Studio Visit

Maricor and Maricar Manalo

Lucy Feagins
Lucy Feagins
10th of August 2012
Embroidered illustration for Land of Nod by MaricorMaricar.
Private commission of a 'very fun and awesome family motto!' by MaricorMaricar.   Quote taken from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.
Work in progress.  Photos by Lucy Leonardi.
New embroidery for MaricorMaricar's new exhibition in Melbourne - Needle Work Needle Play, Opening tonight at the Brunswick st Gallery, Fitzroy.
Sydney-based sisters Maricor and Maricar Manalo (yes, those are their real names) describe themselves as 'Makers of Things assorted'.   They’re designers, illustrators and animators by trade, but in recent years have gathered somewhat of a cult following for their incredible needlework skills (picked up via YouTube!).  Their handstitched typographic works have won many hearts, and have earned MaricorMaricar a bunch of commercial and editorial commissions over the past few years, as well as a finalist nomination for Qantas' Spirit of Youth awards in 2010, and a British Council funded residency in London for the best part of last year.  A browse through the MaricorMaricar website will uncover many treasures, all painstakingly hand-sewn by these supremely talented sisters – they tag-team :) After admiring MaricorMaricar's work for a long long time it's been so lovely to learn a little more about this incredibly talented pair!  As we briefly mentioned yesterday, if you're in Melbourne this month you can see their beautiful work in person (the incredible attention to detail really must be seen up close for maximum effect!) in an exhibition entitled Needle Work Needle Play as part of Craft Victoria's Craft Cubed festival.  The show brings together nine contemporary Australian artists and designers who use embroidery in their work. MaricorMaricar also have a great little blog and an online store where you can buy limited edition prints of selected works.   They do also take private commissions, but at present they're quite busy as Maricar has her hands full with the recent arrival of new bub Ava! (Big congratulations Maricar!) Big thanks to MaricorMaricar for sharing their work and their story with us today.  They are represented in Australia by the Jacky Winter Group.
Maricar (left) and Maricor (right) in their Sydney studio.  Photo by Lucy Leonardi.

Can you tell us a little about your backgrounds?  Where did you grow up, what did you study, what path led you to embroidery / design / illustration originally?
Maricor: We were born in the Philippines but moved over to Sydney when we were two years old. We’ve kind of been stuck with each other our whole lives, we went to the same primary school, high school and did the same Visual Communications degree at the University of Technology Sydney. I always enjoyed Visual Arts at school and basically any subject where I could get my hands messy. After we graduated we went our separate ways, Maricar worked in print and advertising and I veered towards motion graphics and animation. We still collaborated together on artworks for exhibitions in the meantime, before finally reuniting professionally when we started working full-time at a Sydney design studio on a mix of print, motion and web jobs. 

Oddly enough textiles and needlework never really interested me until a band approached the studio looking for an animated video clip and our boss came to us with the idea of an embroidered film. Maricar:  We grew up in Sydney and as Maricor said we’ve been stuck together our whole lives! 

I don't really have many memories of drawing as a child, we were probably more into making things – pretending that the cardboard box diorama we had made was a dolls house or that Lego-tetris blocks could be played as a real game. So I feel shy calling myself a designer or illustrator, I much prefer describing myself as a maker of things. When we started our first embroidery project (the embroidered music video we created at our previous studio, Mathematics, for Architecture in Helsinki's song 'Like it or Not') we actually didn't know how to embroider. We had an opportunity to create a music video so we ran with it and learnt how to embroider on-the-go, by buying a Reader's Digest embroidery manual and by watching internet tutorials!
Architecture in Helsinki's 'Like it or Not', with embroidered illustrations created by Maricor and Maricar, whilst working at Mathemetics.
While some of us are still attempting to master basic cross-stitch you two are embroidering all kinds of things from your own typographic creations to  commercial campaigns. How did you discover this knack for needlework and what processes are involved?
Maricor: The sewn animation was the first time we had ever done needlework, so we both took a crash course in embroidery via books and online videos. It was the first time we ever combined embroidery and animation, and the quick turnaround for the video clip almost destroyed us. We didn’t pick up needle and thread until three years later when we started up MaricorMaricar and began focusing on hand crafted and bespoke art design and illustration, and working for fun. I think it appeals to the obsessive compulsive streak in us!  Lines and patterns were something we were already exploring in our illustration and the fact that we could combine it with our interest in lettering and typography was another bonus. All our embroidery work starts off as a sketch but depending on the type treatment we’ll either colour it up digitally by vectorising it or use watercolours to create the gradient colour mash ups. We then trace the design onto fabric which is normally a cotton plainweave fabric (although we have used linen twill and denim for special projects). There are some fiddly aspects to embroidered illustration that add a few more steps to the process, these include prewashing the fabric, washing the fabric after sewing is complete, blocking it to stretch the threads back into place while it dries and then stretching it onto a board ready to be photographed. Maricar: We first started embroidery while working on the music video for Architecture in Helsinki whilst at Mathematics, and only picked it up again after leaving Mathematics to set up MaricorMaricar. That first piece was 'Hungry Colours' which is one of our studio mottos (the other is 'You Gotta Keep Cheering') and was our lucky charm until my daughter Ava came along. 

