Interview with Zai Divecha // Designer & Metalworker

Our Featured Designer of The Week is Zai Divecha, otherwise know as Elektra Steel! The San Fransisco based designer makes wall hangings using her badass metalwork skills. We speak to Zai about her niche craft, learn more about the industry and get some top-tips for getting involved in metalwork…


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Zai outside of ShopFloor’s front door. (Photo by Ellen Wildhagen)
Hey Zai! Introduce yourself to our lovely readers…

My name is Zai Divecha, and I’m a designer and metalworker in San Francisco, California. I make large, geometric wall hangings out of steel.


How did you first get into creating artwork with metal?

I actually learned how to weld when I was 14! I grew up the Bay Area, and went to a really neat high school called, Lick-Wilmerding. They have an amazing technical arts program. We had to take classes in metal, jewelry, wood, glass, architecture, and electronics.


I fell in love with metal fabrication – I learned the basics of MIG and TIG welding, blacksmithing, and machining. I designed and fabricated a number of home goods and chairs as a teenager.


Did anything creative come before the work you do now, or was it always metalwork?

Though I got into metalworking at a young age, it’s only recently that it’s become my professional focus. I went to Yale for college and grad school (I have a master’s in public health — totally unrelated, I know), and then worked in tech for a few years. About a year and a half ago, I decided to see if I could build a business around my love for metalworking. Starting a business is hard work! It’s forced me to learn a lot of different skills. I love that my work involves both working with my hands and the more cerebral business skills, like marketing, sales, and finance. It keeps me on my toes.


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Two of Zai’s wall hangings are currently on display at Harmonic Brewing, a small craft brewery in the Dogpatch.


 


What’s the process for creating one of your steel wall hangings?

I start by sketching patterns and designs in my notebook. I keep a small notebook in my purse at all times, in case I spot an interesting pattern that I want to explore. Once I have a general idea that I like, I’ll recreate the design in Illustrator, and then I’ll play around with different tones. My color palette can be described as “fifty shades of gray” — I pretty much only use silver, gray, and black. After the design is done, the next step is to have each individual part lasercut out of sheet steel. Then it’s time for the elbow grease! I sand, sandblast, stain, and wax each part by hand. This step is tedious and manual. I’ll often put on a podcast while sanding. By using different finishes and waxes, I’m able to create a range of tones in the steel. Some parts are matte black, some are satiny silver, and some are a dark, brushed slate color. Once all the parts are finished, it’s time for assembly. I mount the parts to a plywood backing, and then weld a custom steel frame for the piece.


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Sketches in Zai’s Field Notes notebook

Where do you create your work?

I work out of a shared metal shop called ShopFloor. It’s a beautiful space in the Dogpatch neighborhood of SF, and it houses a handful of cool companies, including ShopFloor Design, J Liston Design, Fellow Products, andHarmonic Brewing. I have my own personal studio area, and I also have access to ShopFloor’s metal fabrication tools — I often use their TIG welder, horizontal band saw, and mill. 


Where do you draw your inspiration from, with regards to the designs of your pieces?

I love interesting tile patterns, Islamic art and architecture, wood wall art, and mosaics. I’m always on the lookout for interesting patterns. 


What’s your favourite piece to date?

I just did a piece for a lovely couple up in Sonoma, CA. They like the types of patterns that appear in Islamic art, so I designed a piece that was made up of tessellating diamonds. I love how it turned out, and I’m excited to explore this direction further…


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What lies ahead for Elektra Steel?

I’d like to eventually start doing wall hangings for retail spaces – I’d love to work with interior designers who do bars, restaurants, cafes, and offices. 


Finally, what advice would you give to anyone wanting to get involved in metalwork?

Do it! Having basic metal fabrication skills will allow you to do all kinds of projects. Search online to see if there’s a class or a workshop in your area! For anyone in the Bay Area who’s interested in getting into metalworking, I’d highly recommend The Crucible and TechShop. (TechShop actually has locations in a number of U.S. states.) Have fun and be safe!



Find out more about Elektra Steel…

www.ElektraSteel.com

Instagram // @ElektraSteel

Pinterest // ElektraSteel

Facebook // ElektraSteel

Twitter // @ElektraSteel

Email // zai@elektrasteel.com

(Article banner/ feature photo: by Jaclyn Le)


3 thoughts on “Interview with Zai Divecha // Designer & Metalworker

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