From freshly formed to soaring success: the emergence of Lady Divergent

When Taranaki artist Lisa Henry found a freshly formed monarch butterfly chrysalis in her garden, she imagined it as a beautiful necklace. She started sculpting in clay, and so began the creative journey from which Lady Divergent emerged.

Lisa Henry, also known as Lady Divergent, at her work bench
 
Monarch butterfly and chrysalis earrings by Lady Divergent
 
What do you make?
I predominantly make nature-inspired jewellery from clay but also carve, draw, and paint. The kahuku/monarch metamorphosis is my most popular work.

How did you get into your craft?
I have always been a tinkerer, but this line of work began about three years ago when I found a freshly formed monarch butterfly chrysalis in my backyard. Looking at it closely, it looked like a jewel. I made a (very crude) pendant for myself and got so many compliments I thought I would list one online, and it grew from there. Most of my work goes to the United States but I’ve had pieces go to the United Kingdom, Japan, Brazil, France, and more.

Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
My father would tell you I lack the discipline to receive training haha. So, no, everything I do is self-taught. I’ve been trying to go to workshops that interest me, though.

Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
I love working with clay at the moment, it’s such a flexible medium and you get relatively quick results. As each piece is hand painted, I love that I get to create art daily. I also love carving, but am still very slow! I prefer to work with antler but have just ordered some vegetable ivory to try as well.

Tell us about some of the techniques involved in producing one of your pieces:
The chrysalis body is sculpted by hand, and I apply the eye bail and tiny glass details before baking. It is sanded before hand painting and glazing.

What inspires you?
Nature! I’m constantly in awe of the beauty found in nature – flora and fauna. The delicate, folded perfection in a rose or dahlia, the colours and shapes of insects, the veins in leaves… I spend a lot of time just looking.

Is there a philosophy behind your work?
To bring joy. I strive to create quality pieces that I hope my customers will enjoy their pieces for years to come. For me, the monarch’s transformation is symbolic of my own personal journey over the last six years and I’ve connected with many people around the globe who have a special affinity with the monarch too.

Lisa carving a monarch caterpillar
 
Lisa painting her hand sculpted monarch chrysalises
 
Finishing touches on a monarch caterpillar
 
Monarch caterpillar pendant by Lady Divergent
 
Tell us a highlight of your maker journey so far:
My highlight since starting this journey would have to be the amazing connections and friends I have made both here and all around the world. I never thought I would be in a position to make a living from the things I create – which is another highlight, not just seeing what I am capable of, but also showing my tamariki that they can can have a career or job that they actually love.

Describe your creative process:
Ideas in the middle of the night, rough sketches, then trying to decipher those rough sketches! I’ll make a rough mock up, then try to refine the design so it is more accurate and can be recreated easily. Sometimes I look back on my first pieces and am amazed at how much they have changed over the last couple of years.

Describe your workspace:
Messy but happy! I have a small, dedicated taupuni mahi toi at home. Like my home, it is filled with the artwork of other creatives, and treasures that I find. It’s my happy place. You’ll often find me working out there late at night, I love it so much.

Five words that describe your mind:
Busy, inquisitive, engaged, creative, and logical!

Your favourite feedback from a customer:
Haha, there have been some very special and emotional ones, but one I got recently was: “Beautiful – slighty creepy in its realism! – piece of work.”

I also love making custom pieces. Here is feedback from one last year: “Lisa went above and beyond my expectations while creating a very special custom piece for my mom’s birthday. As a monarch momma, she absolutely loved it and couldn’t believe the realism. Lisa is a master of her craft and puts so much detail into each piece.”

Lisa in her studio
 
Monarch metamorphosis pendants
 
Open wing monarch necklace
 
What are you currently listening to?
I love ’60s music but lately have been enjoying listening to Joe Rogan and Russell Brand’s podcasts while I work.

What’s your favourite childhood book and why?
Jackson’s House, a book about two cats, one a stately older male, the other a young, spoiled female. I found it at primary school and fell in love with it. I think I like it because you always wonder what your cat gets up to all day and this book follows these two cats to all of Jackson’s “homes”. I still read it today. In fact, my son and I just read it a few weeks ago!

What are you reading now?
Well! Haha, I always have several on the go. These are presently sitting on my bedside cabinet: The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox, The Choice by Edith Eger, 1984 by George Orwell, Mauri Ora by Peter Alsop and Te Rau Kupenga, Revelations, and The Seventh Scroll by Wilbur Smith.

Who is your hero/heroine? Why? Mike King. His tireless dedication to providing free counselling to New Zealanders is inspiring.

A favourite quote: It’s more a proverb. E kore au e ngaro, he kākano i ruia mai i Rangiātea – I will never be lost, for I am a seed sown in the heavens.

Tell us about your pets: We have several rescues. Dusty is a four year old, mostly disapproving, cat. He likes to play with balloons and tennis balls and be involved in whatever you are doing. Leroy is our nearly two year old dog. He was found on the road as a six week old pup, so has a lot of fears. At home he is ferocious and does not like the couriers collecting my parcels, but if he sees them when we’re out walking, he’s terrified! We also have three chooks who are barely earning their keep, and a blue-tongued lizard.

What would your advice be for those starting out in a crafty business?
Start small and build yourself up. Don’t be afraid to market yourself. Be proud of what you produce and value your work – don’t undersell yourself. This is something I’ve had to get comfortable with.

Lisa in her studio
 
The studio desktop of Lady Divergent
 
Why do you think it’s important to buy handmade and/or locally made goods?
There is something special about buying something that someone has created with their own hands. Supporting small industry is so important, you are making a real difference to that maker’s life.

What does it mean to you when someone buys your creations?
I say a little thank you in my mind or out loud every time I get an order. These wonderful people have enabled me to live my dream of creating for a living, something I didn’t think was possible. And it shows my children that you can pursue what you love. Before school finished last year, my eight year old son asked me what my favourite job would be, without thinking I said “what I’m doing now” – he was surprised!

What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
I love to support other small businesses and my home is full of beautiful artworks and creations that I’ve mostly found via the internet. My most recent purchase was some beautiful ceramic kawakawa leaves made by Mrs Knight Makes. Kawakawa is one of my favourite medicinal plants and when I saw these leaves on her Instagram page, I was smitten. You can see the veins through the glaze and she has even added the holes from the looper moth caterpillar.

What’s in store for 2022?
Art! For years I have had ideas for greeting cards rolling around in my mind, so I am hoping to finally release some this year – watch this space! I also started writing a children’s book (about monarchs of course) a while back and would love to get that finished this year too. I plan to home educate my two youngest tamariki and have been putting in big vegetable gardens around the property, so I’m looking forward to learning and growing with them.

Giveaway!
Find out how you could win a beautiful fresh or emerging chrysalis pendant by Lady Divergent on Felt’s Instagram page »

 

Visit Lady Divergent »

 

Hand crafted monarch chrysalis pendant by Lady Divergent

 

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