Woman of Woodworking
Justyna Zablocka is part of a growing community of young female wood artisans carving careers out of the traditionally male-dominated field.
Celeste Percy-Beauregard, October 24, 2022 // Brantford, OntarioJustyna Zablocka of Lush Lemon Co. Photo credit Paul Smith, Photohouse Studio.
The talented woodwork artist behind Lush Lemon Co., Justyna Zablocka, schedules her days with time blocking. “From when I wake up until 12 o'clock is when I feel the best,” she says, “So I give that time block to myself. I'll go walk the dog and do major errands. I'll work on my garden, and stuff like that.” After that, she begins an eight-hour block, which is “time for anything to do with work.”
She uses a similar method to accept orders for her custom-designed and hand-built signs. “I'll open up for a few minutes, to take on as many custom orders as I'm making that month, and then I'll close down orders,” she says. From there, she does the proofs and designs, “and then I move on to making the product, shipping, and then I'll open up for another round of orders.”
The process affords her the time necessary to devote to each of her commissions; individualized creations, like her hugely popular nursery signs – baby names in elegant fonts, embellished with personalized details like flowers, animals and rainbows. She has also become the go-to creator for stunning larger-scale logo signs, that can be seen at local businesses like Bathtub Bakery, Nu-u Float Studio, Kneaded Care Wellness Clinic and Twin Valley Nature Park.
Justyna hard at work on her incredible designs. Photo credit Paul Smith, Photohouse Studio.
During her business block, Justyna sat down with BTOWN to chat about her process, and the growing online community of female wood artisans.
“It's so good to be in such a positive community of woodworking because I can bounce ideas off of people or ask them how they did something,” she says, “Instead of me having to fail repeatedly doing something, I can just get to it with their help. And then it goes full circle, they can ask me too.”
Justyna first entered the woodworking scene six years ago, painting a world map onto wood for her own home. From there, commissions came in for “small things for family and friends, like painted signs and whatnot,” she says, which she crafted while working her day job at a colonoscopy clinic. “I’ve always had an artistic brain,” Justyna says, “So that environment was really wearing on me.”
After taking some time off to travel, Justyna presented herself with a choice. “I figured, I can either go back to my job, or I can keep trying to do this [woodworking] thing because I'm making a little bit of money – I was struggling – but it might take off,” she says.
Examples of Justyna's unique creations. Photo credit Paul Smith, Photohouse Studio.
Justyna built a local customer-base by attending markets to show and sell her wares, beginning with hand-painted and engraved signs. “And then I upgraded and got a little scroll saw, which is where you see the 3D stuff come in,” she says.
Justyna continued to teach herself woodworking (“I learned everything on YouTube,” she says) developing a process that involves using a router to shape plywood into a circular backer, which she then stains or paints. Adhering a paper template to a piece of MDF, she uses her scroll-saw to cut each piece of the design by hand. “And then if I'm doing a floral piece, I'll take a Dremel tool and shape everything to give it some more dimension. I hand paint those, and then once everything is glued, I'll top coat everything, put a hanger on it,” and then she ships it off.
“It’s a lot of work,” she says with a laugh, but she passes the time with inspiring and educational podcasts, “I used to listen to true crime a lot. But then it was just too much negative stuff,” she says, “So I really like to listen to business-building podcasts now, and things for mental health,” a favourite being Lewis Howes’ “The School of Greatness” podcast.
After years of working “outside, in my basement, wherever I had room really,” Justyna recently moved from Brantford to Norfolk, where she now has a dedicated workshop on her property, and recently invested in a laser cutter. “So now my laser does my engraving and my cutting work for me,” Justyna says. While she still needs to hand-scroll thicker wood, and uses her Dremel to give shape to individual pieces after they come out of the laser, she says it, “Opens me up for what I really like doing: designing new signs.”
The fine details of Justyna's woodwork. Photo credit Paul Smith, Photohouse Studio.
Scrolling through Justyna’s Instagram feed gives a sense of her precision and range – although she’s made well over a thousand signs, each one feels wholly original. Sharing videos of her process, and tips for other wood artisans, she grew an Instagram following of over 16k, which expanded her reach, and she has since shipped to locales like Nova Scotia, Louisiana, Texas and California. “It's crazy what social media can do,” she says.
It has also provided community in a solitary occupation, connecting Justyna with other local female wood artisans like @courtmadeco, who also does scroll-saw work (“If a customer reaches out to me, I'll say, ‘I'm busy but Courtney can make something!”), @thatwoodburninggirl and @rebels.rascals, as well as female woodworkers globally.
“It's just a really good community and a lot of people have become my friends,” Justyna says, “We go out for coffee and we talk business, it's really awesome.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Celeste Percy-Beauregard’s first form of storytelling was as an actor, and her eager curiosity and interest in a variety of subjects led her to writing. Her work has appeared in Toronto Star and Today’s Parent, and she is enjoying exploring Brantford and learning about the people and places that make it such a special city.
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Paul Smith has been shooting photos professionally for the past eleven years. After graduating from Applied Photography at Sheridan College in 2008 he returned to Brantford and opened Photohouse Studios with his partner.