Spotlight on Ilse Steyn-Grand
“You only have one life. You need to put the best into your life – your health, your beauty, your work, the things you enjoy to do. Be precious about this life you’ve got.” – Ilse Steyn-Grand
The Wealthy Fox interviewed Ilse Steyn-Grand (44), Artist Entrepreneur with an eye for exceptional design.
Ilse’s childhood dream was to become a famous artist. In her teens, Ilse created punk designs and airbrush illustrations, which she bartered for chocolates with children at school.
At 18 years of age, she decided to leave her small town of Bethel, Mpumalanga for the big city lights of Johannesburg in pursuit of her dream. Packing one suitcase and borrowing her dad’s car, she set off on a new adventure. She studied advertising at AAA College and obtained a Diploma in Fine Arts from Pretoria Technikon.
A struggling artist, trying to make a break in the big city, Ilse lived on a bag of potatoes each month. She was thin as a stick and had no income. Her lucky break came when a graphic design studio owner saw her children’s storybook and offered her a job – not quite what she imagined it would be – working as a delivery girl and an au pair for the lady. A freelance job followed shortly after.
Ilse quickly made a name for herself in graphic design, working for some of South Africa’s top advertising agencies, including Young & Rubicam, Ogilvy Mather, Jay Walter Thompson and FCB.
Today, Ilse is carving a new path in her career as an artist entrepreneur, designing the most exquisite invitation cards for weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and Bar Mitzvahs. She can design pretty much anything – fabrics, party decorations, packaging, book covers. You name it, she can do it!
WF: Who inspired you to become an artist?
ISG: Design has been part of my life ever since I can remember. Mom would ask, “Ilse, can you draw the cat, can you draw the flower?” And I would do it. It gave me confidence to draw. I was constantly drawing everything I could see - house, sheep, people. I could draw anything from the age of 7.
WF: Did you have a mentor as you developed your skill as an artist?
ISG: I had lots of mentors. I worked for some fantastic agencies and some pretty hot shot creative directors.
WF: How did you land up in Durban working for Jay Walter Thompson?
ISG:I wanted to live on the beach. I got a job with Jay Walter Thompson, then known as Hardy Boys. I found a place 300m from the beach in a small town called La Mercy.
WF: To date what has been your greatest achievement in your career?
ISG: Designing for Face of Africa modelling competition. Inspired by my mom, I came up with the idea of a porcupine quill crown for the African beauty.
Another job was for Colgate toothpaste. It was the most successful ad campaign that Colgate ever had. We took it into clubs, had breath police, guerrilla marketing, etc. Was awesome!
WF: What did you love the most about your time working in the agency environment?
ISG:It was the constant excitement and constant change that I loved the most. Once we had a helicopter to shoot an advertisement. That was absolutely amazing for me. Doing TV advertisements is very exciting to do. The whole mission to breakthrough with something that is original, fresh and new. It’s like you have to dig deep into your own spirit and soul to create something that is new. Sometimes it is a heart journey. But when you have something nice and new and fresh you have accomplished something.
WF: Research has shown that women often get promoted based on their past achievement, whereas men get promoted on their potential. What is your view on this?
ISG:I think it’s very true, but it can also happen that a woman has good past achievement and ends up in a male-dominated environment and her past achievements could mean nothing.
WF: Do you think the role of women in business is a true reflection of their potential?
ISG:No, I don’t. Women have to unfortunately fight against male domination in the workplace. Men don’t like it when women really overpower them and have the power. Sometimes women have to step back to keep the peace. Men are far more jealous creatures than another woman is.
WF: What do you believe to be the qualities of feminine leadership?
ISG: There is a difference in female leadership. A female will have a finger on every single thing. The focus of business is on nurturing. The worst they can do is compete with their male counterparts and be more masculine. There is precision in female leadership and how they think things through. They want to make something great for everyone around them.
WF: Where do you see the biggest skills shortage when it comes to women in your industry?
ISG: They don’t know how to craft a peace of work aesthetically. They fall into mundane everyday things to get a job out or to just do it because you get paid, whilst every job you get in front of you could be a masterpiece.
WF: What are the most challenging aspects of your life right now?
ISG:To build a prestigious business and get it working perfectly. You get the best, highest quality from a person who really cares for you.
WF: If you had to name the one factor behind your success, what would that be?
ISG: Extreme will to succeed.
WF: What is your message to women chasing their career and business dreams?
ISG: Never be scared of competition. Put yourself up to compete with anybody.
WF: If you were to win the lotto for R50million, how different would your life be? Would you still do design?
ISG:Fist of all, I wouldn’t tell anybody that I won the lotto and I would keep on doing what I’m doing. Maybe get myself a holiday home and go overseas, but I won’t change my life drastically.
WF: If you were a domestic animal, which one would you be and why?
ISG: A cat. Cats know exactly how to take the best out of life, how to enjoy themselves, grooming all day, resting and eating their food. They bring calmness.
WF: If you were a wild animal, what would you be and why?
ISG: A leopard. It is a feline. It is feminine and extremely strong. It is very beautiful.
WF: Favourite artist
ISG: Joan Miro, a Spanish painter, sculptor and ceramicist.
WF: Favourite food
ISG: Malay Curry
WF: Favourite drink
WF: Favourite car
WF: Favourite fashion brand
ISG: Supergra takkies and my Levi Jeans
WF: Hobbies & interests
ISG: I don’t have hobbies because I am an artist. I am currently learning to speak fluent French. And I enjoy travelling to exotic places with my hubby.