Justina Soto is a musician, ceramic artist and jewellery designer. She is the founder and owner of Citizen Jane, a handmade jewellery company based in New York.
Justina Soto is a woman of many talents. Having studied ceramics at college, the New York based creative is also an accomplished singer/songwriter delivering an 'eclectic sound, blending R&B, pop and soul' and the jewellery designer behind the modern, minimalist jewellery brand, Citizen Jane. We caught up with her to find out more.
You are a musician, ceramicist and jewelLEry designer. How do these different creative disciplines complement each other?
Although they are different, they all require the same level of discipline, focus, and direction. Whether I am in the early stages of writing a song or getting ready to make a ring, I, not only use the individual skills I’ve acquired in these fields but also, trust my creative ingenuity and remember the tone, style and spirit I wanted to convey in the first place... even if I am under stress or am feeling distracted. All of this helps to maintain a sense of control and grace during the creative process. Despite the techniques for these three disciplines being vastly different, the kind of mental stamina required to do each is actually quite similar.
What is sand casting? And why do you use this ancient technique?
The method of sand casting basically involves imprinting your sample in between two sand molds with the goal of creating the exact same shape. Then, after doing so, you remove the sample, create a pathway for the molten metal and pour your metal. After that, you have a replica of your original piece. I use this technique because once it's cooled and solidified, the ring maintains a very organic and rough surface that I find really beautiful and appealing. I also use this technique because I started making jewellery in an urban area, where space and resources were very limited. Sand casting allows you to create interesting pieces with just a few materials, which is ideal when working in a small space.
You create jeweLlery from re-purposed metal, in particular old saxophone parts. Is your material of choice a nod to your work as a musician or just a happy coincidence?
The brass scraps were actually given to me in the preliminary design stages and although it was a coincidence, this joining of my metal work and music life made the process even more meaningful.
Why is it important to you to work in this sustainable/ethical way?
Although I work exclusively with re-purposed metal right now, I do plan on introducing gold and silver when I begin making custom wedding rings. When that time comes, it will be important to keep realistic ethical boundaries, especially in a world where most fine metal and diamond companies acquire their materials from vulnerable locations. Using recycled materials and working with conflict-free suppliers helps ease the demand for newly mined metals so I definitely plan on following that path in the future.
What is your creative process?
It depends on whether I am creating a custom piece or a collection piece. However, if I am making a piece for my own line, let's say for a necklace, I'd start by drawing out an idea. I'd then start to work on measurements and decide which combination of materials would work and then through trial and error, I'll test different finishes. I'll ask myself 'is this piece going to be polished or left rough with an antique finish? etched? plated?'. Then before I add it to the final collection, I will test drive it to ensure that it's durable and comfortable.
Where do you find your inspiration?
I frequently people-watch in NYC, which is always a huge source of inspiration for me. For my most recent line “Petroglyph”, I was largely inspired by vintage Mexican necklaces, which feature a lot of bold, timeless collars. I'm often inspired by anything that can be functional now, 20 years ago and far into the future and I try to reflect that in the pieces. My pieces also contain a lot of universal shapes and forms, which I hope makes them accessible to everyone.
You live and work in New York. how do you think your surroundings and/or community affect your work?
There's definitely a fashion-centric culture here, which is really important for getting ideas and keeping up to date. The styles change seasonally, so when you're seeing an outfit, it's important to see it as a mark of where we are right now in terms of self-expression. The interesting, asymmetrical haircuts, gender-defying looks and experimentation with body hair color (i.e. green eyebrows, pink underarm hair) really help to expand your idea of what is possible.
What do you hope people take away from your work?
I think my work will change with each season, but I’m hoping that people take away my desire for each piece to feel accessible and wearable in any situation. The act of wearing jewelry is universal and is a tradition that has lasted a long, long time. I hope that people feel like each piece I make is personally made for them, because they are.
What advice would you give to someone interested in learning your craft?
My advice would be to keep learning, don't be afraid to mess up and never underestimate the power of YouTube! I feel like it's easy to stop being interested in something once you reach an obstacle. For example, soldering was really difficult for me once I started, but I spent a week straight trying the same simple thing over and over, and now I don't even have to think about it. Anything involving fire and/or high temperatures can be intimidating but if you follow precautions, it's very unlikely that you'll set yourself on fire. This is coming from a person who has gotten her hair caught in a flex shaft more times than she cares to admit so, pull your hair back! Also, from a creative stand point, if you're anything like me, it's OK to not be completely happy with everything you do. That feeling of never being satisfied with your work is universal and will keep pushing you forward.
What does success in life & busineSS look like to you?
In my opinion, achieving success in life and business means putting in long hours for big goals, following your instincts and at the end of the day making a choice and living up to it. I see short term goals as being just as important if not more important than long term goals. If I don't finish my to-do list today, then I am no closer to my big goal. We tend to view our future selves and goals as these vague, abstract and unattainable things that in reality don't exist. Ultimately, I think success is making the most of your time now, rather than later.
Which women do you admire and why?
If I had to pick a few in the public eye, I would choose Elizabeth Warren, Fran Lebowitz and Joni Mitchell. Elizabeth Warren because she has a firm grasp on what is wrong with our established politics and isn't afraid to stand alone. Fran Lebowitz, because she represents a generation of New Yorkers that actually contributed positively to the culture and zeitgeist. Lastly Joni Mitchell, because she is a female musician that had power in a room full of men at a time when that was extremely uncommon. All of these women were and are extremely unapologetic while saying and doing really cool things and I really respect them for that. If I'm speaking in broader terms, I admire any woman who isn't afraid to stand alone, who seeks to contribute and who is confident in her abilities.
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