When Jacqueline de la Fuente started making vases out of paper clay, she imagined a simple, creative outlet on the side. Fast forward two years and the undertaking has completely exceeded her expectations. Fans can now find her paper vases in shops under the name de la Jardin in her native United Kingdom, and Australia, Belgium, and Sweden to boot. What’s more, she and her family have recently moved to a new home, in part to accommodate her growing business.
But it’s not all about the excitement of whirlwind success that’s on Jacqueline’s mind. Employing cardboard and paper waste from local shops and cafés, the products of de la Jardin also exemplify one way how a small creative business can respond to the environmental challenges of our day. Jacqueline not only considers the environmental impacts that new materials have, she considers the benefits of limited production and how the work affects her health and well-being.
In preparation for this interview, Kinship + Craft spoke with Jacqueline de la Fuente over video call; however, she completed the majority of our questions over email. Although Kinship + Craft typically employs American English, Jacqueline’s answers remain in British English out of respect for her writing style. As a result, readers may find differences in spelling, such as mold and mould, which we left in intentionally. The final interview has been lightly edited for clarity in collaboration with Jacqueline.
Finding that creative spark
K+C — Hello, Jacqueline! It’s so wonderful to speak with you about your work. I wanted to start by asking if you could tell us a bit about yourself and the work you do?
Hello Lindsay, thank you so much for having me on Kinship + Craft. It’s a real pleasure to be able to chat with you about my work. I’m Jacqueline de la Fuente, a mother to two kids (five and eight years old) and the solo artist behind de la Jardin — a name which, for many years, was a running joke between my husband and me. It means ‘of the garden’ and is a combination of both of our surnames. Nevertheless, it seemed to fit my art perfectly!
I started making my vases in London, where I had been living for 15 years up until recently. As a family, we wanted more space and to have a bigger art studio for my growing work. So, we moved to Norwich in Norfolk not long ago.
Before I started de la Jardin, I was a textile designer specialising in print and weave for homewares until I decided to explore cake making (another passion of mine) and became a baker for a few years. Having my two kids led to a career break and I decided to focus on being a full-time mum. However, it also became a time when I lost myself and had to find that creative spark again. All along, I had a quiet passion for ceramics and objects, but I didn’t realise until a lot later that this was the path to take. I feel very fortunate that I get to pursue my passion in hand-sculpting papier mache clay vases alongside having a family.
K+C — Coming from a background in woven and printed textiles and cake making, what inspired you to start working with paper and founding de la Jardin?
I would say these different career paths have definitely influenced the work I do today in different ways. For example, cake-making made me realise how much I love working with my hands and creating physical objects. The immediacy of decorating a cake has helped with the process of making my vases as you only get one go at it.
On the other hand, designing textiles for eight years helped me build my design skills, such as working on briefs, solving design problems and forecasting trends. Also, travelling for work, visiting mills, highlighted the impact that the industry has on the environment.
All of these have created a solid design foundation and play a part in my work today. But becoming a mum has also made me more aware of our everyday waste and be more eco-conscious. Using these materials has given me a new avenue to express my art, but also work sustainably where I can.
K+C — Yeah, that makes sense. I can also see how they have all had an influence.
I had no real great plans or ideas when I started de la Jardin. It all just grew naturally, where the love of making my vases from paper waste came first.
The connection between sources and mediums
K+C — It’s lovely that you’ve been able to lean into the personal joy you get from vases and similar objects. What sources of inspiration do you turn to when approaching the forms or painted surfaces?
Surface, pattern and texture have always been part of my creative DNA! Ideas tend to flow from all directions and can often build up quite organically. There are days when I just see where the paper clay naturally takes me. Found relics and landscapes are a big source of inspiration, too, as they reflect the tactile surface of the clay. At the same time, I often look at the silhouettes of these subjects and hand-sculpt them within my work. Additionally, form, colour and abstract patterns play an important part. I think they can create an emotion in you, as the viewer, or dramatically change how your space feels.
K+C — Do your prints play a role in this process, too?
Yes, my prints very much play a part in this process. In fact, I painted one of my prints called Disarray first, which inspired me to use the organic fluid brushstrokes on my vase La Lune Stroke. I think both my prints and vases complement each other either in colour, pattern or form, and I like seeing how I can translate one medium to another. Sometimes it’s unintentional, but this also shows the natural handwriting of my work.
K+C — Seeing people’s reactions to your vases, especially when they realize the vases are made of paper, must be especially fun. What has this experience been like?
Reactions to my vases have been amazingly positive with quite a few pinch-me moments. It’s been great to see the surprise and excitement on people’s faces when they find out that my vases are made from everyday paper and card waste.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure at first how people would take to the idea of me using waste material. However, I think with our current climate, they understand that much of our everyday waste is still of high quality and can be reused again or made into new objects. However, the burning question has always been “can they hold water?” On the odd occasion, there’s disappointment when I say that they can’t. But people understand that they are decorative pieces of art more often than not.
