Interview with Jackie Chapman of Jak. Natural Designs
In this interview, we learn of the amazing journey of a young artistic woodworker, Jackie Chapman, based in the Interior of B.C. (www.jaknaturaldesigns.com)
Tell us about Jak. Natural Designs?
Jak. Natural Designs is a one-woman, self-taught woodworking and woodturning venture that focuses on creating small-batch and high-quality functional art. I am Jackie; the woodworker, designer, and creator of Jak. Natural Designs.
My mission with Jak. Natural Designs is essentially to bring people joy. By creating handmade wares that are equal parts beautiful as they are functional, my goal is that my pieces will be a representation of living a life in the same way my goods are made: with intention, with passion, and exceptionally.
I have a huge focus on environmental sustainability throughout every aspect of my business. Plant-based wood finish, plantable seeded cards, recycled and plastic-free shipping, shopping locally for supplies whenever possible, and most importantly, ethically sourcing wood; are some of the many ways in which Jak. Natural Designs is doing its part to better this planet.
By primarily using foraged timber, I love giving new life to our precious natural resources as well as incorporating whatever journey the tree has already been on, into my designs. There is always beauty to be found within nature’s flaws and imperfections.
I consider every piece created by Jak. Natural Designs to be an extension of nature and a symbol of inherent beauty – intended to bring a sense of serenity, delight, and wonder into the space in which it resides.
How did you end up in the artistic woodworking business?
The stars really aligned for Jak. Natural Designs to be born. I had relocated to Blue River, a remote and quiet town nestled in the inland temperate rainforest of BC. My partner had been gifted a lathe from a former woodturner, who had reached the end of his turning career and wished to see his machine continue its life in the hands of someone new and aspiring. And it just so happened, I was subconsciously on the hunt for a big career change.
Although, woodturning never began as a potential occupation. I had spent many years in the fast-paced and high-stress food and beverage industry and granted I loved it, it was no longer bringing me joy or a sense of purpose. I increasingly felt the pull to slow down and really think about what was next for me.
It was at this introspective stage of my life, verging on a mild existential crisis, that I tuned in to my creative side. Stemming from a long-time interest in pottery and conveniently surrounded by ‘blank canvases’, woodturning was just the creative outlet I needed.
Beginning the craft wasn’t difficult, however, honing and perfecting my skills has been a continual and at times, very challenging, process. The entirety of my skills on the lathe, I have learned through YouTube and trial and error.
As I began to produce more and more pieces from my mismatched and hand-me-down tools, came great responses from friends and family. This idea of quite literally ‘turning’ my creations into a business started to become more and more realistic.
With the external and internal interest in my endeavor spiking, I began to expand my woodworking skill set. In addition to bowls; serving boards, vases and hand-carved burls were a few of the additions to join my repertoire of creations.
I never expected woodworking to become anything more than a hobby. A way to reconnect with my creativity, something that I had lost touch with over the years. However, this business is becoming everything I could have hoped for and it feels like I am exactly where I am supposed to be.
How do you come up with your design ideas?
It’s funny because, for as long as I can remember, I’ve loved home improvement. Whether it’s been thinking of ideas for my childhood homes, watching Trading Spaces many, many years ago or collecting travel souvenirs for home decor, I’ve always been interested in making spaces more beautiful and more meaningful.
It only makes sense that this is the career path I found. I’ve come to realize that my subconscious has always been designing, however, I’ve only started creating from ideas recently.
Conceptually, the design process really is 24/7. I think the key is to always be on the lookout for inspiration and open to design ideas but not force it too much. My favorite places to find inspiration are, contrastingly enough, out in nature or within a big city. However, my best ideas have transpired out of the blue, coming to me when I’m completely zoned out or right as I’m falling asleep.
Physically, I let my designs flow from the piece of wood I’m working with. I start with any features that stand out such as grain patterns, knots, bark inclusions and I do my best to create designs that will flow and complement that natural character.
Adaptability has also been key. Because I work primarily with salvaged wood, it’s important to be able to relinquish a portion of the design control. Sometimes what I envisioned for a certain piece of wood just simply won’t work out, however, it’s from this constraint that my most creative designs have emerged.
Do you have favorite types of pieces you like to create?
Anything with lots of character! With everything I make, I strive for a cohesive blend of functional, unique, and timeless, yet modern. However, I love it when there is a natural challenge already incorporated that I need to ‘design problem-solve’ around.
This is probably why I enjoy carving burls so much. Although the process is the same, every single one is different and unique.
I also feel the most in touch with nature when I’m working on burls. I consider it a process of uncovering rather than creating. I carve away the unnecessary material to expose the organic design already present underneath. Usually, the more challenging and interesting, the better.
What are the challenges of growing your business?
