Christine Isles and Edward Rollins of Pintura Studio Talk About Their Process, Upcoming Projects, and How They Stay Inspired

·12 min read
Photo credit: Philip Friedman
Photo credit: Philip Friedman


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Pintura Studio was founded in 1996 by decorative artists Christine Isles and Edward Rollins. The duo is dedicated to hand-stenciling wallpaper and fabrics before turning them into stunning silkscreens. Here, designer Joy Moyler interviews the pair to find out more about their process, favorite projects, how they stay inspired, and what’s next on their agenda.

Christine: It’s funny because people think that we are married.

Joy: I thought you were!

Ed: Christine is my work wife.

Christine: We lived in the same building. Still live in the same neighborhood, still work together. We are pretty much constantly together, it’s kind of a joke really. One of our early clients thought we were married and thought our last name was ‘Pintura’. They would call us Mr. & Mrs. Pintura. She was actually a little bit pissed off when she learned we weren’t married.

Joy: Why the name Pintura?

Christine: It means ‘paint’ in Spanish. We thought it was a simple way of saying paint studio which is what we were and are, decorative painters.

Ed: We wanted to ‘Europeanize’ the name, making it fancier.

Joy: Because New York City isn’t fancy enough?

Ed: Our studio back then wasn’t fancy, that’s for sure! I mean I do love Chris though. She's been my best friend for years and always there for me—especially the last two years.

Joy: Christine, you started with a background in fashion, what led you to decorative painting?

Christine: I started at Parson School of Design. I was there with fashion designers Tracey Reese and Marc Jacobs. We were like the ‘Golden Class’. I started in fashion and got burned out. I had my own business for many years and fell into decorative painting working with Fischer Boivin, who was very prominent in the 1980s and ‘90s. Ed went to school with John Fischer, a Frenchman who now makes furniture. That’s how we met.

Ed: Christine had a store on 1st Street at 1st Avenue with Johns’ girlfriend, now wife, Angel Shrimpton. I helped John do the decorative painting for the store. That’s how I met Chris in 1985. John and I went to Pratt Institute, here in New York together. John got a big job in Toronto, and asked if I wanted to earn decorative painting and I said yes. I was an artist messenger just wanting to make more money. I was ready for something new. Chris and I fell into decorative painting when John became a furniture maker.

Christine: We took over Fischer Boivins’ clients, building the decorative art painting until the early 2000s.

Ed: We worked with designers Cullman & Kravis, Sheila Bridges and MAC ll during the early ‘80s and ‘90s. Mica Ertegun of MAC ll asked us to stencil on fabric, which we’d never done before. We tried it and fell in love, using fabrics and water-based paints. We liked that so much better than oil, and pursued the fabric end of it, evolving into hand-printed fabrics and wallpaper.

Joy: Do you consider yourselves ‘old souls’ of your method of practice?

Christine: Yes, everything we do starts with a hand-cut stencil. This comes from our decorative painting days. We transfer that hand-cut stencil artwork to silkscreens, which are then fed into a computer. Films are made for the silkscreens and we handprint at two different facilities in Brooklyn. They are one of the few handprint facilities remaining on the East Coast. There are perhaps six left stateside. It’s a very old school process. We don’t really know how to use Photoshop.

Joy: I was going to ask if technology is a blessing or a curse for you?

Ed: It’s both, because it’s one thing to cut a stencil with all the imperfections because you’re doing it all by hand. However, when you go to the printer and they feed that into the computer, they get the registration marks that could only be done precisely on a computer, so that when you print everything lines up you’ve got the proper registrations and alignment. Technology does play a very important role. For volume, it really has to line up to be perfect.

Christine: Even though we are not technologically skilled, others are. They have to be.

Joy: What’s the average lead time from your sketching and conceptualizing to completed work? Or does it depend on volume?

