Meet Jen Neal
Hi, nice to meet you! Tell us about yourself and what you create.
I am a fiber artist and jewelry designer based in Brooklyn, NY. I work out of my home studio where I weave and create hand woven beaded earrings.
There is something so empowering and transformational about the process of weaving together fibers to create a piece of art. I have found that in my life, I have gravitated towards working with fibers in any capacity I could. (From making hundreds of friendship bracelets as a child, to designing and sewing clothing, latch hook rug making, beadweaving, crochet, knitting.) It is a way that I connect to past generations of women (and men) in my family who were makers, to myself and the world at large.
My beaded earrings have been truly a way to reconnect to the element of joy I had as a 12 yr old learning a new craft. I used to be an avid beader, and had a bead loom that I would tote around to playdates and family camping trips. I picked beadweaving back up again recently and being able to translate my tapestry designs to beaded earrings has been so exciting to me. The first night I sat down to teach myself off-loom bead weaving I literally was singing to myself out loud. It was so thrilling!
What was your AHA moment?
Learning to weave from Sara Berks (the maker behind MINNA) was my AHA moment. I feel like the minute I got a loom in my hands, I felt fireworks inside. Everything came together for me creatively, and I haven’t looked back since. Sara is truly inspiring, you need to check her out!
I had another “aha” moment after the birth of my second child. Life had been throwing some pretty hard, scary and sad stuff my way for a few years, and finally – after having the empowering feeling of holding my (thankfully) healthy baby in my arms – (that I made!), I started to feel a bit fearless. I am now 38 yrs old and I have to say – I wasted too much time in my 20s and early 30s doubting myself, and being afraid to really stand behind my own my creativity + share it with the world. It may sound cliche, but a by product of growing older is that you really do find yourself becoming more confident and bold. Today I focus more on the joy of just making, and focus on that aspect of the process. When people respond positively to my work it’s a big boost, but I am no longer seeking the approval of everyone else in the world to do what I love.
Where do you draw your energy and inspiration from?
I never seem to run out of energy and inspiration for making things. There is a literally infinite number of projects that I have waiting in my sketchbook and in my brain. I just wish I had enough time in my lifetime to create it all!
I am inspired by the colors and textures in vintage textiles, the organic shapes found in nature, the feeling of the breeze on my skin and the soft feeling of wool in my fingertips. In my beaded earrings I try to create little wearable tapestries that the owner can take out of the home and into their daily life. I am a New Yorker, and somehow wearing the beaded earrings I make – helps me feel a little bit invincible and more like the bohemian earth mother I aspire to be.
What are you go-to’s as far as podcasts, books or blogs?
The book BIG MAGIC: CREATIVE LIVING BEYOND FEAR by Elizabeth Gilbert seriously changed my life. You need to read (or listen) to it! I think I literally listen to that book at least once/month. I also love the Gold Digger podcast by Jenna Kutcher, the Making Ways podcast by Rob Goodman, Elise Gets Crafty and recently started listening to The Assignment Bureau - it’s totally addicting and fun!
What is the most challenging part of running your business?
Time is my biggest challenge. I am a working mom to two little boys. There are endless things to do. I want to be a prolific maker of things, successful at my business and be the perfect mom, partner, daughter, friend, sister, neighbor and coworker - but perfection is not actually healthy. You have to prioritize the things that you really care about and need to do, while also prioritizing yourself, your health and your creativity. I have had to learn to let some of the less important things go (I only cook a few times a week, my house is not super organized, I have crayon on my walls at home and any sort of “beauty regimine” is unfortunately always the first thing to go..) but I am committed to making sure that the things that are going to be the most meaningful for my family, myself and my community come first. At least, that’s what I try to do. Balance is not easy. That said, no matter what my energy level is like - I have made it a rule for myself to be sure that I fit in something that gives me joy each day - and that, for me - is making things!
What is your favorite part of running your business?
I love the freedom and energy boost that comes from sitting down and working on a new design. The anticipation of dreaming about what the earring or tapestry will look like – and putting the steps together to make it happen. I also love the connections I’ve made with the amazing stockists I work with around the world and interacting with my customers and seeing how their face lights up when they get to wear their earrings for the first time :)
What is the best advice that has been given to you?
I have drawn such inspiration from my husband Chris Silas Neal, who in addition to being an amazing dad and my best friend, is a talented illustrator and children’s book author. He has told me over and over through the years when I was feeling down on myself for not being able to just make the jump to turn my creative business a full-time gig – to JUST START. Start making things. Keep your head down and do the work. See where it leads you. Throw yourself ALL IN, because that is what it’s going to take to be successful as a creative. Don’t quit your day job until you think you can stand on your own feet. Take it as it comes.
I have been a creative person my entire life, but was stuck in a loop of self-doubt for a long time, and was not confident enough to put my art/creative side out into the world. After losing some of the people that I loved most in the last few years - I said to myself- what am I waiting for? Life is short, and I literally don’t know if I’ll be here tomorrow. Today is the day to start. Don't wait another day to pursue what makes your heart fill with light. Don't wait for opportunities to fall in your lap. Make it happen.
What is your favorite thing about the handmade community?
I was saying the other day to a class of weaving students - the weaving community and maker community that I’ve connected with via Instagram is truly inspiring and supportive. The process of becoming a new parent can often be isolating for a person. The lack of sleep, the new responsibilities and schedule (not seeing friends as often) - it is a lot to take on. But, somehow I found weaving at the same time as my first son was an infant. Makers on instagram have a way of connecting with another, giving each other feedback on each other’s projects, sharing the ups and downs of parenthood and coming together to support causes we believe in. The community is everything to me, and really - I wouldn’t be where I am now without having had the encouragement of so many other makers.
Who are some people you admire or look up to in this community?
There honestly are far too many makers that have become like mentors for me. There are so many people out there who are putting their passion into action and making such beautiful things. My weaving teachers Maryanne Moodie and Sarah Berks of MINNA and UK based weaver Christabel Balfour are truly amazing. My friend and fellow maker Alisha Rodriguez is such an amazing source of support as we struggle to live our best creative lives while balancing work and life. I love the business model of Misha and Puff (I’m a knitter too), as they work to support female artisans in Peru (they provide daycare for their workers children) and BlockShop Textiles who does something similar in Baggru India. I also draw strength from other mama makers like Lindsey Campbell of Hello Hydrangea and Erin Barrett of Sunwoven and Robyn Parker who share openly about the struggles of being a lady boss while also balancing the conflicting demands of motherhood.
I am also inspired and grateful to people like Grace Gulley who runs the CYL Collective – who devotes her wisdom and energy to lift other creative ladies like me. I am an activist myself, and women who stand up to use their talents and platform to help others really inspire me. This past month Linsday Meyer Harley got a bunch of makers and shop owners together and planned the Still We Rise auction. Due to her efforts and time organizing the auction, we raised almost $45,000 for Moms Demand Action for Gun Control, Everytown and Emily’s List. Being surrounded by other people who care and use their talents for good really inspires me.
If you could work on that one dream project, what would it be?
Oh my gosh, this is so much fun to think about. Making a pair of earrings for Emma Gonzalez, (organizer and survivor of the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida) would be a dream. She and her fellow students are so inspiring. Hey wait, maybe I’ll get started on that now.