In Conversation with Royce Epstein

Helvetica Black Royce Epstein Thick and Thin Coloring Book

Royce Epstein
Image: Royce Epstein (above)

"Thick and Thin" is a brand new 22-page coloring book, designed in black and white, and featuring the artwork of designer and Philadelphia musician and artist, Royce Epstein. Epstein plays in the band Helvetica Black in her spare time, and when not playing music with her partner Matt, she is either thinking about music and art, doodling art, creating paper weavings, or coming up with brand new ideas in the realm of music, art, and design to work on! 

We are so excited to present her brand new coloring book in our store--each page has a hand-drawn design on one-side and a blank page on the back. You can easily color each page and then frame your piece or send it to a friend. 

Purchase "Thick and Thin" - click here.

When I moved to the east coast in the mid-2000's Royce Epstein and I first came to know each other through the bourgeoning Philadelphia and Delaware music scene. Her partner at the time worked at a music booking agency that I interned at and he suggested that we meet up (as we had mutual interests and ideas and wanted to start something brand new related to music). We were both excited to find someone with an equal obsession with music, and what started as a fast friendship with interests in common, soon blossomed into a (going on years now, friendship) a local music blog (Girl About Town), and then later, a band (Lust2Love, The Pretty Greens) that formed to play the songs of The Go-Go's, and later, originals! 

Royce has become an integral part of the design world, curating art and design products while also being interviewed by design outlets, DJ'ing at conferences and events, all the while looking for new inspiration in designs and products. 

Royce also, more recently, began posting with her friend Caroline Tiger, working on a project together related to activism in design. Their profile on Instagram (which you should follow) is called @dissent_by_design and posts daily in depth descriptions of art and designs that have inspired activism and dissent within the realm of politics currently and historically.

We spoke to Royce about these projects and more in our interview below. Check out Royce's brand new Spotify Playlist--order her coloring book, and you can doodle while you listen:

Carly: You created a brand-new coloring book called "Thick and Thin." It includes 22 original drawings in black and white. What prompted you to create a coloring book, and how long did it take you to create all of the drawings?

Royce Epstein: I have been doodling all my life. In high school, I used to doodle in paint pens so they looked more like paintings, but I prefer the immediacy of just marker to paper. When the Coronavirus happened and we were home, I just started doodling more than usual. And then I got the idea to make a coloring book, as I was also coloring some adult coloring books that I had around the house. I really wanted to color my own doodles. So, I created 11 doodles with thick marker lines, and 11 drawings with thin marker over the span of a few weeks. I worked on it every night while I watched TV. I organized and then self-published the coloring book, and I am so thrilled I can share it with you all now. I also colored the pages as a test, it’s super fun.

Each 'doodle' page is set on a large (full page) of paper and your lines are thick and thin. Your art feels very inspired by the designs of artists Basquiat or Keith Haring (both of whom I know you love). Which other artists have inspired you over the years, and what do you love about these two artists, specifically?

Well, for me it’s all about Keith Haring. He is hands down the biggest influence on my own art and even how I think about art history (which I studied in school). For Haring, the line is its own language. It is universal and primal. That really struck me when I was in high school and Haring was very active. He also worked in different formats, on the street and in galleries, and really cared about connecting with people. He also had this amazing technique where the work just flowed out of him, kind of like the abstract expressionist painters, but instead he was interested in symbols and meaning. Another influence is tagging from graffiti, where street “writers” tagged their names in marker or paint and created their own visual language. Tagging has a lot to do with identity and creating a mark in the world, to let the world know that you exist. All of that is embedded in my brain when I am doodling, but it’s also meditative. I can just go for it and doodle and it is about the act of making marks and letting the world know I exist. What’s funny is that other than the paintings I did in the 80’s, I never shared my doodles. So this is the first time people are seeing them.

Thick and Thin Coloring Book

Which piece in the coloring book was your favorite to 'doodle,' and have you had the chance to test them all (or color them in)? What was your favorite part of the process in creating this book?

Yes, I am testing them now, it’s been a fun project to color my doodles since that’s what I wanted to do all along. The thick doodles are easier to color, and the thinner ones will be more detail oriented and thus more challenging. I think I prefer the thick ones just because I like seeing more color and the thicker lines. As for the process, creating the doodles was the fun part. It was a very organic process as I just took marker to paper, and all of a sudden I had 22 drawings.

Royce Epstein Doodle Pink/Lavender
Image: artwork by Royce Epstein, a doodle colored in by Royce

I know that you have always been a collector of imagery and inspirational artwork (a lot related to music, fashion, and film). How did you get in the habit of looking for images related to these collections and how has that changed (pre-widespread internet and post-) for you?

Ah yes, I am an image hoarder, all for inspiration. Before the internet, I was addicted to magazines and collected all kinds, vintage and new, and just cut or clipped out what I liked to save. I even had binders with plastic sleeves where I saved these. It got ridiculous, I had so many! But then Pinterest came along and I was able to transition to that platform. I spend a lot of time on Pinterest, I probably need a Pintervention. When other people are looking at cupcake recipes or wedding ideas, I am looking at mod boots or mid-century chairs or pictures of David Bowie. Pinterest is amazing, it has everything I need for inspiration for work and all my creative projects. Even somewhat more inaccessible things like Ye-Ye girls’ fashion or Godard movie stills are all on there. It’s an amazing resource, you just have to know how to search well and follow good people. 