Ed: Perhaps two months for some projects. It really depends on the project or timeline. If there’s a deadline, we can rush it through, but most designers want to be part of the process. Like when we work with Sheila (Bridges), there’s a lot of back and forth. When the screen finally gets made and the strike-off is produced, it’s probably a month or two. We make sure we get all aspects right. That takes time.

Christine: It also depends on whether or not it is a design that someone has commissioned us to do, or something inspired by another print we designed. For example, we did a custom design for decorator David Easton years and years ago. A 1950s-inspired skier rift of a Fair Isles sweater.

Sheila is working on a project in Vermont. She wanted a complementary design to the Fair Isles ski sweater design. Collectively, we went back and forth on scale, positioning and color before we actually made the silkscreen. Once the silkscreen is made, it’s locked in, no turning back.

Joy: Your designs are really proprietary. If you modify something, there’s no copyright infringement.

Christine: Right, all of our designs are our own copyrighted product. We do a few historical designs that are of course public domain, from historic images. But for the most part, all of our designs are original.

Joy: Do you have screens from the early ‘90’s stored away? If so, how are they archived? It must be quite exciting to visit those.

Ed: They are in the factory. There are two sets of screens for each design. One set in each factory, so if something is destroyed or marred, the other is there for prosperity and back up. If there’s a pattern we don’t print a lot of, its original screen gets stored. Some designs that we do a lot of volume of have to be replaced every five years or so depending on usage.

Joy: They degenerate?

Christine: Yes, after a while the glue lets go on the mesh.

Joy: Silkscreens aren’t real silk?

Christine: It’s called ‘silk’ but it’s really a very fine mesh. We archive the films and artwork here. Ensuring we always have a document, in case the screens fall over, rip each other, or wear out in storage. They are rolled up alphabetically. We know where everything is. It’s a process from stencil to finish product. It’s all documented.

Ed: We have flat files with twelve drawers of every stencil we’ve ever cut.

Joy: You literally place screens on the table and trace the artwork from a computer print?

Christine: One of us will do a drawing. For example, we took an old Persian image and blew up the scale and drew additional elements on top of it for a book cover. Chris helped me draw the lines of some new elements. We continue to play with the scale until we are happy with the result. Then we get a film made prior to screening.

Joy: Okay, now I want to change my career! That sounds like so much fun!

Ed: Sheila just used a great pattern one on a special project, designed by Chris. Inspired by a jacquard fabric that I played with.

Christine: Just from messing around with the pattern, something interesting developed.

Ed: That’s the beauty of what we do, we find something interesting and just play with it. It could be anything at all that strikes us, that becomes a print. We don’t lock ourselves into any one specific look.

Joy: It maintains your versatility. I feel the same way about interior design. I don't have one specific look. I like experiencing different ideas and concepts. I want clients to call me for anything!

Christine: We enjoy all different types of influence. From ethnic to Neoclassical, we find joy in ‘joy’ and all of it! We run the gamut. A client wanted an all-over ‘Indochine’ restaurant-style palm frond wallpaper. It’s been done a million times. [To make it more original], we dissected the frond, cut it up and added geometry, almost creating a puzzle. It was great! We aren’t locked into one style.

Joy: Who or what inspires you as an artist?

Ed: Travel, art and architecture of different places I travel to.

Joy: What place brings you the most inspiration when you are roaming the world?

Christine: Europe and Asia.

Ed: I’d love to go to Africa and Morocco. Anywhere in Africa, I have family in Uganda. Hopefully there’s a family trip there at some point to see the wildlife. I’m happy to be in Old San Juan on the beach. Any place is inspiring. I don’t count anything out. Perhaps, hiking Utah in September. We both love Mexico.

Christine: I am going to Sayulita on the Pacific side [of Mexico], backed by the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains. Very different from the Yucatan, like Tulum with its powdery beaches. It's much rockier. There’s a cute little fishing village with chickens laying eggs underneath cars. Very charming, with lots of hills to walk, it’s great.

