Maker Monday: An Aspire Exclusive Interview With Zai Divecha

Where we see a blank piece of paper, Zai Divecha sees a medium ready for transformation. By using simple techniques like folding, pleating, and rolling paper, Divecha has created intricate and quiet works of art. Her pieces can be found all over the country in client’s interiors, museums, galleries, and brand flagships such as Instagram and Twitter. Zai Divecha has been featured in major publications such as Forbes, Architectural Digest, and now aspire design and home. Introducing this week’s Maker Monday, Zai Divecha.

Above is the piece “You Belong Here” which demonstrates how shifting light can display new movement through a medium that’s often artistically overlooked. Photo by Zai Divecha.

Andrew Joseph: Describe your design style as if you were explaining it to someone who cannot see.
Zai Divecha: Imagine scales on a snake, raindrops on a car windshield, geometric bathroom tiles, a deep shag carpet, or bark on a tree. Now imagine it’s all white, and made of paper. Those are the kinds of textures and patterns I like to explore in my artwork.

Andrew: What’s the best thing that happened to you this month?
Zai: My first museum acquisition! Two years ago, I took part in a global design challenge where I made one letter of the alphabet (and then the digits zero through nine) out of paper every day for 36 consecutive days. Each paper sculpture was made using a slightly different paper technique or pattern, like folding, rolling, quilling, pleating, or incising. The installation, titled Quiet Type, was recently acquired by Letterform Archive, a museum dedicated to typography, lettering, calligraphy, and design. I truly couldn’t imagine a more perfect home for this piece of art.

Featured above is the corner of an eight-foot installation named “Canis Major.” This piece was a passion project for Divecha completely inspired by the Canis Major and Orion constellations. It illuminates a tangible warm glow from the LED lights surrounding up above. Photo by Zai Divecha.

Andrew: What’s one thing people don’t know about you?
Zai: I’m pretty sensitive to noise. I feel drained by white noises like the hum of central air, or a distant freeway. It makes me feel exhausted! So I wear noise-canceling headphones pretty much all day long.

I’m very extroverted, though, which can sometimes be a weird combo (especially pre-COVID, when there were events to go to). Being around people energizes me, but most spaces intended for socializing are loud (restaurants, bars, parties, etc). One small upside to staying home for a year is that almost all of my socializing has been over the phone, which feels totally sustainable for me in terms of noise.

Andrew: How would you define your work in three words?
Zai: Minimalist, textural, calming.

Part of the 36 Days of Type global design competition, Divecha’s alphabet is now part of the LetterForm Archive, a museum dedicated to lettering, typography, calligraphy, and graphic design where thousands of people are able to see her work publicly. Photo by Zai Divecha.

Andrew: What are some of the podcasts you listen to and why?
Zai: Twenty Thousand Hertz: It’s a fascinating podcast about sound design! It dives deep into all kinds of sounds, noises, and audio phenomena you’ve probably never thought about before — alert sounds, foley artists, audio logos, voice acting, the 808, misophonia, ASMR, and more.

Ear Hustle: It’s about life inside San Quentin State Prison. It’s compassionate, complex, tender, funny, and emotional. The storytelling is just incredible — I couldn’t tear myself away. It slowly shifted a lot of my beliefs about the prison system and racial justice.

Andrew: What new skills have you taught yourself this quarantine?
Zai: I’ve picked up a handful of skills over the last year. I started taking both voice and guitar lessons online, which has been so rewarding. I’m objectively not great at either, but I get so much joy out of having a creative hobby that’s unrelated to my job. And seeing growth and progress week-to-week is very fulfilling.

I taught myself a few work-related skills, too — I finally learned how to do basic video editing in Adobe Premiere Pro, and I’m a little better at figuring out lighting for photo and video shoots. I don’t have much to show for it aside from a few Instagram Reels, but it’s fun to add more tools to my toolbox.

The detailed image above is part of Divecha’s “Portage” piece which was inspired by the Boundary Waters. The cone-shaped elements were captured in daylight which added an intriguing shadow effect one could analyze for hours. Photo by Zai Divecha.

Andrew: What did you rediscover about yourself during COVID?
Zai: I realized that I actually like being alone more than I thought I did. I’m generally very extroverted, and before COVID, I would have evening plans with friends every night of the week. These days, I’ve been surprised to find that I actually really like being a homebody. I’m comfy and happy in my low-key home routine, and I’ve found other ways of getting my social needs met (regular phone calls, virtual Peloton workouts with friends, work dates over FaceTime, constant texting, etc).

Andrew: Where will be the first place you will travel to after COVID-19?
Zai: New Zealand! My partner and I got married three years ago, and we still haven’t gone on our honeymoon. We had the whole thing booked for last spring, but obviously, that didn’t end up happening. I’m looking forward to finally renting that campervan and going on some adventures!

About The Maker | Zai Divecha is a San Francisco-based artist whose work provides a quiet, calm respite from an overstimulating world. By folding, pleating or rolling sheets of white paper, she creates intricate patterns of light and shadow. Divecha has shown at Marrow Gallery, West Coast Craft, and the American Craft Council; clients include Instagram, Twitter, and Square. Divecha is a Bay Area native and a Yale graduate, and she spends as much time as she can on her road bike. Her studio is part of the Yonder Compound in the Inner Richmond in SF. Follow her on Instagram (@zaidivecha) for behind-the-scenes photos from the studio. Photo by Emi Grannis.

Andrew Joseph is a regular contributing editor for aspire design and home magazine. See more of his work here.

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