We start off every project with pencil sketches that can be quite detailed (for our patterned type) or loose typographic experiments. We then develop these in colour either with watercolours or digitally on the computer. Then perhaps our favourite stage in the process is choosing matching cotton thread. After that we prep the fabric which is usually homespun cotton or linen, transfer the design then start the needlework.
What have been one or two favourite creative projects across any medium in recent years?
Maricor: Our Turns of Speech and Figures of Phrase exhibition was exhilarating and nerve-racking at the same time as it was our first solo show. The 

Global Village album artwork that we designed while working at Mathematics is also another highlight. Maricar and I collaborated on the art direction, design and illustration of the complete series. Each album allowed us to dive into patterns and illustration and colour.
One of a series of Global Village album artworks designed by MaricorMaricar while working at Mathemetics.
Maricar: Our first commercial embroidery commission is definitely up there. It was ESPN Magazine and resulted in our 'GO PLAY' embroidery. We love the sentiment of the phrase and think it matches the work we do which is often playful.
 GO PLAY embroidery by MaricorMaricar
Working across so many disciplines, it seems like there is never a shortage of varied work for you two.... What does a typical day at work involve for you?
Maricor: After quitting full-time work to be our own boss I quickly learned I needed a routine to keep productive. Although I’m a bit of a night owl and find I work better at night, I still try to get up and be at my desk ready to work by 9.30 am. Mornings are usually occupied with admin duties including responding to emails as a lot of our clients are based overseas. Maricar and I work in separate places now so we always Skype to plan the day's breakdown of tasks and show each other WIPs etc. 

There’ll be sketching and prep work if it's the beginning of a project, but if I’m in the middle of production it's mostly just me at the embroidery stand sewing away. Maricar: Work for me is on the back burner for a while since my daughter Ava came along. She's just shy of two months and is keeping me pretty busy! Before that though a typical work day would start with checking emails (usually from bed I hate to say), then a shower and breakfast while I browse blogs, answer emails and take care of some admin. After that it's pretty much embroidery or sketching ideas for the rest of the day if there is a job on or if there's a particularly tight deadline on the horizon I whip out the magnifying lamp and sew some more after dinner. In between projects we sometimes work on private commissions or work on personal projects that allow us to experiment with new techniques.
Maricor's Sydney studio space - photo by Lucy Leonardi
What is it like being sisters and creative partners?!
Maricor: Awesome! I count myself very lucky that I have a creative partner who has the same interests as me and the fact we can be very honest with each other with feedback and criticism means we waste less time in making creative decisions. 
Maricar: Working with my sister is great. We're very close and usually share the same ideas and thoughts on how to approach projects so we don't often disagree.
Your Head Will Collapse When There's Nothing in It - 'A friendly reminder to continue learning and not to fall into stupidity through laziness'. Hand embroidered by MaricorMaricar with cotton floss on black cotton using double whipped back stitch.Exhibited as part of the 'Turns of Speech & Figures of Phrase' exhibition.
Can you name for us 5 resources across any media (i.e. 5 specific magazines, websites, blogs or other) which you visit regularly for a bolt of creative inspiration, or just to be kept in the loop!?

Maricor's Top Five

1. Twitter has been a great resource to find out about exhibitions, events etc that help us keep inspired. Also we've found the Twitter community to be very helpful with tips and leads when we’ve been on the lookout for printers or suppliers. 

2. Plenty of Colour is an amazingly curated blog, that no surprise, is filled with beautiful colour inspiration. 3. Needle’n’thread is a great site for anyone looking to pick up embroidery skills. 4. Booooooom is full of jaw dropping art and design. 5. The International Association of Master Penman, Engrossers, Teachers of Handwriting (or IAMPETH if you prefer less of a mouthful!) have compiled a list of digitised rare books on all forms of hand lettering that will make your head burst if you are at all interested in lettering and calligraphy. You can find it here on their site