Joy: I’ve spent some time in San Miguel de Allende, which has a great art community. When there I’m tempted to want to be a full-fledged artist. It’s so vivid and inspiring.

Ed: Mexico City sounds incredible too. It’s another place on the list.

Christine: When we first started, we made a conscious decision to stay with the one percenters. We kept our field very narrow, ‘schlogging’ away until we found our niche. We kept a hands-on look and produced fabric and wall-coverings. We are happy with our little corner of the world. We are still able to be creative, while running a business. We are able to keep a hold on what we do and love.

Joy: That’s the best part of your work—that you can look at it, touch it and feel it’s a handmade product. The edges aren’t always perfect, and it’s a piece of true craftsmanship. That slub of how the paint meets the paper. For me, that’s where the appreciation lies. That it’s ‘perfectly imperfect’. It has a sense of luxury in its handmade craft detail and quality.

Ed: When we were young and doing decorative painting, we loved doing stenciled floors. It's kind of the same thing; when you stand up and look at a big floor, completely stenciled with these elements, it’s completely satisfying to know that you created that floor. We’ve done quite a bit of floor stenciling for Ellie Cullman of Cullman & Kravis.

Christine: I believe the late decorator, David Barrett, still holds the record for the most Kips Bay Showhouses ever done. He was very old school. He was one of our first clients, very dapper, quite dramatic, always with a cane adorned with a lion's head. He was known for creating very over-the-top interiors inspired by czars. Maximalism over maximalism, on top of maximalism. We named our second collection for him, as he was a ‘Kamafleur’ during World War ll.

They would paint scenes accompanying sound effects like ‘Tcamouflagehe army is coming! The army is coming”! Part of the tactical camouflage. David called himself a ‘Kamafleur’. He willed us some dye-cut stencils made in the late 1920s and ‘30s in Germany. We designed a little capsule collection named “Kamafleur’ in his honor. Our pattern was more simplistic, more childlike containing five or six designs.

Ed: Our collection was more Art Deco, secessionist, very different from our Pintura Studio typical collection. It honored David Barrett as he was kind enough to leave us these beautiful German stencils of someone else's design.

Joy: What is or was your dream project?

Christine: I’m pretty fancy on one we just finished for interior designer Sheila Bridges. That was so much fun. She’s supported us from the start. It’s always great fun working with her. She has a delightful sense of color. Her projects are always exciting. We love when customized projects arise with interesting color mixes.

Ed: We had some fabric in Michelle Obamas’ office, in the White House designed by Michael S. Smith. It’s in his book Designing History. Our pattern, ’Venezia’ #C1036 a chocolate brown on silk with an intricate lattice design. That was our biggest honor. Also, fabric for Oprahs’ bedroom in Montecito by Ellie Cullman. We hand-stenciled both fabric and wallpaper. Most of our clients don’t have that budget. It was a special opportunity for us. Our standard Pintura Studio line is represented in twelve showrooms around the world.

Joy: So you love doing incredible works for incredibly powerful women!

Christine: Yes, it seems as though we only work for women these days.

Joy: It’s not a bad thing, I’m just saying!

Ed: No, not at all!

Joy: Are you ever not thinking creatively?

Ed: We are refining an old pattern of ours a client selected. Playing with current silver ink, that is very different from that used in the ten year old original that was signed off on. The original has a very pearlized silver ink.

We are playing sleuths getting the right mix. The science and technology of how the new ink meets paper, in this process this is really very interesting. There is a lot of problem solving in custom projects, which is kind of exhilarating.

Christine: When customizing for a client with a referenced design, the client approved the original sample design but the process is different now using the computer. Our challenge is having to reproduce the original using different ink. Especially with hand-printing, it often comes down to something as specific as the weather, humidity in the air, and how the ink meets the paper during printing. Who’s printing it? Is the printer short or tall? Does he have long arms or short ones? The amount of pressure applied, the quality and density of the ground fabric, how the fiber absorbs the ink. These factors truly play a role in the outcome of the screening process.

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