This may sound cliché however wearing all the hats of an entrepreneur has been quite overwhelming. I don’t have any employees; therefore, I’m really doing it all: administration, marketing, building my e-commerce shop, customer retention, shipping, bookkeeping, and most importantly, designing and creating.
If it’s related to my business, I’m either doing it or I need to learn how – and fast. It has been a year and a half full of many ‘firsts’. Thankfully, the growth of my business has occurred naturally and organically, so that has been one less thing to worry about.
An interesting challenge has been the merging of artistic vision and the efficiency of running a business. My art will always be the heart and soul of Jak. Natural Designs. While spending a generous amount of time on pieces, going over minuscule details, and striving for perfection may not be considered best business practices for a highly scalable business model – I can guarantee that my wares will always be of the utmost quality.
With living in a remote town, I need to diligently be on top of my time management and my planning for stock and supplies. With a year-round population of 250 people, Blue River doesn’t have a hardwood or hardware store, let alone a grocery store. Nothing is available locally and a 5-hour round-trip emergency supply run is very rarely on the schedule. There is magic at the balance point of creativity and logistics.
Another interesting challenge is also one of the best parts of my business: my use of salvaged materials. This is one of the aspects that can be the most unpredictable, although it makes finished products all the more gratifying. Every single piece I produce is one of a kind. Some products might be more similar than others, but with everything I do, I need to work around drying time, cracking, bark inclusions, live-edge, epoxy filling and super glue stabilizing.
Jak. Natural Designs officially launched in January of 2020, nearly the entire lifespan of my business has been during the pandemic. Fortunately for me, I haven’t been affected with such devastation as other small businesses have, although it has definitely been a factor. While I’m curious what business would have looked like in 2019 for me, I also know that in the past year there has been such a big incredible push to support small business that perhaps wasn’t present in the past years.
It’s safe to say that I will always have challenges and there will always be firsts. The best I can do is to work at being better equipped to handle setbacks and embrace unease for what it really is – growth.
How did you end up in Blue River, B.C.?
Growing up in Central Alberta, trips to Sunshine Village and Lake Louise throughout my childhood sparked my love for the mountains and snow sports, specifically snowboarding, early on.
The combination of physical exertion, fresh mountain air, and awe-inspiring natural wonders is one of the most pure and exhilarating experiences and has been a driving factor in my quest to live an adventure-filled life. I have never been afraid to pick up and move, always searching for my next destination with new scenery and more challenging types of terrain.
After four years in Canmore, AB, three years in Sun Peaks, BC, and some international travel dotted in between, my move to Blue River, BC took place in the winter of 2016. I accepted a position with Mike Wiegele Heli-Skiing as a Dining Room Supervisor and Assistant to the Wine Director.
For two years, I seasonally alternated between the deep snow of Blue River and the sunny wine country of Kelowna before making the move to Blue River full time in the spring of 2018 when I met my boyfriend Zak, who is a long-time woodworker.
The fact that the town is so remote was actually a helpful push in turning my woodworking into a business. Jak. Natural Designs was the unexpected answer to building a life in the town I had come to love but one that had little employment opportunity. I had found my next big adventure, this time by starting a business from the ground up, in what would otherwise be a ‘primary industry’- centric town.
Have you had any mentors along this journey or shows you watch for inspiration?
To start my business, I went through the Self-Employment Program with Community Futures in Kamloops, which gave me two instant and incredible business mentors, Julie Bayman and Carmen Jordan.
Through a provincially funded grant, I was able to hire a fantastic business coach, Janice Otremba, who has been absolutely pivotal in growing my business up to the next level. Without a doubt, she has been my saving grace during the start of 2021.
Other mentors include Nicki James, owner of Mainstreet Clothing Co. in downtown Kamloops, BC (where you can also find my products), and Caroline Lachapelle from Church and State Wines in Oliver, BC.
In the craft of fine woodworking, I’ve been so fortunate to have my boyfriend Zak, offer first-hand advice from years of experience in the trade. He also happens to be my proofreader, my sounding board for new ideas, and my biggest supporter.
Pinterest is my number one place to go when I need some fresh ideas. I find it to be such an inspiring platform, specifically in my favorite realm of all things home décor.
Instagram has been a great platform for inspiration as well as instrumental in connecting with other artists. Between living in a tiny town and the pandemic, it’s certainly been an isolated time to start a business. To have the opportunity to get to know other artists and creatives all over the world and exchange experiences has been amazing.
There have been countless people who have helped me on my journey thus far, whether knowingly or not. From every conversation comes a different perspective or a new idea to try. From every social media ‘like’, compliment, and show of interest in the business, comes a spark of motivation and fulfillment that can make a bigger difference than people realize.
What brought you joy this week?
I set our hammock up in the backyard and it is just the perfect spot to sway and look out at the lake, preferably with a glass of wine and a good book. I’m also starting to get some sprouts in my garden beds. It’s the simple things for me!