. It might not be great but it might be something that you can build on. In my experience, nothing I've ever created was ever as bad in other people's eyes as I might have thought it was.
Where do you find your biggest inspiration for your work – people, your experiences, different cultures, the past?
I think different cultures certainly inspire me. I especially love looking at jewellery from the past, like jewellery made in the 1200’s by the Vikings or 2,000 years ago by the Egyptians, or Ife bronze work from Nigeria. I always marvel that their technique because I have no idea how to do a lot of what they made back then and I have modern technology at my fingertips. And that admiration certainly seeps into my work.
I look at a lot of contemporary jewellery artists too. I mean anything and everything can serve as inspiration.
What piece of work are you most proud? Why?
When I worked in advertising, we had to create a social media persona for a promotion for one of our clients. It was meant to be a short-term campaign of just three months and we came up with Tash McFash as the character. I illustrated her and created her social media personality. At the start, I did all of her social media interactions too. And to our surprise, she just blew up. She became an internet sensation, people just loved her and she's still around today years later. Of course, I don't oversee her anymore but she's by far the most successful project I ever worked on as a designer and something I'm really proud to have created.
Do you find that jewellery design to be the way you most effectively present yourself to the world?
That’s a good question. I’d say that probably yes it is. When I work on a graphic design job, I’m working for a client. My job is to put forth his vision of his company to the world, so there’s always a compromise in your creative vision.
But with jewellery I have complete control over what I make. Even when customers commission pieces most of the time they want to leave it in my hands and have as little input as possible. So from a creative standpoint, I would say that yes, my jewellery is probably the way I most effectively present myself to the world. Or at least this part of myself to the world.
What is the best advice you've received that helped you move forward on your creative journey?
Well, I remember when I was starting out my jewellery business, someone told me not to expect it to be an overnight success, that it takes time to build a business and a brand. And it was really good advice because it helped me to have measured expectations.
To a young Creative emerging in your field, what advice would you impart unto them?
Well, I've worked in different fields but I'm currently working on jewellery so I'll answer from that perspective. I honestly have a ton of advice but I'd say the most important is to study all aspects of the business of your craft before you get into it. Be a professional out the gate.
For what would you like to be most remembered?
I've thought about this in the past and I've never been able to come up with an answer.
If you were a crayon, what would be the name of your colour?
Thanks Natasha, for taking the time to share her thoughts with us, we appreciate it. You can find out more about Natasha's work via her website, follow her on the socials, Facebook and Instagram or make a purchase on her Etsy store.