Women Who Collaborate: Michelle Pereira + Kelly Keiser

Women Who Collaborate: Michelle Pereira + Kelly Keiser

Michelle Pereira is the talented textile artist behind the meticulously hand-blocked STARGAZER print found on the KellyGreen Pouch No.1. We chatted about her work, her relationship with cannabis, and the power of women collaborating.
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Michelle Pereira is the talented textile artist behind the meticulously hand-blocked STARGAZER print found on the KellyGreen Pouch No.1. We chatted about her work, her relationship with cannabis, and the power of women collaborating.

Michelle Pereira
Why did you decide to work with Kelly on this project? What was interesting about it to you and what was your inspiration for this collaboration?

Kelly inspired me. Her personality. Her vision. We’ve worked together previously and knew each other from the trade. We really connected personally and professionally. Everything she said she was going to do, she did. Working with her was easy--even the hard stuff was easy. When she asked me to work on this project, there was no question in my mind—yes, of course! I believe in what she's doing.

What was your inspiration for the print found on the pouch?

I took a trip to Italy right after my grandmother passed. We were very close; she was my mom figure. As she got older, she talked about Italy constantly. While I was there, I felt her everywhere. There would be a tile floor, a cathedral ceiling, a walkway made into this powerful compass star motif. I felt as if she was there, my guiding compass star; this star force. It was like her message to me was, “I'm right here with you. I’m glad you took this trip.” When I came back, I sat on the idea of making a fabric collection out of this concept for a long time. Then the time finally came when I had to do it. I cut out the pieces and manufactured the woodblocks in my studio.  My grandmother inspired me to create the Compass Star collection. I feel very connected to that imagery and what it means both personally and spiritually.

What is your process for your work? How do you see your art?

I am super old school. I'm a true wood block printer. I design, print, and produce everything in-house. Nothing is digitally manufactured and I'm not a silk screener. We print everything by hand at my studio here in Sonoma County. I’ve been doing it for a long time now, about 25 years. I am very hands on and involved in the work. I'm inspired by old world techniques and putting new spins on old themes. I do embrace technology in certain ways.  I use a laser for some of my blocks now and I am interested in 3D printing. But I like the flaws that come with creating by hand. I find them more interesting than anything digitally produced. It’s visually and neurologically more stimulating, seeing the slight imperfections from something handmade. I really wanted to preserve hand printed fabrics because I think there's such value to them and what they do for one’s mind, body, and soul. I don't think that there's anything that quite compares to that for me.  So, I see it as being very stubborn about not going digital and keeping everything very close to home in our studio here.

How did you discover woodblock printing? How did you fall in love with it?

My background is in sculpture, and, after I got out of college, I didn't know what I wanted to do. I did a formal apprenticeship with Mark Thomas in San Francisco. I was able to use his incredible studio in the Mission District in exchange for my time. I worked for him for a couple of years. I fell in love with wood block printing, and he taught me so much about color, dying, and lots of techniques. It was a very, traditional apprenticeship and he and I still work together today. We have a 25, 30-year relationship of friendship and working together. He’s a mentor and a dear friend. At this point, too, we’re learning from each other. Our personalities are a nice blend. He's very shy. I'm more outgoing, but also like to do my own thing. It’s a nice dynamic that we have. Mark also had a hand in the printing of the fabric! Kelly needed so many yards and we worked on it together because it was such a custom creation. 

How does your studio setting then inspire your work?

My studio is nestled in the mountains on top of Sonoma Mountain.  We're completely in nature. We have vineyards all around us. We can see the ocean. We see Mount Tam. There are all kinds of wildlife: great horned owls, rattlesnakes, bobcats and cougars. We have an olive grove here. We're deeply steeped in the wonders of nature, yet we're 40 miles to San Francisco. It’s really the best of both worlds. The studio's is 150 feet from my house. Along the way I walk through the garden, and pick tomatoes, strawberries, or peaches if we’re lucky in summer.  There are all kinds of constant distractions in nature. I find it very peaceful and exciting.  Each season, Kelly does a little video of her drive when she comes to see me and often comments on how picturesque the whole property and area really is.

How do you find balance as a small business owner?

We’re a very small corporation. There are all these formulas, like 80, 20 for people at work, but none of those rules have a lot of staying power. I am supported where I need to be supported and it allows me to have more creative freedom.  We have a great bookkeeper—that’s imperative. I look for help with the things I don’t do well, but sometimes you do have to force yourself to do things you don’t like.

What is your favorite part about your work?

The custom projects, creating new collections and one-offs. For the custom projects, I love creating something new and special. Having the design and figuring out how to produce it, how to make it happen. My favorite part really is the creation of it and figuring out how to make it happen and to produce it.

How do you source your raw materials?

I've been working with the same fabric manufacturer for a long time. They're from Belgium and all the fabrics that they produce are ecofriendly and certified by the Linen Council, which I really, really love. A lot of sourcing is relationships that I've built with mills and companies for a really long time. It’s all about relationships. Sourcing can be challenging and, once you find what works, then I'm all about exploring that and developing the relationship so that you know what lead times, how it’s produced, what the fabric content is. So I'm really into having long established relationships with ethical companies.

What is your relationship with cannabis?

Growing up in Sonoma County, everybody and their mother has been growing cannabis for years. I mean, basically everybody is corn-fed cannabis, even if you don't use it. I've always had a deep appreciation for it. I have dear friends that have been growers for a long time. I do smoke pot occasionally, and while I’m not a big smoker, it has been in my life forever. When I smoke pot, it can make me hyper because I have ADHD, but cannabis can also help me focus. I like gummies and take them occasionally to help with sleep. I enjoy a local cannabis cream for sore muscles. The value of cannabis seems to broaden and deepen by the day and I’m excited to see how we will continue to develop a relationship with it.

Tell me how you decided to collaborate with Kelly:

Kelly was on the hunt for a textiles. In the usual designer way, she was hitting all the showrooms and looking for the perfect fabric for the launch of her first product, The KellyGreeen Cannabis Pouch No.1.  Kelly is a stickler for shopping the best showrooms at the San Francisco Design Center and on this day, she came across my Stargazer fabric.  It was on display in the Hewn Showroom next to a Sister Parish.  She later told me she was actually looking at a Sister Paris fabric but wanted something a bit edgier for her first product. When we finally met to discuss a custom pattern for the pouch, Kelly admitted she had had my fabric on her desk for over a year hoping we could work together and waiting until it all came together.

 How did you and Kelly collaborate?

Kelly designed the pouch and presented a technical drawing of her vision and from there, we mapped out a pattern and design that would showcase the pieces and highlight the best parts of the fabric.  But at the time, Kelly didn’t know I had produced a bag for Anthropologie with great success, so it was absolutely kismet that we would work together on this new venture of hers.  Oh, and now we are good friends!  I think that’s the way it should always go when women collaborate and give all their heart and mind to creative ventures. 

Kelly recently brought the bag to me, and we had a little moment that only two designers can have--all tears and hugs and pride because WE did it.  We worked as a team to bring a swoon-worthy cannabis accessory to market.  It took a long time but, in the end, it is absolutely as it should be--simply gorgeous.