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American Made Series: Banquet Atelier & Workshop

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Sarah and Tammy are the talented artists behind Banquet Atelier & Workshop. Based in Vancouver, their paper creations capture the natural world in a burst of color and imagination.

What were the paths that led the two of you to paper design?

We’ve both always loved paper. When she was young, Sarah was obsessed with paper dolls of every kind, and would spend hours not only creating their tiny wardrobes but building elaborate paper villages for them. Tammy spent most of her allowance on rainbow writing paper and stamps at various stationery stores in her town. Although she had pen pals, she often hoarded the nicest stuff for herself. We both initially studied art and/or design at university, and in retrospect, it was a very logical progression to start Banquet Atelier &Workshop, although it took us a long time to see that!

Do you both share the various creative and business responsibilities at Banquet Atelier & Workshop, or do you each have your own area of expertise?

Tammy is more the business and marketing side of things while Sarah is the creative force, although there is a lot of back-and-forth with everything. Sarah will happily admit she likes to push the envelope creatively, and counts on Tammy to talk her down! Ultimately we are very lucky in that we both really respect each other’s opinion, although there has been a longstanding discussion of what color tangerine really is.

Before Banquet, had either of you dabbled in other artistic realms?

For Sarah, always. She was selling her work in craft sales while still in high school, initially studied ceramics and textiles (there was a hand painted tea cozy phase early on), and worked in both commercial and not-for-profit galleries for years. She still is happiest with a paint brush in her hand.

Tammy has always surrounded herself with books, music and art. For most of her life, she has been pushing music and great products on her friends, and always knew she would eventually involve herself in a long term creative endeavor. She worked in the development of documentaries and television for many years before starting Banquet.

Banquet has a very fresh and natural feel; I’m assuming living in beautiful Vancouver is partially responsible for this? What else inspires your work?

We love old books of any kind, but especially vintage encyclopedias and dictionaries. Growing up in Canada in the eighties, environmentalism was instilled pretty early on, and the CBC’s The Nature of Things and Jacques Cousteau were staples in our homes, making us extra aware of the forest, ocean and mountains that surrounds us here on the West Coast.

Today, as moms, our kids are a huge influence. The way they see the world and interpret it through their own creativity is endlessly fascinating. And the availability of great books and smart design for kids today! It’s hard not to be inspired. We are also lucky to have a supportive community of artists, musicians and savvy business people that we love and learn from on a daily basis.

What would you say is the busiest time of year for the studio?

The longer we do this the more it always seems like the present! You would think pre-Christmas, but right now we are shipping the last of Valentines, getting Mother’s Day ready to send out into the world, and starting the process for Christmas 2013. Add to this the New York International Gift Fair and the National Stationery Show, and an impending studio move, and it’s non-stop around here.

You have quite a selection of paper goods, including notebooks and tattoos; do you have a personal favorite product you produce or a theme that speaks to you the most?

Definitely the science and nature themed prints. When we started, that educational focus was the real push behind what we wanted to do. And it such a pleasure to indulge our passion for research, to learn about all these amazing creatures, and retell their stories in a creative way. Since we started, we have always had a wish list of products we want to be making. The list grows and grows and we hope to be able to move into new areas while staying true to this original impetus.

Could you give us a brief rundown of the production of one of your prints?

Almost all the prints start as a kernel of an idea that oftentimes sits for months. Sarah’s notebooks are full of abstract notes that may appear quite meaningless, but all of a sudden click: we’ll read something amazing about some often commonplace animal, like polar bears or badgers, and it will motivate a week or two of obsessive research and sketching. Everything in our line starts with a pencil on a piece of paper. We scan the images in to the computer, and redraw until we strike a balance between accuracy and personality. Once we get the layout perfect and our facts checked, it goes off to our amazing printers, and (fingers crossed) a week later we get something we love more than anything else we have done to date!

How would you describe Banquet’s space? What is a day there like?

Funny you should ask! We have just signed the lease on a new space, and are so excited! But what probably won’t change is our working around our kids’ schedules. A lot happens from 9 to 3 and 8 to midnight. Our kids are still young which is part of the motivation for doing something for ourselves which offers us a slightly more flexible schedule, but what we’ve also learned in being self-employed is that we can’t leave what we do at the office, and a lot more happens once the kids are in bed!

Can we expect any new collections in the near future?

Yes, we are always working on something new and there is a plethora of ideas we want to explore, whether it is color, new material, or subject matter. Besides a line of textiles and getting more color into our line of prints, we are also looking at a lot of vintage circus photography, American quilts, and pastels. For spring 2013, we introduced cards with pastel geometrics inspired by Modernist Italian tile, and a whole lot of animals with big personality.

Maeve Nicholson is a contributing editor at Martha Stewart Living. Follow her on Instagram.com @maeverz.


(photos: copyright Banquet Atelier & Workshop and Janis Nicolay)

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