Studio Visit with Pellvetica

Q + A with SANDY PELL + STEVE PELL OF Pellvetica
Studio Visit: Sunday, November 6th, 2016

Please meet Sandy Pell + Steve Pell of PELLVETICA! I've bee enamoured with the work of this creative duo since I first saw it floating around somewhere on the internet a few years ago. I love the obsession with detail and pattern and the extensive, fluid visual vocabulary they have developed. Whether a print, mural, or a pair of skis, each piece seems to pulsate with energy and each element flows seamlessly and rhythmically into the next.

Both Sandy and Steve are strong artists in their own right, but as I have not come across many creative duos before, I was curious to hear what it's like to have a collaborative partner. I'm excited to share their work and words with you today, and hope you find it inspiring!

(Just a note about the visit, unfortunately Steve couldn't be there, but I got to hang out with Sandy and chat about art, life and creative process. The answers below are from both Sandy + Steve).

Photographs by Sarah Clement (except photos of murals by Pellvetica)

Introduce yourselves. How would you describe yourselves as makers/creatives?

Pellvetica is a collection of artwork that combines the styles and ideas of Vancouver-based artists Sandy Pell and Steve Pell through the use of pattern, proportion, space, and time.

As an illustrator, Sandy has been attracted to repetitive patterns since she was first introduced to Ukrainian easter eggs, spirographs, kaleidoscopes, and prisms. Inspired by these, she has become widely known for her unique and erratic, yet beautifully ornate pattern style.

As an experienced illustrator and graphic designer, Steve focuses on bringing an underlying order to chaos and is the yang to Sandy’s yin. His design philosophies, conceptual thinking, and artistic production process help bring his ideas from thought to form.

In essence, Pellvetica represents an alchemy that aims to reconcile Sandy and Steve’s opposing qualities. Their ultimate goal is to transform blank spaces into memorable experiences that challenge existing boundaries and encourage unfamiliar outcomes. 

Briefly describe your journey. Were there some pivotal things that helped propel you to where you are now?

Painting murals on tight deadlines could be compared to running marathons. An athlete needs the discipline to overcome mental and physical pain, especially in that last kilometer so they can cross the finish line with a time and effort they’re proud of. 

One story I like to share is the work we did with the Vancouver Mural Festival on August 20th. We had a mere 5.5 days to complete a full overhaul of the storefront at Kafka’s Coffee and Tea in Vancouver. Throughout the week, our muscles fought against us, and our minds battled our bodies. Discipline and determination moved us forward when our knees, feet, wrists, shoulders, and eyes were in constant pain... all while on a ladder, 20 feet in the air and while exposed to August’s hot sun. 

To overcome this mental and physical barriers, we would think about what we were doing, why we’re doing it, and how we could achieve success. This brought us back to thinking about our collaborative goal - to transform blank spaces into memorable experiences that challenge existing boundaries and encourage unfamiliar outcomes. 

So we would keep asking ourselves: “what does success look like?” 

In this particular project, success was following through with our commitment, and learning something new which would leave a lasting impression on the city block. 

Many unknowns began to surface which needed our immediate attention, and learning something when you are already tired is a major challenge, but it achieves our goals and motivates us. And in the end, we crossed the finish line with our collective chins held high, and minds open to even more possibility. In other words, we grow in strength and confidence. 

I'm curious about how your collaborative process was born and evolved. Do you hand artwork back and forth or are there very specific parts of the process for each of you? 

We have complimentary skill sets that overlap, but largely each of us tends to master and focus on what we do best. We conceptualize our works together, then the work will bounce between us until it’s polished. We have been together for over a decade, so many of our challenges have been fleshed out. 

Working together has many advantages, including our ability to harness a male and female perspective, as well as our ability to combine our greatest loves and talents to collaborate on a project we both like. And best of all, painting murals and working on illustration projects give us an incredible opportunity to spend time together. 