Maricar's Top Five

1. Twitter is great for sharing interesting links, or alternatively is a welcomed distraction when I need a breather! 2. Plenty of Colour blog. Maricor has already listed it but it deserves a double mention. Chloé curates a beautiful blog with plenty of colour inspiration. 3. It's Nice That is great for a dose of design and art. 4. But Does It Float is another great blog that features wonderful art, photography, design and illustration. Their titles also always intrigue me. 5. The Design Files, not to be cheeky but I do visit The Design Files regularly. The interviews are always a wonderful read and also the voyeur in me loves taking a peek inside beautiful homes.
Which other designers or creative people are you most inspired by at the moment?
Maricor: At the moment I've taken a huge liking to the works of Kyle Bean and Micah Lidberg
. Maricar: I really love what Bompas and Parr do. They create fanciful escapes from reality through food like the fictional Willy Wonka.
What are you most proud of professionally?
Maricor: Being awarded the British Council Australia’s Realise Your Dream grant that enabled us to base ourselves in London last year. It was a great kickstart to establishing our profile overseas and the experience was invaluable. Maricar: Knowing how much I like to plan things, I'm proud that we took that first step when we left our stable 9-5 jobs to establish MaricorMaricar without really knowing what we were doing or having a safety net.
'Makers, Dreamers' embroidery - a quote taken from Ode by Arthur O'Shaughnessy, via the film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.  Available as a signed and numbered A2 giclee print from the MaricorMaricar Big Cartel store.
What would be your dream creative project?
Maricor: If we were able to have a solid six months to focus on a completely embroidered stop motion animation, that would be awesome. A short film perhaps or an installation video…we’re open to collaborating if the right project comes along. Maricar:

 Taking our work into a large scale installation piece would be amazing.
What are you looking forward to?
Maricor: Maricar and I will be part of an exhibition at Brunswick Street Gallery in Melbourne that opens today as part of Craft Cubed called Needle Work Needle Play. Carly Altree Williams has curated a brilliant group of artists that are exploring embroidery across very different mediums from installations to footwear. It’s wonderful to be part of an excellent mix of artists including Cat Rabbit, Evie Barrow, Emma Greenwood, Al Munro, Gemma Pobjoy, Demelza Sherwood and Haeli Van Heen. Maricar: I’m looking forward to seeing what all the artists have created for Needle Work Needle Play. There’s an excellent mix of approaches to embroidery, so I’m really excited about the show. I'm also looking forward to summer and having a bit of a break. Between having a baby, returning home from London and moving into a new house we've been pretty busy and living quite transiently. I'm really looking forward to settling into our new home and enjoying Ava's first summer there.
Macho Distrust - a Blondie lyric slightly skewed, hand embroidered by MaricarMaricor with cotton floss on cotton canvas using split stitch.  Exhibited as part the 'Turns of Speech and Figures of Phrase' exhibition.


Your favourite local neighbourhood and why?
Maricor: The inner west – Newtown and Enmore. I like the fact you are close to the city but it still feels like a neighborhood and there’s a great selection of cafes and restaurants right on my doorstep. Also the fact that there’s a cinema, art store, junk stores, bookshops, Enmore Theatre all within walking distance makes it a pretty convenient place to live. I’ve got to say though, I much prefer the south end of King Street as opposed to the city end which can get pretty messy on a Saturday night! Maricar:

The inner west. I lived in Newtown with Maricor for a while just off the south end of King Street and loved how everything I needed was so close. Our street also had a lot of friendly cats who would drop by most days.
Where do you shop in Sydney for the tools of your trade?
Maricor: Art on King is where I get art supplies from, it’s handy as it’s just down the road and has a bit of everything from regular art supplies to craft and trimmings. For needlework supplies we visit Lincraft, Spotlight and Morris & Sons for our threads and fabric. Maricar: We stop by Lincraft, Spotlight and Morris and Sons regularly for our thread and fabric as well as Art on King in Newtown.

Where / what was the last great meal you ate in Sydney?
Maricor: Just had a great hot pot meal at Sancheng Hot Pot in Chinatown last night. A group of four to six is ideal and it’s perfect for a cold winter night with friends gathered round a boiling pot fishing for food. If you’ve never tried this it's a fun and a great way to catch up with friends in between waiting for your tender cuts of meat and seafood to cook and your lotus root to go tender! Maricar: Spice I Am in Surry Hills has the best Thai I've ever eaten. We go there regularly with our friends and it always feels like a huge family dinner despite the crowded and bustling restaurant.
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
Maricor: With 
a mix of friends and food! Well that’s what I would prefer, but the last couple of months have been hectic for us so it has involved me working at my desk more than I would like. Maricar: My boyfriend and I just moved to Leichhardt around the corner from a furniture and antiques auction house so I can comfortably say we'll be doing the rounds there most weekends from here on to find furniture and odds and ends to fill up the new house. Either that, or exploring the new neighbourhood's parks and cafes.

Sydney’s best kept secret?
Maricor: I don’t know if its really a secret but there’s a great independent publisher out of London called NoBrow. Their gallery and bookshop in East London is stocked full of crazy awesome illustrated magazines, books, comics, prints and compendiums and we were pleasantly surprised to find they’re stocked at Kinokuniya Books at the Galeries in Sydney. Maricar: Chinese Noodle House in the middle of Chinatown. It's a small, in and out type of restaurant. It looks quite peculiar with its random tapestries and plastic grapes hanging off the ceiling but it serves the best dumplings, hand made noodles and braised eggplant.
A Rolling Stones lyric sewn by MaricorMaricar for a private commission.

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