Over the past few weeks, we’ve been following photographer Christiann Koepke on a tour of west elm LOCAL makers’ studios throughout Portland, Oregon. We’ve already stopped by the workplaces of sculptor Haley Ann Robinson, ceramicists Carter & Rose, and soap maker Maria Vashakidze. Today, we’re paying a visit to the studio of Vanessa Boer and Darren Pasemko, two Brooklyn expats who started their business Scout & Whistle in 2012. Vanessa is an illustrator and Darren is a filmmaker. Together, their business is an exploration of their love for design, old school aesthetics, and their sense of adventure. Their products, ranging from colorful cacti sculptures to textiles crafted from Pendleton wool, are delightful celebrations of west coast aesthetics. Check out the photos of their studio below!
Please tell us a little about yourselves and your work.
Darren and I both have fine art backgrounds. He worked as an animator and filmmaker in Montreal, and I was an illustrator, prop stylist, and prop maker in New York City. When we moved to Portland, I wanted to shift away from commercial work and began thinking about starting a small business. As we spent our first summer here making all the décor and design work for our wedding, we found we really liked collaborating and Scout & Whistle started brewing. Along with our illustration work, we try to create products for the home that are simultaneously colorful and modern as well as harking back to vintage housewares.
What is it like being a maker in America right now?
There has definitely been a renaissance for handmade goods over the past few years. When you support a maker or small local business, you are directly impacting our lives as working artists and entrepreneurs, not only helping a business to thrive but giving back to your own community. Those of us who make our living in this way feel really lucky!
Tell us about your studio space.
We built out a space in the studio collective Union Studios (alongside Caravan Pacific, Hank by Henry and woodworker Will Glaser) in the Brooklyn neighborhood. Working in the same space as other makers gives us a sense of camaraderie and creative exchange while all working on independent projects. Darren and I each have our personal work spaces as well as my cutting and sewing table, shelves of supplies and back-stock, lots of plants and a cozy nook for our dog, G. Our studio faces the railroad tracks and we’re just north of the Brooklyn Rail Yards, where trains have been running since 1868. Our building was originally used to store train cars back in the day and we are still surrounded by the old railroad workers’ cottages. The pleasure of seeing and hearing the trains go by every day has yet to wear off. In a city that is getting packed with new construction, we love working in a historic neighborhood with such close ties to an old industry.
What does a typical work day look like for you?
Darren and I both like to work late into the night so our mornings start out fairly calm with breakfast and a dog walk around the neighborhood. We already start talking shop on our walks, work on our computers at home for a couple hours and then head down to our studio space to work. Our schedule varies depending on whether we are preparing for a show, developing new products or working on personal projects. We always have music or a podcast going and like taking time out in the day to walk our dog around the neighborhood, to go grab a coffee and tea or over to the tasty food carts nearby for a lunch break. We like to exercise in the early evening, go home for dinner and then do a little more work before calling it a night.
Where do you seek inspiration?
Being in nature, thrift-shopping, and taking road-trips keep us inspired. We collect graphic novels, old postcards, vintage natural history references and we’re always on the lookout for interesting color combinations and patterns. And of course, from podcasts to Vimeo to Instagram, the internet has an endless stream of inspiration!
Why do you love Portland?
We have lived in Portland for nearly 5 years. Brooklyn can be a hard act to follow, but this is a really special place. The accessibility to nature is at the top of the list with delicious food at a close second. The city values individuality and, despite its rapid growth, still lives up to the unofficial motto “Keep Portland Weird”! Since being here, we have met so many other artists who had moved from NYC, LA and SF (much to the chagrin of long-time Portlanders), and we all seemed to be after the same thing: affordable studio space, affordable housing, fun and kind people to collaborate with, and just a little less stress. Despite there being so many of us, we have found the feeling of community between makers runs pretty deep here.