Floral designer, creative maker and conservationist Nicky Andrag transforms a variety of plants into unique botanical artworks for her nature-focused brand, Velt.
“I had to learn to trust my gut about what is beautiful,” says plant-lover and committed conservationist Nicky Andrag. She’s relating the story of how she came to start her botanical art studio, Velt, in 2017. It’s a tale that takes off from the point at which, exhausted by the relentless demands of a high-pressure corporate job, Nicky decided to leave the world of IT behind her – and ends with a childhood passion for pressed flowers transformed into a thriving small creative business.
Nicky’s story will sound familiar to many. A creative person at heart, she graduated from South Africa’s Vega School – which focuses on training in design and brand communication – in the late 2000s but ended up working as a project manager in software development. Some eight years later, she was almost completely burnt out, and in those pre-pandemic times, working from home or requesting more flexible working hours was out of the question.
Bravely, Nicky resigned, initially intending to take some much-needed time out. The instant transition to having what she describes as “too much time” in a day was a shock, so she expended some of it on long daily walks with her beloved dog, Luna, in the forests and mountainside sanctuaries that many Capetonians are fortunate enough to be able to access. “I had to learn to let go,” Nicky says, “and make peace with stripping back” in the face of what she acknowledges were feelings of “guilt about doing nothing”.
Those long, grounding walks in nature also became a time to ponder a new direction, however, one of the questions Nicky began asking herself was, “What did I most enjoy doing during my childhood?” The answer: flower pressing. Knowing she had loved the entire process of pressing various types of flora to preserve them as a child and inspired by her increasing connection with the natural world around her; by her mother (a dedicated, lifelong gardener); and by her bent for wildlife conservation, Nicky began a process of research and development that led to the emergence of Velt.
She has a clear focus on making every aspect of Velt meticulously respectful of nature and with an eye on the ongoing task of preservation and environmental awareness too.
“Velt is all about the preservation of nature,” she says, remarking that the notion of stopping to smell the flowers might be a cliché but that it’s true: most people genuinely don’t pay much attention to the amazing complexity of the natural world around them. And having spent the past few years carefully harvesting plants – she only sources her specimens from farms and gardens – and working to understand their unique forms as she meticulously processes and presses them, Nicky’s respect for the natural world has considerably increased due to her working experience, she says.
Nicky regularly works on special commissions. She has collaborated with interior designers on bespoke projects, including a complex two-metre piece created with Andrea Kleinloog of Johannesburg’s Anatomy Design, which now has pride of place in the lounge area of the luxurious Kruger Shalati lodge. For the spa at the new Singita Kwitonda lodge in Rwanda, Nicky produced 12 large works, and she’s also recently used foliage foraged on-site by the designers of a lodge in Botswana to create unique pieces that feature the endemic plant species of the area around it. Private commissions include regular requests to press and preserve wedding bouquets and pressed floral funeral tributes to keep as memorial mementoes on occasion.
Future plans for Velt include a new type of product that is still at the concept and prototyping stage and includes stained glass elements. “It’s quite bright and Art Deco, in a way,” Nicky says. She’s also involved in the development of a conservation project in Kafue National Park, Zambia, together with her husband. It’s an understatement to say that this all seems a rather long way from software development: for Nicky, what began as a way to explore and celebrate a connection with plants is now leading her towards long-term ways to support the worldwide push to conserve and respect the natural world.