Category / Art

‘Meet the makers’ – Heath Nash

Posted on 15 September 2011 by Cecile Blake

As part of the Creative Week Cape Town, one of the creatives who shared his workspace and process in the ‘Meet the makers’ studio tour series was Heath Nash. Since showing his work at the first Design Indaba Expo in 2004, Heath has come a long way, and his iconic light fittings are now sold all over the world. Heath shared his story of how he developed his range, what his work process is and where he would like to go from here.

Heath is a Fine Arts graduate, and having originally worked in paper, he stumbled upon using plastic as a medium when an overseas buyer remarked that his work wasn’t very ‘African’. At the time, it made him think about what being African meant, so he started working in re-purposed plastic and wire. With an overwhelmingly positive response to the first lightshade prototypes that were born from this, he has progressed from working as a solo artist to running a studio that employs several people and sells products all over the world.

Some of his most popular light fittings. An 80cm flowerball takes 30 hours to make and makes use of 840 flower shapes.

Part of the appeal of his work is that all his products are all made from recycled plastic bottles. Initially he drove around in a bakkie sourcing, fetching and cleaning all the different coloured bottles he needed himself. He and his staff also used to die-cut each flower or the shape used to make the light fittings at his studio, but he soon realised that he was wasting valuable design time. Eventually, he streamlined his production process by helping to set up a company that is run by some of his employees and that now supplies his studio. Now his storeroom has neat boxes and bags filled with die-cut shapes, ready-to-use in a rainbow of colours.

Unprocessed bottles ready to be used (left), and a corner of his studio.

Demonstrating how the shapes are die-cut.

Colourful bags of clean but unprocessed plastic bottles still hang from the ceiling as inspiration, and these are his tools to play and make his prototypes. Heath fills many custom orders for corporate clients, which he really enjoys, but he freely admits that it is very difficult to make those jobs pay.

Detail from a flowerball light

A new design which makes use of parts of the bottles he had previously discarded.

Another challenge is to source enough of the right types of plastic bottles to use in custom orders.  Currently he needs over 500 white Jik bottles to finish an order, and as all artisans know necessity breeds innovation. He soon set a challenge to a local school that the class that collects the most bottles will win a Heath Nash product, which can then be auctioned off for the school. Heath enjoys doing social development with kids and has run many workshops at schools.

Heath Nash (right) and some of his employees

His biggest challenge however, is that his products are expensive and difficult to make, and he has to constantly work on new ways to streamline his processes and cut costs. He admits that in future he would love to free himself from running the studio and get more involved in abstract conceptual work, where he can worry less about the bottom line. Hopefully his studio will continue producing his eco-friendly, playful and beautiful products for us to enjoy!


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