We first met Chris Isles and Ed Rollins at their original shoebox sized studio in the East Village - tiny, but stuffed to the brim with bits and pieces of artwork, sketches, fabric swatches and ideas for designs. It’s hard to believe the amount of amazingly creative things that came out of that space. Pintura Studio's designs capture a sense of history that feel old-world glamorous and modern at the same time.
WHERE, WHEN AND HOW DID YOU MEET?
We met through mutual friends in the late 80's when Chris and her business partner at the time, Angel Zimick, both fashion designers, opened a clothing store in the East Village called Shrimpton & Gilligan.
Angel's boyfriend, now husband, John Fischer had a successful decorative painting business at the time with his late partner, a wonderfully talented Frenchman, Patrick Boivin in New York City. Ed had attended Pratt Institute with John where they became friends. When it came time to decorating Chris and Angel’s new store, Ed offered to help out with prep painting, sanding and general construction. The store, in the style of a French salon, was a tour de force of charming, beautiful decorative finishes and motifs that had to do with sewing, clothing and fashion.
Through the process of creating this jewel box of a store, Chris and Ed became fast friends and both started gravitating towards decorative painting. Ed went to work with John and Patrick on a huge project in Toronto which kept him busy for close to a year, learning all of the techniques of decorative painting from glazing, learning to cut stencils, stenciling and faux bois.
Chris eventually left the fashion world and she spent several months in Caracas on a large project with John and Patrick involving the same type of immersion into decorative painting.
After learning the decorative painting trade We ended up working together when John Fischer left decorative painting to become a master furniture maker, which he excels at to this day.
YOU STARTED YOUR BUSINESS TOGETHER STENCILING PROJECTS ON SITE, HOW DID THAT TURN INTO FABRIC AND WALLPAPER BY THE YARD?
Once we started working together we were doing mostly glazing jobs, ragging and stippling onto walls, which we excelled at but was a little boring. One day we got a call from the well known firm of MAC II, who we met through working on the projects in Toronto and Caracas. They asked us if we could develop some stencil designs for another big project, this time in Sao Paulo. We spent the better part of a summer coming up with small scale designs to be stenciled onto walls.
While looking at some of these designs on glazed boards, Mica Ertegun, the head of MAC II, asked us if we had ever stenciled onto fabric. We replied no, but we would be happy to give it a try. After getting some sample fabric from them and investing in our first batch of fabric paints, we started stenciling away. We loved this new water-based medium that wasn't noxious and messy like the oil-based materials we had been working with!
That began our journey to cutting hundreds of stencils, which we have kept to this day, a real testament to our creative history. Every new pattern we design still starts with a hand-cut stencil, which is then used to make the artwork for the silk screens used to produce our fabrics and wallpapers.
WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION FOR THE DESIGNS?
As for probably all designers, inspiration can come from anywhere! Fortunately, we have had opportunities to travel. The ability to see and discover firsthand the incredible beauty and diversity of different places opens up the mind like nothing else.
We have also been blessed with the picture library at the New York Public Library and our own extensive collection of art and design books. Design inspiration from seeing and learning is invaluable in our business.
Lastly, we have gotten a lot of design inspiration from collaborating with designers through the years. We have worked with designers like Ellie Cullman, Charlotte Moss and Sheila Bridges and their teams. There is nothing better than collaborating with highly talented designers who can steer you and edit you the way only they can.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE HISTORY BEHIND SOME OF THE DESIGNS?
History is a component for almost all of the designs that we develop. Each design always has a story behind it and some of the stories are old enough to be considered history. Chris is especially interested in the Coptic origins of our Mandera, Sidra, Tanta and Tangier designs, as they are very specific to a period of the very early Christian era on the African continent. The iconography of this period is fascinating as it pertains to a blending of cultures and images that came out of that epoch. Ed is equally fascinated by the history behind our Izmir and Tiepolo designs, as they draw upon both Ottoman and Venetian influences. Due to their long history of trade and commerce, these two great powers had a symbiotic relationship. To see the motifs of both styles in these designs, which were originally woven silk damasks, is like a living history for the eyes.
TELL US HOW YOU BUILD THE LAYERS OF YOUR DESIGNS? HOW DO YOU PRINT THEM? HOW MUCH OF THE FEEL OF A PRINT IS IN THE CREEN AND HOW MUCH IS IN THE HAND OF THE ARTISAN PRINTING IT?
Good question! Our whole process is created by hand from beginning to end. From our initial drawings (no computers are harmed), to the hand-cut stencils, to the artwork used to produce the silk screens for production and then lastly, to the talented folks who silkscreen each and every yard of our fabrics and wallpapers by hand. Several of our designs are straightforward, single-screen designs that are printed in an opaque manner of one color, yet still depend on the steady hands of the printers who make sure that the application of the ink is uniform and not too heavy or too "hungry" (not enough ink).
For other designs, we take special care to do the artwork ourselves and employ a more stippled, in-and-out application so as to give the screen printing a more distressed, aged look. We use this technique to maintain as much of a hand-stenciled look as possible, especially for larger scale damask designs that date from the Renaissance to the 17th century.
We also employ half-tones on some designs to achieve a blended look of one color with two values or two different colors that blend together.
DO THE TWO OF YOU HAVE DIFFERENT 'SIGNATURES' FOR THE DESIGNS YOU EACH DEVELOP? IS THERE A FEEL FOR A CHRIS DESIGN AND AN ED DESIGN?
There are definitely areas of interest for the two of us that could be explained in that way. Chris has a love for a lot of the motifs of India, Tibet and, of course, the Coptic areas of North Africa. Ed has a love of Renaissance art and design and Venetian and Ottoman motifs. Fortunately, we both love and appreciate art and design from all corners of the world. Celebrating cultural diversity in all of it's art forms is one of our hallmarks.
We also are sometimes commissioned to develop designs from a particular epoch, such as a project for a home in Hawaii that incorporated many designs with an Oceanic feel to them.
ANY FAVORITE PROJECTS OVER THE YEARS?
Yes, a few! The first one was for the bedroom of a good friend. We hand-stenciled our Kashmir and Katar designs in gold onto panels of two shades of red silk Dupioni. The entire room was hung with the stenciled silk and including an engineered border design with corners and little gold medallions in the middle. A solid red silk duvet covered the bed and oversized pillows were hand-stenciled in a smaller scale of the same design. It was truly beautiful and was photographed for the New York Times Living section.
Another favorite project was a beautiful but extremely labor intensive stenciled floor that we did for the entry foyer in the New York City home of designer, Ellie Cullman. It was an intricate pattern with tons of detailing and challenging measurements, but the end result was spectacular!
We would love to explore the possibility of turning some of our designs into a rug collection. We feel that many of these designs would lend themselves to that particular format and the opportunity to add depth of color and texture to our designs is very appealing!
We would also love to do more work with the hospitality industry and have done some research into making our wallpaper and fabrics more suited to the commercial requirements of that arena.