Previously associated with your grandmother's living room or that one scene from Garden State, wallpaper has been making a decorating resurgence these past few years. Leading the charge have been Rachel Mosler and Nick Cope of Brooklyn's Calico Wallpaper, best known for their metallic, marbled designs that are painstakingly made by hand, scanned and printed to create custom installations. The paper-making duo is moving more into digital techniques, however, with a new series that uses images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope to create celestial swaths in gold and silver.
The series, titled Inverted Spaces—which was unveiled in Milan last month and made its Stateside debut on Friday as part of New York Design Week—is a collaboration with Boaz Cohen and Sayaka Yamamoto of the Amsterdam-based design studio BCXSY. The partnership arose from a mutual admiration that blossomed when both teams finally met in person at Design Miami in 2013, and immediately hit it off. They met again later that year and agreed to collaborate. "[BCXSY] looked at our work as a way to create these environments with wallpaper," Cope says. "They called us space explorers because we were exploring the space of an interior, so what they proposed as a motif was this exploration of outer space."
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BCXSY showed the Calico team a simple graphic constructed by inverting NASA imagery; Calico agreed that this was fertile ground for a collaboration, and both teams began scouring NASA's extensive archives to source high-resolution images of constellations and galaxies, manipulating and collaging their findings in a range of digital experiments.
Accustomed to creating large, original pieces of art that are then digitized at extremely high resolutions, the Calico team realized that the big challenge of this project would be preparing the already-digitized Hubble images for that format. "We were limited because the images that NASA shares—although they're quite large—they're not nearly large enough for us to output our usual high-resolution digital prints with metallics with lots of layers and masks," Cope says. "We needed to develop a technology for resolving the size of the images we're working with."
Cope gets really excited about this next part. After settling upon a few collaged compositions, he and Mosler reached out to a matte-painting studio for assistance in scaling up the images. The technique, reserved mostly for the entertainment industry (think Castle Black or any other cinematic fantasy world), allowed Calico and BCXSY to enlarge their celestial collages for printing at a much larger scale. "Back in the day, matte painting was was actually an artist and a brush," Cope says. "Although there's a lot of artistry involved, now they're working with styluses directly in the computer. So, in the end, there's no scanning necessary. It was a real breakthrough for us because now it has enabled us to create even more highly detailed master files for printing."
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With matte painting, a digital matte painter (known also as a DMP) uses programs like Corel Painter or Adobe Photoshop to create photo-realistic environments using pressure-sensitive styluses and tablets. Since the entire process is created digitally from a blank canvas, the painting can easily be scaled for higher resolutions while still maintaining the quality of the overall image.
For a studio that has always relied on enlarging and digitizing hand-made designs, Calico was thrilled with the solution. "In the past, we've been using this hybrid technique where we create artwork by hand on a really large scale and then digitize it for printing," Cope says. "What's nice about this technique is that we are creating the print files already in their digital form, so that line quality is just a total different ballgame. We still, of course, love both processes, but I think we'll be using matte painting again for future collections."
Beyond the technical hurdle of enlarging the images, the distance between the Brooklyn and Amsterdam studios was one of the most challenging aspects of the partnership. "It's a funny thing, but the fact that we were separated by six hours made it so easy to lose a day of progress," Cope says. "Not being able to work directly made us really feel how helpful it is to sit across a table and play around with the sample material and meet face to face on a project. Skype just doesn't always cut it—especially when looking at metallic wallpapers."
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All the difficulties proved worthwhile, however, when the final wallpaper came back from the printer—where it had undergone a process entailing UV printing and some proprietary secrets that the teams could not reveal to us. Calico and BCXSY are proud of the debut at Milan's Salone del Mobile, and say that the response has been phenomenal. "I don't think we expected space to be a hot trend," Cope says. "It was the same with marbling for us. We found these old marbleized papers and we fell in love with them and we decided to explore them as a design, and then all of a sudden, marbling is this huge trend. We're seeing the same thing now with space."
New Yorkers who want to see the collection in person can do so at The Future Perfect's Manhattan showroom during New York Design Week.