Royce Epstein - two Royce
Image: Royce reflection, projecting duality

Royce Epstein - Paper weave art
Image: Paper weave by Epstein.

One of the coolest artist (at home) projects that you've drawn me to is a love of creating paper weavings. You have a fantastic eye for color and texture which also informs your day-to-day work, and have created some great pieces out of old calendars and whatever scraps you have around the house which also makes this an accessible kind of art. What inspired you to start making these pieces?

Thanks for the kind words. I have always been doing paper collage and decoupage my whole life, along with doodling, and so I just shifted to paper weaving to try something new at home during quarantine. I just had a lot of paper and old brochures etc. laying around, so I just decided to use what I have and start weaving. The constructions are very simple, just over/under, nothing fancy. For me it’s about the color combinations and trying to create something visually appealing. The idea to make these came about from my job, I am the design director for a flooring manufacturer, we design and make a lot of carpet, which is all about weaving and tufting. So, I tried to mimic that in a very basic way. 

Dissent_By_Design on Instagram
Image: Dissent By Design (logos)

You have a brand new instagram profile that you started with a friend and colleague, Caroline Tiger, called, "@dissent_by_design." How did this come together for you both and are you seeing a rapid change in how quickly new designs are being created by artists because of our current political climate?

Caroline and I both are design thinkers and writers. We started Dissent By Design because we wanted to explore design’s role in protest and social movements. Like many people, we were outraged at the death of George Floyd and really inspired by the protests that followed. We have also both been demoralized by the Trump administration and started to see lots of examples of design that speak out against the many issues that have come back to light. So yes, there has been a big increase in art and design created in dissent to this president. However, the issues of today were also the same issues in the 1990’s, and of course seen throughout history in various ways. So, our format is to feature both examples of dissent from the past, the present, and we are even looking at the future. What will tools of protest look like in the future? How does public space affect protest? How can technology help dissent? We answer these questions while exploring dissent’s role in having impact on people through design. It’s been a great experience so far, researching and featuring examples of design and putting it in context for our readers. We have been pleasantly surprised at the response, as people seem very interested in learning as much as they can about social movements. That gives me a lot of hope!

Helvetica Black: Royce Epstein, Matt Haggett

Image: Helvetica Black (band) features Royce Epstein and Matt Haggett.

You are in a band right now with your partner called, Helvetica Black, the namesake of which is very design-oriented (inspired by a font type). What can you tell us about how the band met, and what types of songs you create together (what has been your favorite track to create together, so far)? 

Helvetica Black is me and my boyfriend, Matt. We started dating first and I don’t think we even played music together until after a year or so. Matt gradually let on that he used to be in bands in Portland, Oregon and that he played drums. He said he didn’t play guitar too well, and I was like “show me” and handed him one of my guitars. After two minutes I was like “You’re hired!”. He is such a great guitar player, way better than me because he likes arpeggios and music theory, so he immediately became our lead guitar player, and I play rhythm guitar (since I am a Ramones girl). We co-write our songs together, usually starting with a cool riff. Once we have the guitar parts worked out, we record a drum track and then a bass track, adding them together for us to play live guitars over. It works well, we sound like a four piece for just being a guitar duo. As for our sound, I describe it as “tender garage” because we are inspired by 60’s garage music with lots of reverb and jangle, but we write songs that are heartfelt with that 50’s sense of tough love. We also are super inspired by 90’s indie rock, and shoegaze. We also have this dialogue between male and female, loud and soft, fast and slow, and the different sounds from our guitars. It’s hard to pick a favorite song, I really do like them all. Some are more complex – like “Shape of Your Heart” which has a little shoegaze bridge in it – and some are just fun and punky, like “Adult Feelings”, where I shout out names of Rom Coms. Our latest song is called “Walkie Talkie” which was inspired by a story we heard about a Mom who died of COVID-19 and had to say goodbye to her kids via walkie talkie. All our songs are in demo mode, meaning we record them at home, but we are ready to record an EP, or even an album, since we have enough material. That’s our plan for the future, and of course hoping we can get back to playing live shows.

Listen to Helvetica Black:

Do you have a 'Holy Grail' item of music, fashion, literature, or art that you haven't been able to obtain that you are always on the lookout for (just in case)?

What a tough question for a collector like me! Well at the top of the list would be to own an original Keith Haring painting, but since I don’t have art collector funds, I will have to be content with all my Keith Haring books. For music, I like to look for original 60’s ska records, they are harder to find than you would think. For fashion, probably some Mary Quant vintage clothes or boots. She really created the look that I love – tights with mini-skirts, mod hair and makeup, and all of her clothes were smart. I am usually happy just seeing things I love in person, whether it be in a gallery or museum or in the wild, so I try not to covet things and instead just be grateful that I can enjoy what I love no matter what. Holy Grail items are important, as they provide inspiration and often shape how we see the world. That’s definitely true for me.

Huge thanks to Royce for the interview! You can tag Royce with your coloring pages from her book by using #doodlingwithroyce #coloringdoodles or #thickandthin and visit her (and follow her work) online at either @dissent_by_design, or @madame_duchamp 

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