You’d never know by looking at her own creations, but San Francisco–based artist Zai Divecha’s first major influence was as bold and unpredictable as they come. “When I was younger, I was obsessed with Frida Kahlo,” says Divecha. “Everything that happened in her life is reflected in her paintings. I love how she documented herself.”
Not unlike Kahlo’s own journey, Divecha’s own rite of passage has been shaped by a series of unforeseen changes. Although the Bay Area native fell in love with art—specifically, metal welding—in high school, she went on to receive her masters from Yale in public health. Most recently, Divecha was working in marketing for a large tech company.
“I really missed that feeling of being engaged in what I was doing; where the world slows down and nothing else exists except you and the task [at hand],” she shares. Her personal search for quiet would eventually inspire her to step out as an artist—and, consequently, her own boss.
Although Divecha’s material explorations began with metal, she has spent the past year perfecting a new medium: paper. “When I started working with paper, I completely fell in love. I really lose myself in it. It’s very meditative,” she tells Domino.
Blurring the lines between origami and industrial design, Divecha’s works range from large, tapestry-like installations to miniature, framed paper sculptures. Ahead, the artist shares what it was really like paving—er, pleating—her own path, blocking out the noise, and getting down to business.
On making a career out of a hobby…
Divecha’s decision to leave her comfortable corporate job and build a business out of something she had long considered a hobby stemmed from a very human desire to slow down.
“When I was working in marketing, I felt like I was toggling between ‘two minutes on this task, two minutes on this task, one minute on this task…’” she suggests. “Even if it was for one day a week or one hour a day, that’s what I really, really, craved when I was in tech.”
Alongside her studiomate, metalsmith and jewelry designer Emi Grannis, Divecha has created a clean and cozy work environment in a shared metal shop in the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco. Aside from a flexible workspace, there’s the added bonus of an on-site brewery and communal roof deck.
On changing mediums…
Before making the transition to paper, Divecha primarily focused on steel—a taxing pursuit that, after a number of years, took a toll on her body and schedule. “With metal, I loved [the end result], but I didn’t love the process. It’s a lot more physical,” says Divecha.
For the sake of her body and time, she decided to apply her craft to a more forgiving medium that offered instant gratification. Through repetitive pleating and patterning, Divecha turns paper into whimsical tapestries and organic landscapes.
“I definitely pull from a few schools of thoughts when I’m working with paper—and origami is one of them,” says Divecha. The artist also draws from paper-pleating techniques used for architectural models as well as packaging trends for inspiration.
On the search for quiet…
While 9 a.m. conference calls and endless email chains no longer plague her workweek, Divecha has continued to dial down the volume by going monochrome.
“I assume I’ll get bored eventually, but right now I’m enjoying the simplicity of white on white,” she shares. Her search for zen also includes avoiding crowded bars and deafening concerts. “I feel so overstimulated by noise. Moving toward this simple, soothing, and meditative aesthetic is very much in line with my desire for everything to be a little bit quieter and softer.”
On being your own boss…
Freelancers, independent contractors, and solo artists alike will tell you that leaving the convenience and comfort of a corporate job to go off on your own is as intimidating as it sounds. But, then again, they’ll probably all tell you it was worth the scare.
“When I decided to turn it into a full-time business, it turned out that I loved being my own boss,” recalls Divecha. “Though, it’s definitely not without its challenges. There are some weeks when I wish I had a manager to tell me what to do and what to focus on.”
That’s where Divecha’s studiomate comes in. One minute, Grannis might be giving Divecha feedback on design, and the other, Divecha is helping her officemate draft a ghost email.
“Emi and I help each other on an hour-to-hour basis. We understand the ins and outs of each other’s businesses and have complementary strengths,” she explains. “Running a business can be a very lonely endeavor, so it helps to have someone else to bounce ideas off of.”
Her adorable dog, Simi, also makes the reward of taking a chance on her own creativity a little less lonely.
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