Penumbra Obscura

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All photos by Barrett Sweger

After modeling for over 20 years, All-American wonder Missy Rayder has teamed up with husband and fine artist, Marko Velk for a surprising venture into interiors with new label, Penumbra Obscura. The wallpaper brand is dedicated to the creation of original hand-drawn patterns and boasts artfully crafted designs that marry Missy’s love for travel and perspective on interior design with Marko’s artistic outlook, influenced from his native French and Serbo-Croatian heritage. The results are subtly bold compositions that take inspiration from mythological creatures that tell a fable tale to intricate masks from travels past. We spoke to the design couple about their new line, their design process, and just what’s next for Penumbra Obscura.

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How did you guys first make the leap into interior design and wallpaper specifically? What was that first moment when you realized that’s what you wanted to explore?

Missy: It was actually very authentic. I like to say that it was my idea **laughs**. But without Marko, it wouldn’t exist. He’s a charcoal artist and that’s his medium. So of course, when I thought of wallpaper it was knowing that Marko could draw anything and we have a very similar aesthetic. I traveled for over twenty years and I’ve been surrounded by extremely creative people. I was always very into interiors. There was this very eccentric decorator who did the first apartment I had in New York when I was 19, named Ricky Clifton and he did wallpaper in my apartment. He printed on top of it with old wood blocks, it took him forever. It was really incredible. We wanted to kind of bring it back to that time before so that’s why Marko hand draws every pattern with ink. Then we put it into the computer and print them, because we want to be able to print wallpapers in different colors since they change so much with the pattern.

For instance our “mask” pattern is inspired by a collection of African masks. I love African masks and art and Marko, when he moved from Paris, he brought Mexican masks, and I just had the idea to do these patterns. All of our wallpaper patterns are symbolic – the tradition of ceremony and what the different masks mean, there’s just the beauty of them.

So what’s kind of behind the inspiration behind the different designs? I saw that you guys have six different ones.

Marko: Yes, we’re working on more. There’s always a story behind them, like the Francisco Goya one.

Missy: The one that’s called “Dreamscape”.

Marko: I had took some characters out from Goya’s etching, redrew them, and put them in another context. I made those floating islands and this kind of story. It’s something that looks like an old school toile and gets the viewer to learn something. Inspiration depends, it’s whatever comes to my mind.

Missy: We did one with animals. All different animals and it’s really great for a child’s room. At the same time, there’s an element drawn in there of a man turning his back on the animals. So there’s always what I like to call, the ‘Marko element’. We don’t want the idea of this classic child piece.

Marko: We’ll make it look classic but when you get close to it, you realize that it is something more. There’s this griffin, a mythological creature. You can find them documented from 4000 years ago. I just took that and made it a classic damask print but instead of the ornaments that you can usually find inside the classics, there’s a gun, the snakes, flowers, things you don’t see until you’re staring at it.

Missy: And the griffin represents protecting from the dangerous outer elements.

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And take me behind the technical aspect of actually creating a panel of wallpaper. I know you talked about how at first you draw it in charcoal and then you digitally scan it.

Marko: You draw it, you scan it, and then you do the pattern. Depending on the way the pattern is composed you can compose it before. It depends on if there is 1 or 2 or 6 or 7 shapes but technically speaking from the hand drawing to the computer to the pattern, I don’t know what else could be said about the technique. What I’m doing is I’m drawing something and trying to understand how it can work as a pattern. Then I’m trying to construct it manually. I photocopy it and try to put them together to see how it looks. I don’t use the computer actually. I do it old school **laughs** . Old school is a lot of paper and things instead of just pressing ENTER. Once I can visualize it, I make a decision and then I can talk with the person who’s putting it together.

And how is it as far as marrying your two aesthetics, your feminine and his masculine aesthetics and then coming up with an idea as far as a wallpaper design? I thought it was quite harmonious how you guys were able to create something that is so ornate but rugged at the same time with subject matter like guns, griffins and snakes.

Missy: I can sometimes be the man and he can sometimes be the woman. **laughs**

Marko: Yes, see who is talking here? **laughs** I’m French you know.

Missy: Even though he grew up in Serbia, he’s very French. We are able to work together and it works very well. Marko is such an introvert, he could be in his studio for the rest of his life and come out for dinner every once in awhile. So it’s forced me to kind of be the voice which has been slightly challenging for me, because it’s not something I did with modeling.

We both have it in us, the feminine and the masculine. We all do! We’re both into earth colors. Our bedroom is this dark red and our living room is a gray. We have a house upstate and it’s kind of dark green and gray. I like colors.

Marko: I always had light apartments, and she always had dark apartments. She doesn’t like white walls.

You talked briefly about how being a model kind of prepped you for the next step, so to speak. Have your travels greatly influenced your interior design aesthetic? I know you talked about how you collected masks, but I wonder, where else did you go? And when did it pop up again in this new venture?

Missy: I mean definitely that traveling has influenced me. When you’re surrounded by a shoot, or certain sets, when you’re surrounded by different designs and different aesthetics, it’s got to have an influence on you. When you’re seeing different things all of the time, you start to develop a real sense of what you love. I went to Morocco once for a job, and I went five days early and just walked around all of the markets. I got really into Moroccan carpets. And going to Paris and going to different museums. There was a beautiful kilim store right by Marko’s apartment there.

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And Marko your design schooling clearly influenced your work and how it progressed. I wonder were you always into working on a non traditional canvas? I know your medium is normally in charcoal. So how is it then making a leap into interior design?

Marko: Well my main thing is drawing, and that part I’m not switching so much. Whether it’s charcoal or a pen or a sharpie, it’s about drawing. It’s nothing new to me but what is new is that I can take more freedom and go further and put things together that I wouldn’t do in my own work because it’s a different thing entirely. So, sometimes it’s actually easier for me. It’s like any artist, writer, or singer who is capable of doing many different things, but they choose to do one. So when given the opportunity to do something else, you’re also discovering and realizing what else is there.

I saw that you guys did the collaboration with Saks Fifth Avenue, and your designs are displayed alongside the fashion. How did that collab even first come about?

Marko: By complete accident.

Missy: I was going to my agency and they were gonna put together a press package for us for our line. And I went to Saks and said, “Marko, let’s just explain to them what we’re doing”. They were really supportive and I took in a sample. The senior art director of Saks, Tim Hemmeter, was there.

Marko: He’d been searching for wallpaper for two weeks.

Missy: And he loved it! It was just so crazy. And they wanted to use it for a set on a shoot for their catalog. They did all black and white and it looked cool.

What are your plans to expand the line? Brick and mortar stores, eventually?

Missy: Yeah, we’re going to eventually, we have to. Marko is working on another pattern now so by the spring we’ll have a few more patterns done. We really just want to keep producing.

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