The Class Connection: Melanie Royals

Melanie Royals literally put the big pattern on the wall in our industry. Both her innovative stencils and, more recently, her Modellos are sophisticated and innovative. Her Modellos are responsible for the resurgence (from the 1800s) of ornate ceilings. She has brought decorative mirror finishing into our industry. And, none of this would be possible without the exemplary service her team provides. Melanie shares her forward thinking about virtual workshops and her adventures in troweling.

Who taught you?

Well, I wish I could say that I studied at some prestigious European atelier, but I am pretty much just a “school of life” graduate! When I began doing this there were no such things as teaching studios. Actually, I think that JoAnne Day was teaching at the time, but I sure didn’t know about her because there wasn’t even an internet to speak of!! Totally dark ages….LOL. I taught myself how to stencil back in 1983 from the amazing and inspiring book, The Art of Decorative Stenciling, by Adele Bishop and Cile Lord. I actually did a blog post about it recently! My stencil “career” plodded along in obscurity for about 10 years until I finally took the plunge to release my own stencil line in 1994.

A few years later I took a class in the “New” Faux Effects line from Bob Marx of The Finishing School, and immediately began experiment with different ways to incorporate my stencil patterns into the finishes. Everything sort of took off from there, and I started teaching my “Extraordinary Stenciled Effects” program regularly throughout that whole network.

Who inspires you?

Wow! There are so many decorative artists to be inspired by and the great thing now is that we have 24/7 access to juicy examples of amazing artwork from all over the world. It seems that with the economic shakedown, the people that are left working in our industry are pretty much the cream of the crop: creative, technically proficient, business savvy….it’s like our whole industry has been elevated by the caliber and dedication of the people practicing their art in it. I find it very inspiring how willing people are these days, also, to share their knowledge and sources of inspiration. I particularly enjoy the work and writings of Alan Carroll of Surface Fragments.

I am also super inspired by the work of architect Julia Morgan, as I am working quite a bit from her architectural drawings to create stencil and Modello patterns for The Hearst Castle Collection. I’ve written about her/Hearst here already, and hope to have more to share on that soon!

What do you get out of teaching?

For me, the fact that I am primarily a teacher/inspirer as opposed to a contractor helps to keep me focused on creating and recreating. It’s what keeps me focused on coming up with new ideas for how to incorporate my stencils and Modello patterns. Like most artists, I am constantly absorbing visual information and processing it, but the FOCUS of feeling the need to create something unique and useful for people is what really helps to draw that out.

I also enjoy the whole process of creating artistic and educational material: from brainstorming, to writing to photography-and now to creating videos!

What is your favorite project or technique?

My favorite project or technique is generally the last thing I’ve just come up with! Seriously, I LOVE that I have the luxury of experimenting with any product or technique I desire to come up with a look or finish that pleases me, and that I think will appeal to other people.

I began my career with a stencil brush in hand, but I have to say I most enjoy using a trowel to create a finish with texture and depth-both in the background and in the pattern itself. This is what I have always loved about using Modello masking patterns, in particular. They make it so easy to trowel on a design quickly and interestingly.

How has your business changed in the last 5 years?

It’s interesting to me that I feel like my business has come full circle. I guess if you stick around long enough the trend that you started on will come around again! My business began with a focus on mylar stencils. When I started Modello Designs (Decorative Masking Patterns) 8 years ago, it was a natural extension of the development of the industry, and the need for working professional artisans to have an additional way of working with patterns into their finishes. We are still humming along with that, but the economy has also regenerated renewed interest (and demand!) for more reusable stencil patterns. Stencils are now the new/old “hot” ticket and have caught on suddenly with the DIY crowd thanks in large part to the proliferation of design and craft blogs. SO, most recently I have been focusing a lot more on my stencil company, Royal Design Studio, though we have some really exciting changes and additions coming for Modello Designs. It’s nice to have both!

Please describe your classes including the practical applications of what you are teaching.

