While most people are probably gearing up to spend the holiday season unwrapping gifts with their family, New West-based artisan Nethasha Fernando has made peace with the fact that she will be spending the time far away from home.
Fernando’s home is about 13,000 kilometres — a day-long flight — away in Sri Lanka. And ever since she moved to Canada in 2015, she hasn’t been back home once.
But time hasn’t faded her memory of the grand Christmas celebrations of her childhood.
“It was the best! I used to live in a big coconut estate, and had all my cousins living close by. On Christmas, we would go to our grandparents’ house, decorate a huge tree. We would get two weeks of holidays at school — so, we would all spend the time together. We would play, go fishing…,” recalled Fernando.
“On the 24th night, we would go to church and come back and open gifts… a crazy amount of gifts from family. Those are the best memories ever,” she added.
Fernando misses those days; “I get very homesick,” she said.
Getting creative to deal with homesickness
But instead of moping about it, Fernando decided to crank up the festive spirit around her.
“To get my mind off it, I started making Christmas ornaments and arrangements.” she said.
She first experimented with creating a clay sculpture depicting the nativity scene. Once she posted a photo of it on Instagram, she had people requesting her to make clay fridge magnets and specific character-themed (like Smurfs) charms for them.
All that demand pushed her to turn what used to be just a hobby, and a form of “therapy”, to a small business — nf atelier — in 2019.
Though Fernando was relatively new to the medium of clay, she realized that she was, in fact, good at it. “I didn't know that I had this talent, until I did it myself. And I was like, ‘Oh, I can do this. Wow!”
“The only other time I had used clay was in 2000, when I sculpted a statue of Jesus Christ in school,” she recounted. “But growing up, as kids, we always played with sand and mud. I'm pretty sure we had it (the talent) in us but I never put any thought into it.”
Once the full-time bank manager realized that she could mould clay into beautiful shapes with little effort, she decided to invest her time in browsing videos and Pinterest pages about clay art.
On making Christmas-themed accessories
More recently, she made Santa Claus and Rudolph the reindeer earrings — both of which were her most popular products at her first New West Craft Holiday Market in November 2022.
“They're not very easy, but I'm surprised that I was able to do them.”
Fernando made them by hand, with a minimal use of tools such as pasta rollers to condition the clay and cookie cutters to cut them. To make one earring, it took about 40 minutes, including baking time, she said.
Besides clay-based products, Fernando also makes personalized shot glasses, Superhero-themed Christmas tree ornaments and wreaths. While on walks around Queen’s Park and Douglas College, she collects pine cones, which once baked and varnished become part of her Christmas candle arrangements.
Whether Fernando gets custom orders or not, she busies herself creating more products during the holiday season so that she spends less time longing to be back in her coconut estate surrounded by family.
What also keeps her going is the encouragement from her Instagram followers: “People enjoy my work!"
"That's my biggest gift during Christmas.”
You can check out Fernando’s creations on her Instagram page.