Winning Women – Tshego Tshukutswane: Painting her own canvas

2014-07-07 10:00

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Paint, music and creativity come together at Tshego Tshukutswane’s Artjamming studio in northern Joburg, writes Sue Grant–Marshall

It took near burnout before Tshego Tshukutswane, who was working 16-hour days doing market research for corporations, decided to explore what she enjoys most, the world of creativity.

She has blended this with her honours degree in psychology at her Artjamming studio franchise in Lonehill, Fourways, north of Joburg.

The original creators of “paintertainment” in Hong Kong set out in 2000 to create an experience, the ingredients of which are part sensual, part philosophical and part psychological in the social painting experience they called Artjamming.

“Today it’s more relevant than it has ever been due to the time we spend on computers, on our cellphones and iPads,” says Tshukutswane. “We’re in danger of becoming techno zombies who are unable to relate to other people because we’re so focused on technological devices.”

The other modern condition we need help with today in our hectic lifestyles is destressing, something Tshukutswane is well aware of from her own experience.

“We rush at life with our adrenaline pumping at toxic levels before we realise we need to take a step back. That’s where Artjamming comes in,” she says.

“We hand you paintbrushes, an exciting range of nontoxic acrylic paints as well as a choice of canvases and easels, and you let rip.”

This can be done on your own but the concept was originally conceptualised as a gathering of people, using paint on canvas, for social relaxation.

As its popularity spread throughout the world, it developed into birthday parties, team-building exercises, school holiday programmes and corporate events.

“I set out to find young artists from various communities who can share their talent,” says Tshukutswane.

So Artjammers can play, paint, sponge or spray on their paints. You put on an apron and face a blank canvas, unleash the creativity that we all apparently have, and connect with your inner self while simultaneously connecting with work colleagues or friends.

“Some people walk in here and say immediately that it smells wonderful. It’s paint of course but it’s also the scent of creativity. Your body’s cells start to relax.”

That process is helped with music, which Tshukutswane provides, “but often corporates will bring their own and people who are organising birthday parties, and so on, like to have their own sound”.

Tshukutswane graduated in April from the Goldman Sachs-Gibs 10?000 Women Certificate Programme with a business plan judged to be the best in her class.

So it’s interesting she was all set to become a clinical psychologist when she graduated with her honours degree in psychology at the then University of Natal in 1999.

It was there that she was spotted by Unilever’s graduate recruitment programme and was persuaded that obtaining some life experience would be good for her.

She moved into Unilever’s trade marketing department in Durban, where she was “exposed to some excellent minds”. She adds: “It was a good start to my career.”

Since then, she’s worked for Kimberly-Clark and Added Value South Africa in areas ranging from fast-moving consumer goods, ethnic hair and beauty products, solar water heaters and financial services to petroleum and enterprise development.

She has also done market scoping, entry analysis and planning projects in African markets from Ghana to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Mozambique and Angola.

“I worked with incredible people who showed an interest in my career and invested in me, but I worked so hard I suffered burnout,” recalls Tshukutswane.

A turning point came when her sister Gildah challenged her to “create the company that you want to work for”.

In 2006, she ventured out on her own as a marketing strategy and research consultant in her own marketing consultancy, Greenstone Marketing.

At the same time, she explored every area of her many interests ranging from art to photography and film-making.

It was during this period she took her then nine-year-old niece to an Artjamming studio and realised she’d found her niche. She could now bring art and her own business together.

She contacted Cape Town businesspeople Leora and Ralph Israel, who had brought Artjamming to South Africa.

After several setbacks, the major one being a lack of finance to buy a franchise, she succeeded.

“I had a lucky break when a friend who owed me R100?000 suddenly repaid me out of the blue. Another friend who is an interior decorator designed my studio and at the end of 2010, I opened my doors here at the Lonehill Shopping Centre.”

In just more than three years, Tshukutswane has built up a client list that includes the executive board of Kagiso Media, FNB, Joe Public advertising agency, Absa and Accenture.

“We can come to you too with our mobile Artjamming [studio] and our biggest so far has been 300 people from Tiger Brands,” she says.

Tshukutswane, who grew up in Mafikeng, North West, and attended the International School of SA there, is the daughter of parents who were both nurses. Her father worked in the psychiatric department in the town’s hospital.

“It was he who stimulated my interest in people, how their minds work and how we all interact,” she says.

Today she’s fulfilled and happy watching people who need a creative outlet in their tension-filled days to wind down and relate meaningfully to each other, whether it’s with family, friends or work colleagues.

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