We’re creating experiences for our viewers while bringing our relationship closer together all at the same time. Both of us also easily fall into a flow state when we paint, as we’re in the company of each other. There’s a great trust in that.

You've been prolific muralists over the last little while. (I was especially excited to see one of my favorite coffee shops, Kafka's, have a facelift with Pellvetica artwork!). What do you love the most about the mural process and has it influenced your other work?

While we lay out a basic process to how we create our murals, the design of each artwork constantly changes and evolves throughout the mural’s lifecycle. Our murals develop in a very organic process because we design in an iterative way. This allows for us to easily adapt to any design challenge on the fly while working efficiently and quickly. The final product will have elements of the original idea, however, it will be significantly more polished with every detail meticulously thought out. This includes things like the placement of wall plugs, the colour of the ceiling, the surroundings to the left and right of the mural wall, placement of the doors and entranceways, windows, and even the teams of people which will sit near the finished mural. Each detail plays a vital role to the final artworks experience. 

The details are never established in advance and this is part of the fun of the mural process. The organic nature and underlying order of our works make for an interesting challenge every time we paint. We will always have a basic idea, theme, or story to go by, then we’ll organically grow this idea until it flowers into something we are both happy with.

Do you both have any rituals or a routine that help ground you & primes your creative mind?

A polished studio. A polished mind. Cleanliness is the key.

Fear and uncertainty seem to be an innate part of the creative process. How do you confront your fears, instead of letting them stop you?

When we have the vision to transform blank spaces into memorable experiences, we refuse to let obstacles stand in our way. We do what it takes to get the job done, and in doing so we put ourselves into situations that may seem impossible and cause fear. 

It is this moment when the active creative mind kicks into high gear, or fear tempts you to retreat. You are forced to think about how to solve the creative challenge before you, and what steps you can take to realize your vision. Often throughout the process, what we envision and what is possible do not align. Knowing that we must adapt to whatever comes our way helps us realize that these unknowns can benefit the outcome our art because they may reveal something we never anticipated and thus we will learn something new. By being flexible in our process and being open to its possibilities, we end up surprising ourselves and often grow as artists. 

It has taken a long time, and a lot of failures to get to where we are today, however, we now see fear as a positive thing. Fear is a sure sign you are about to enter into something unknown which is the basis of learning. We battle fear from a philosophical perspective and ignore our “flight” instinct. In doing so, we embracing all fear has to offer. 

When you face your fear and defeat it, there is no greater satisfaction in life because you feel reborn again, stronger, and now more capable of rising to new heights. Fear will gnaw at you and tell you to stop. It will do everything in its power to keep you “safe” from danger. You need to believe that this so-called safety is an illusion. By succumbing to fear, you will never grow and will become creatively stale, and emotionally static. 

Our method of facing fear is to break down a problem into manageable chunks. This will help reduce the anxiety of whatever daunting task you have ahead of you which will clear your mind and help you solve your creative problems. As you solve each chunk, the way forward becomes increasingly clear as your mind starts to make connections and see patterns of action you can take to achieve success. Fear is unavoidable and absolutely haunts us with each new project. We have only begun our journey but this mindset on how we perceive fear has been one of our most powerful tools for success.

What kinds of activities/interests do you have outside of your actual art practice, that you feel informs or inspires your work? (or maybe just contributes to a richer life)

Both of us love spending time outdoors and away from the distractions of technology. We’re constantly adventuring throughout the province with our puffy white husky, Link while enjoying lovely coffee shops and the sunshine along the way.

 I’m a sucker for good quotes. Do you have a favourite you’d like to share?

(Sandy's fav, above, Steve's fav below)

What we think, we become
— Buddha
Imagination is more important than knowledge.
— Albert Einstein

Are you working on any exciting projects or have some on the horizon?

A new mural work at a highly trafficked intersection of 4th & Burrard in Vancouver… TBD.

(Timelapse films are the best! Check out the process for the Modify Wolf Den mural below)

Thank you so much Sandy & Steve!

Check out more of their incredible work here: