Maker of The Month: Precious Norris of Jewel Essentials Soaps & Beyond

Photography by Leo Soyfer

If you check out @jewel.essentials on Instagram, you might do a double-take. What at first glance appears to be a mouth-watering smorgasbord of snacks is, in reality, completely inedible. Instead, it’s artisan soap, handmade by Indy native Precious Norris. She operates around the motto that she can make anything out of soap, and she means it, though her customers have been loving faux food lately. Norris has crafted everything from personal-pan pizzas to a life-sized, 6-pound saxophone. Her lineup of sweets, which includes cinnamon rolls, glazed caramel donuts and an order of chicken & waffles, look especially convincing. If you’re wondering how she does it—so were we! To learn more about the Indy soap artist, PATTERN interviewed Norris at her shop. Check out the Q+A below (and to see the soapy goodness IRL, check out her shop on South Meridian Street).

Name: Precious Norris
Business Name: Jewel Essentials Soaps & Beyond
Instagram: @jewel.essentials
Facebook:
@JewelEssentialsSoaps
Website: https://www.jewelessentialsllc.com/ 

What do you make?
I make soaps you’ll want to wash your mouth out with! I make handmade artisan soaps. All my soaps are plant-based. I can make anything out of soap, but people prefer food.

How long have you been doing this?
Two years! As far as the food, a year. 

Retail locations where people can find your product:
Jewel Essentials Soaps: 3035 South Meridian Street, Suite B.
Imagination Fruit Shop: 3020 South Meridian Street

I opened my store almost two months ago, which was very hard because I’m an introvert. People can come in-store, and I do a lot of different events around the city as well.

What piqued your initial interest in designing your products?
At first, I was just making soap for my son. He had really sensitive skin. We were in lockdown. Nothing was working. I had ample amounts of time. I was a stay-at-home mom. I was scrolling Facebook, and I saw a lady making soap and thought “I should try that.” The first soap I made was actually a breast milk soap and I posted on Facebook “Hey, look what I did!” People were like, “I wanna buy that,” and I’m like, “You wanna buy my breast milk? That’s so weird.” But I needed the coins, so I sold my breast milk soap. It was a hit. 

After that, I wanted to branch off and add scents and different colors. I started with swirls and big-top soaps—the normal stuff you see from artisan soap makers. One day I posted on Facebook that I wanted to make a chicken wing out of soap, and everybody was like “Do it!” That’s how we got the chicken & waffles. And it was history from there.

What principles do you use when designing?
Most of the time when I start, I have no idea where I’m going. I just create, and that’s why I allow myself time at least twice a month to be here by myself and give myself time to flow. That’s when I really come up with my best ideas.

Who and/or what influences your design style?
Food! My mother, she’s a chef. I see how she plates everything and presents it at her catering gigs. When I did the curry chicken, that was with my mom in mind. So her, and then suggestions from my supporters, people from different ethnicities and people from different cultural backgrounds. A lot of stuff that I make, I don’t even know anything about it! I just make it for the people. 

How would you describe your design aesthetics and values?
Hyper-realistic. I’m all about the details. That’s what sets me apart from other people who do it. I only make one of a lot of my soaps because I want to put so much detail in it and I can’t make it for everybody. That makes people upset.

What comes first for you, the design materials or the design concept?
I always have material on hand. Always, always, always! I’m always waiting for a call from Oprah. Or I’m always ready to go viral. Anything can happen. The first time I went viral, I was not prepared. Now I stay stocked up so whenever I do have an idea, I can go and execute it.

Could you describe the process of creating a piece, from conception to finish? 
It’s different for every soap. We’ll use the saxophone [for example]. I use my regular soap, Crafter’s Choice. I can’t tell you my secret—I just melt it and mold it. I manipulate it how I need to if it’s not something I’m using molds for. Then I’ll color it. I use a lot of yellows and browns and reds to give it the “cooked” look. I’ll hand-paint details after to give it more texture. Some things I’ll airbrush, like the chicken and waffles. I use a lot of different tools. 

What is your favorite tool, and why?
Definitely my hands, because I can do anything with my hands. I can press, I can smooth and I can do anything that I need to do. 

Describe a piece you’ve created that you are most proud of. What was special about it?
The saxophone. I made that for my favorite artist, Masego. The number one thing on my bucket list [was] to make custom soap for him. I was like “Well, he’s not going to see me on Instagram and ask me to make him soap, so I’m just going to make it.” I made it. I posted the video. He saw it, he commented and I’m going to be giving it to him in July. 

Describe the commissioning process. What are the best and worst aspects about doing commissions?
I have a custom order tab on my website and it’ll just send an email directly to me and then I’ll get back. I’ve done a lot of baby shower favors, retirement parties, 50th birthday parties—different parties and events. When it comes to something difficult that I haven’t done before, it worries me a little. But then again, I have that confidence in myself that I can do anything. In the end, I always make it happen. The best [aspect] is bringing people’s ideas to life because they come with the craziest ideas I would have never thought of.

What advice would you give to aspiring designers like yourself?
I will give them the advice I got recently from a lady [who] walked up to me and said “Whatever is in your mind, make it. Get it out of your head, even if it seems like it’s not on brand or it doesn’t fit with what you’ve been doing. Just get it out and do it.” That helped me a lot. That’s when I made the saxophone. I was stuck on food and I’m like, “How am I gonna get out of this? Everybody wants food.” I can make more than food. Let me make a microwave or something!

What is one thing that the creative/design community can do in Indianapolis to help grow an audience for custom or hand-crafted work?
When other artists start appreciating other artists’ work, that’ll make other people appreciate it.

Dream commission/client?
I really want to make a huge butter sculpture for the BUTTER art fair. I would love to do that and have soap melting off. But I just scratched a big one off [my bucket list] with the saxophone—I’m still on a high from that! And I don’t celebrate myself or my accomplishments enough, so I’m trying to bask in the glory. 

What makes your work different from anyone else’s?
Me! And that’s not to brag or anything, but… I’m pretty dope, if I do say so myself. I am more than a soap artist. I’ve come into myself in these past two years and embraced who I am as a woman and as a person. I was very closed off, I was an introvert and I had no idea what was going on out here in Indianapolis. So yeah, it’s me! I am my brand. It’s way bigger than soap for me; I’ve touched so many people. 

What’s your most rewarding memory in your business?
I was doing a live stream with another business owner. Three days after, a lady wrote me and she was like, “Listen to your story. It’s so inspirational. You’re the reason that I’m gonna keep going.” Nothing beats that. I do it for me, for my enjoyment. But I also do it to bring other people joy because I feel like this is my ministry and I’ve touched so many people with it. That made me cry a lil’ tear.

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