Phenyo's magic wand turns heads

Phenyo Mel Madiba, between two of her portraits.
Phenyo Mel Madiba, between two of her portraits.
Image: KABELO MOKOENA

Gauteng-based artists and entrepreneur Phenyo Mel Madiba, 24, uses her soldering iron pen like a magic wand to create striking pyrography portraits.

Madiba is involved in various business ventures including urban lifestyle brand Yuppie Threads and Oamobu Naturals, a cosmetic range.

But, lately, her unique wooden portraits have been turning heads. Madiba said the venture started when she read a social media post from a popular artists who mentioned the word "pyrography".

Research led her to the fascinating art form which entails burning images into wood.

She first started working on a series capturing emotive images of black women which she sourced from social media platform Instagram. One of her first creations is an image of international artist Solange Knowles which expresses the singer's futuristic flair.

Madiba said people wanted to buy her art after seeing posts on the internet. The images cost between R1000 to R7000. "I've been getting a lot of orders. People are really interested and like my work."

Making the images begins with a pencil sketch drawn on a laminated wood panel which she then etches into the wood using a hot soldering iron tool.

Madiba, who operates from her home studio, said working in the creative field has always been her dream.

Mel Madiba (24) is seen next to her portraits that she draws in order to get some income.
Mel Madiba (24) is seen next to her portraits that she draws in order to get some income.
Image: KABELO MOKOENA

"I used to love drawing as a child. I mostly drew women with flamboyant hairstyles and super long ponytails. I went through a phase where I used to make jewellery and paint on T-shirts," she said.

But turning her dream into reality was not easy. She could not complete her studies in interior design due to financial problems. "I was in my final year and there was no money to pay for my fees," she said.

Madiba said sometimes people's attitudes towards creative entrepreneurs can be an obstacle. "The main problem is when people want you to do stuff for free. They don't think you are worth the price you are demanding or asking for."

This has not stopped Madiba from combining her artistic talent and entrepreneurial spirit to make a living. In 2014 she co-founded Yuppie Threads with her business partner Kayo Magadla.

The brand which targets urban youth has a range of items including T-shirts and re-purposed furniture.

Madiba also owns shares in an organic hair and skin care range which was started three years ago.

"My advice for people who want to do anything creative is to be surrounded by successful creators. It's good to stay motivated through a good support system," Madiba said.

Although she has created images of women of other races, Madiba said the black woman's image is close to her heart, and "I can relate to [it] at a much deeper level".

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