My aim is to embrace the nature of this material and try not to add to it unnecessarily. Most of my sculpted works are vases that are perfect for dried flowers. Over the last few years I’ve discovered some amazing sustainable dried flower businesses, such as The Appreciation Project, so all is not lost if you want to have flowers in them.
K+C — Excactly! And thank you — we love a good recommendation. Going back to those pinch-me-moments, what did they include?
Some overwhelming experiences that have blown me away include having my work in galleries I’ve always admired, such as the Modern Art Hire and The Ode to for example. There were also features in magazines such as Wrap, Elle Decoration UK, Grazia UK and AD Mexico. It is also wonderful that my work is now available internationally, in the US at Les Collection, Belgium at Cool Machine Store and Jolie Laide in Australia. Most recently, here in the UK, I was approached by TV presenter and writer, Laura Jackson to be part of her online homewares boutique, Glassette. They all have been truly amazing experiences and I feel so honoured and humbled by it all.
What’s in a de la Jardin (paper) vase?
K+C — I can imagine. Congratulations! Now to get into the material side of things. To make your paper clay you first collect waste paper and cardboard from local cafés and shops. Then, you mix it with flour, adhesive, and joint compound (the process of which is in photos below). What advantages and disadvantages have you come across working with recycled material and finding the right mix of ingredients?
The advantages to making my vases are that materials are quite basic, and of course, paper waste is always readily available! The hard graft can be in process, which can be slow and time-consuming — from shredding the paper and turning it into a pulp that is ready to mix with the other ingredients. The disadvantage to working with paper clay is that it’s a lot softer than normal clay, so I can’t make a complete shape in one go. I also sometimes have to use other surfaces or moulds to help me start off a required form until I build it by hand.
K+C — That makes sense. In those cases, do you turn to household objects or make your own molds?
When it comes to moulding my work I use a mixture of shapes such as recycling bowls and jars, but if I’m after a particular form, I create a mould using air dry clay. This also gives me the opportunity to see if an idea will work. These moulds can help keep the shape consistent such as the base of the La Lune Vase, but once I start building up on them, they are formed organically by hand.
All along, I had a quiet passion for ceramics and objects, but I didn’t realise until a lot later that this was the path to take.
Taking all things into consideration
K+C — The time-consuming aspects of a process brings us to another point, which is more personal. In solo creative practices, there is also the individual well-being factor to consider, on top of material and production sustainability. You’ve been open on social media about your Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) diagnosis and the impact it has had on your life. As a solo-maker, who produces everything herself by hand, how has this long-term condition impacted your creative practice?
Creating and sustaining a balance between my art, family and my illness has definitely been challenging. I was diagnosed about five years ago with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which meant doing daily simple tasks was challenging. It left me with zero energy, brain fog and sometimes in a lot of pain. Likewise, it meant that going back to my previous careers and working for other businesses and companies would prove difficult.
Despite my illness, I’ve always needed to express my art and have a creative outlet. The positive thing about having CFS is that it pushed me to pursue my own personal work. The natural process of making my vases is slow, so it’s very therapeutic and calming. I have also found that working for myself means I can pick up my work any time of the day, and if I ever need a break, or I experience a flare-up, I just answer to myself and follow my own lead.
However, there are still many challenges creatively and meeting deadlines can go against the flow of making work at my own pace. The reality is there are times when I just have to put tools down and accept that’s how I’m feeling that day. What I have discovered is that taking that time out for yourself is more productive in the long term. It has allowed my creative practice to grow naturally.
K+C — We can all probably learn from that and show ourselves more kindness and compassion. The creative industry is rife with pressure to work on an “it should have been finished yesterday” schedule. However, setting healthy expectations while living with CFS sounds crucial. What was important to you when you first drafted ideas for de la Jardin and what you’ve learned running the business since it began in 2020?
If I’m honest, I had no real great plans or ideas when I started de la Jardin. It all just grew naturally, where the love of making my vases from paper waste came first. I didn’t actually take my CFS into consideration, as I didn’t think de la Jardin would become full-time for me. If anything I thought it was perfect, as I imagined I would just dip in and out making my art alongside family life and when I felt good to do so.
Now that de la Jardin has grown, this is where I have to plan any big projects that come along in advance. Some can overlap, so it’s key I don’t take on too much in one go. Saying ‘no’ is something I am still learning to do — it doesn’t always happen, especially if it’s a collaboration or project I’m excited about. I often have to pause and see how these opportunities will affect my health and my creative journey. I am extremely grateful that despite my illness I can still enjoy what I do and bring most of my ideas to life.
K+C — That’s understandable, and thank you for sharing that particular part of your story. By the way — in honor of bringing those ideas to life — Happy Two-Year Anniversary!
What’s next for de la Jardin?
K+C — So, what are you excited about moving forward?
I’m very excited to finally start putting sketches I’ve been doodling over the last year into practice. It’s been a very busy couple of years! I’m hoping to start creating a mixture of works on canvas, sculptures and exploring how far I can take my papier mache clay into new and hopefully larger forms. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing where these new pieces will take me!