Well after teaching hands on classes 17 years (including every year for the past 17 years at IDAL), I saw the opportunity a couple of years ago to offer a different kind of class for a different market and economic environment. Technology has really broken down a lot of barriers and opened up new and effective ways to reach and communicate with people.

As I said above, the economy and shrinking market for working decorative artisans has really narrowed our industry down to mostly skilled and trained professionals. With less newbies coming into the business in the last few years, it has gotten harder to fill introductory type studio classes. Couple that with the fact that working artists seem to have less of a budget for travel/teaching experiences, and of course time is precious too! I thought the time was really right to offer a good alternative for working professionals who had a good amount of basic training and technical skills, yet still wanted to explore new techniques or mediums-so, Virtual Workshops were born!

Virtual Workshops are web-based, decorative arts training that combines recorded video lessons, a detailed printed manual (an illustrated book really!), review webinar, and ongoing Q&A.

Visual/Non-Verbal: This is covered in the detailed video lessons, which show the techniques done repeatedly and are available for viewing/reviewing on an ongoing basis. I really take my time to show the whole process from start to finish in a way that is not necessarily as “rushed” as might be done in a studio situation.

Visual/Verbal: The manual details out the process for each technique, with words and photos, and provides additional information. This is much more developed and detailed that the printed notes that generally accompany a hands-on class!

Auditory/Verbal: This relates to hearing the information explained, and is covered in the review webinar where I go through and highlight the key information and provide additional insights wherever possible.

Tactile/Kinesthetic: This is the hands-on learning by doing that the student will do on their own time in their studio. Many students have told me that they go through and recreate each sample, but of course they have the option here to only practice the techniques or finishes that most interest them. They also have the opportunity to translate the finishes into different colorways, use different mediums, etc.

The disadvantage is that the I am not physically there to monitor the process and make suggestions or give positive reinforcement. Students also don’t get the advantage of the camaraderie and exchanges of information with other students that naturally happen during a class-although Facebook seems be taking care of that for many in our industry these days.

Some advantages beyond the lack of need to travel and juggle work schedules are that students don’t have the distractions that can happen during a hands-on class. They have the opportunity to just focus on their own work as their time and needs permit. Also, most of the tools and materials that are used are things that they might already have present in their studio. Where we are introducing a new product, they have the opportunity to purchase “sample” sizes, and everything else used in the workshop at a discounted price.

There are tradeoffs both ways, and the Virtual Workshops aren’t necessarily designed to replace hands-on classes. They DO offer a great alternative, though, particularly for people who want to expand their portfolios and knowledge yet have limitations we all seem to face these days: lack of time and money!

For me, the Virtual Workshops give me the opportunity to reach more students and to keep teaching and adding new ideas and information to the industry. They require a TON of investment in time and money up front (the Patterned Mirror and Glass workshop took almost a year to prepare) but once done, I feel that these are “classic” techniques and skills that people can use for years to come in their businesses. The feedback and response from students so far has been super positive and I feel like I am really providing something of value that is appreciated, which is very gratifying!

Anything else you think is important or interesting about your business or the industry please talk about.

I’ve created 3 Virtual Workshops so far: Foilin Around, Stencil Impressions, andPatterned Mirror and Glass. I am now working on a fourth workshop with Katrina Johnson of SkimStone. This workshop will focus on using our Modello patterns with SkimStone for resurfacing countertops and concrete-even canvas work! This one is exciting because, in addition to the studio work and sample techniques, we are able to take the students step-by-step through the process of a large floor project. We filmed the process of prep, SkimStone, and applying Modello patterns on one of the floors here in our building. Katrina has all the technical information down, and I show how to pretty it up with pattern, so I think it will be super valuable for people who are wanting to expand into the area of concrete resurfacing!

And, let us not forget she writes her must read blogs Design Amour and The Art of Living. Her stencil designs are frequently seen in magazines and blogs worldwide due, in part, to the excellent styling of her marketing photographs. Her books are inspiring. Melanies seemingly endless energy and talent are gift to our industry.