Melanie Royals has been showcasing her considerable passion for pattern and design since 1983. She is a self-taught artist who, in 1994, established Royal Design Studio, her signature stencil line, and followed that with 2003′s Modello Designs, a decorative masking pattern company. She is also an accomplished author, releasing books on subjects such as decorative finishes, stenciled murals and travel-inspired finishes, among others. An international instructor, she plans and leads painting trips abroad to locations in France, Italy, Spain and Morocco as well as teaching in her California studio, online webinars and studios nationwide.
The above is the shortened bio of one of the most prolific artists in our industry. Chances are high that you know the name Melanie Royals, or at the very least, her incredible businesses. A few years ago, I met her when I took a class in her lovely studio. We’ve kept in touch since then, from e-mailing to showcasing at trade shows to attending a blog conference together. She has been blessed with an almost otherworldly creative sense as well as keen business and marketing insights — a rare combination. In person? Witty, insightful and a girl’s girl — plus, one of the most fun people you could possibly spend time with. Seriously — I’ve had tears streaming down my eyes in laughter from her stories! We had an e-chat recently for Fauxology and I hope you enjoy both her story and insights over the next two days. We start today with her beginnings and inspirations and conclude tomorrow with all that’s coming up for her (and for us!). Let’s dig in…
It’s been said that all incredible journeys start with one step. How did yours begin?
I actually started on this journey with a trip to New England in 1983. We went to some historic places, like Sturbridge Village where I saw examples of historic New England stenciling. It wasn’t until we hit the Boston Museum of Art, though, where I picked up the book The Art of Decorative Stenciling by Adele Bishop and Cile Lord that the whole thing clicked for me. That book was filled with stenciled images that made me HAVE to learn how to stencil!
There were some more simplistic designs for sure, but it was the photos of intricately detailed and shaded furniture and floor screens that I kept going back to. They just looked so magical to me! I discovered that they were achieved with “theorem-style” stencils, where different parts of the design are cut on different layers. When all of the layers are completed, you end up with an image that looks as if it could have been hand painted, because there are no bridges or broken areas in the design.
I poured over the book, and spent many hours at my dining room table drawing and redrawing designs and then cutting them by hand with a Stanley knife! Unfortunately, these amazing artistic and pioneering women worked long before the digital age, and all that I can now find about them online is a photo of a very “now” stenciled graphic floor by Cile Lord in a House Beautiful magazine spread from 1970 and Adele’s obituary from 1996. It’s sad to think that two women who truly had a great affect on the resurgence of stenciling in this country and a lot of what we do today are not being properly honored, remembered or respected as they deserve to be.
In the late 80’s I was contacted by a very eccentric retired interior designer who had just move from Connecticut, named Evelyn Tasch. Evelyn had actually worked quite a bit with Adele Bishop and Cile Lord (Bishop & Lord) on residential and commercial projects in and around New York City. She even had some of their original pieces in her home, which amazed and intimidated me to no end! She had a vision and style like no other, and working with her over two of her houses fortunately pushed me to think outside the box along with her. I think that the challenges she presented me with (and she WAS challenging) had a huge effect on shaping my approach to pattern to this day.
What are some misconceptions about stencils and stenciling that you encounter?
Ha! I could write a whole book on that subject alone. Sadly, it seems that classic, oft-repeated misconception about stencils (that it’s all about crafty ducks and bunnies) has existed for almost 30 years now. Seriously! Those types of designs were popular for about 1 year back in the 80’s and people either overlook, or don’t have the knowledge, that stencils have been used elegantly and artistically for 1,000’s of years by both primitive and advanced cultures all over the world! I wrote a blog post on Design Amour just recently about a wonderful new book, Walls: The Best of Decorative Treatments, by Florence de Dampierre. Amazingly, it has a WHOLE chapter devoted to the extensive history of decorative painting. I was thrilled to see the poor, lowly stencil get its just due, finally! I highly recommend it as required reading. Of course, the stenciling photos are divine as well.
Another misconception I’ve heard over the years is that using stencils is “cheating” somehow. As if it’s an art “test”?! Of course, there are all kinds of mechanical means for transferring pattern, such as pounce patterns (used by the Renaissance artists), tracing, and projecting. Stencils are just a different, friendly tool for pattern transferring-with benefits, as you can create the transfer with paint in one fell swoop, or swirl, of the brush.
I don’t think that misconception is as common now as it was back in the day before stencils and decorative finishes became as integrated as they are now. There WAS a time when people drew lines in the sand as to whether they were stencilers, faux finishers or muralists. I am really proud to have been involved in that line blurring. I took one of The Finishing School’s first classes here in San Diego using the “new” finishing line from Faux Effects back in the 90’s. I took my activated glaze samples home and applied my new Damask and Free Form Fruits stencils to them. When I took them back to class the next day everyone went crazy over them. Bob Marx then asked me to develop a class to teach at TFS in New York and Extraordinary Stenciled Effects was born! Some notable students from that first class were Sean Crosby and Randy Ingram. After that I traveled extensively, teaching stenciled finishes at Faux Effects schools until I finally developed The Extraordinary Stenciled Effects home study program of videos, technique manual, and recipe cards.
One special thing that I have seen over the years is that stencils can be a gateway for beginning budding artists to grow and blossom in their skills. Stenciling can help ignite a passion for color, form, pattern and design. I have seen many decorative painters start with stencils, and then go on to become highly skilled trompe l’oeil or mural artists once they discover their own innate skills and enthusiasm for decorative art.
Where do you see pattern and design headed in the future?
Well, the good news is that pattern is currently BACK in a big way and a whole new generation of young, trend-setting decoristas are discovering stencils as the hottest, “newest” thing! Can decorative finishes be far behind? I see the whole “glaze craze”, crackled finishes, distressing, etc. cycling through again-but with twists! I think that this is a really important time for our industry to seize the moment and the conversation in this amazing digital Web 2.0 environment.
Unfortunately, many decorative painters, companies and organizations are on their heels with their backs to the wall from the housing bust and the ongoing recession, but I think that there is going to be a lot of opportunity in the future for artisans and companies who are willing and able to hang on and to rethink, re-strategize, and reposition themselves.
Beyond stenciling and decorative painting, I am most pleased with what we have been able to accomplish and offer with the introduction of our Modello decorative masking patterns 8 years ago. Trying to convince people to consider a one-time-use, custom pattern over a reusable, mylar stencil was a super tough sell for several years, but they have now become an industry standard. It’s been really gratifying to see the amazing work, artistic work our customers have done with our patterns. It was such a thrill to be able to honor THEM with our two Modello by Design books.
(cont.) I think where Modello patterns continue to shine is for taking complex patterns and making them “doable” in a way that is time efficient, yet allows for over the top artistry and execution. I think a great, classic painted ceiling or wood floor can be an “heirloom” that gets passed down through generations of homeowners. Heirloom decorative painting. Now, there’s a nice thought!
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Heirloom decorative painting — I’ll always like the sound of that! I hope you’ve enjoyed Part 1 of our 2-part interview. Tomorrow, we talk a bit more about her design leanings, her affinity for “historical reinterpretation” and see what is coming up (Hearst Castle, anyone?). Please come back to read more — and of course, see more gorgeous images. Have a wonderful day!