Voyager Journal
Cocktails with Charles & Megan

We sat down at the Ken Ken Ramen shop this week to catch up with our buddies Charles Papillo and Megan Thomas-Melly, two of the creative ninjas behind the bar. With their art backgrounds and tight friendship, Charles and Megan have teamed up to publish their own cocktail recipe book, Ken Ken Cocktails. Full of their colorful illustrations and their creative soju and sake concoctions, we couldn't wait for them to show us first hand what kind of tasty mixes they were gonna whip up.

Some of you may recognize Megan's face and name. Not only is she the tattooed beauty and face donning all the ladies clothing on revolveronline.com, but she was once the writer and editor of this very blog!

While working in-between projects, these artists (Charles went to Parsons and Thomas-Melly went to Pratt) were looking to work together.

"I think we were always sort of talking about collaborating in some way" said Papillo.  "And then, as we were making a nightly special cocktail, we were doing these funny little drawings on the backs of menus to showcase the nightly concoction for our customers.  I guess the idea kind of spring-boarded from these doodles."

"Even though Charles' and my styles and techniques are different I think we both love color and pattern and share a similar kind of off beat humor so the collaboration felt natural, " said Thomas-Melly of working on the illustrations together. "It seems like we got crazier and crazier with each successive illustration, kind of like daring each other where we could go next."

Traditionally, soju and sake are served alone, but that didn't stop these two from coming up with delicious concoctions behind the bar.

"I think the remarkable thing about sake and soju is that they can be so clean and neat that they can pair well with a lot of different tastes," explained Thomas-Melly. "The sake and soju served at Ken Ken lend themselves to this type of play and experimentation."

"I think of it as extending one's experiential palette, added Papillo.  "It is by no means a traditional way of drinking sake or soju, but I think it's innovative in the way that it's new and refreshing to experiment with mixing concoctions.  The result is a more approachable cocktail for a wider audience.  It is a great way to convince more conventional beer or wine drinkers to experience a more exotic libation. "

Since these warm Cali nights have been feeling a little chillier towards the holidays, Charles and Megan showed us how to make one of their most popular drinks from the book, Hot Zombie. Named after the goofy ladies who love to make any halloween costume sexy, this dark plum colored mixture is soju, fruit juices and a spicy kick.

2 oz. Kumosabe Soju
2.5 oz Mango Juice
1 oz. Habanero infused lemonade
1.2 oz acai juice Ice



We also had Charles and Megan whip up something on the spot. They came up with a sexy, fruity concoction called Hot Passion.

2 oz. Apple-Cinnamon-infused Sui Jin sake
3 oz. Passion Fruit juice
1 tbsp. honey
1 oz. water


For future projects, Megan is heading back to grad school for art education and is lining up projects for next year. Charles is getting back to his studio practice as well. He recently completed a solo exhibition at 18 Reasons in SF entitled Grocery List (which also involved food) and will be collaborating with a group of artists and "trade dreams" for an installation at ATA next year. Check out their websites for updates!



Thank you Charles and Megan!



*photos by Cal Volner-Dison

West Coast Craft

We were so excited to attend the very first West Coast Craft, a meticulously curated fair showcasing the very best of the West Coast's young, innovative makers, designers and book curators.

First stop was Ali Golden and Job & Boss' booth of indigo eye candy! Expect some of Brook and Kirby's designs at our store for SS14! 

Beautiful Shibori clutch bags and a new two tone backpack we couldn't stop touching!

Hardcore craft and design books at Press Works on Paper

A very busy Nikki Garcia at the First Rite booth.

Lay your head on our favorite boobies from the ladies at Gravel and Gold.

We can't stop touching the stacks of amazing books!

Our favorite booth was Alite's creative deli shop of their awesome bags and accessories.

Thanks to Paulina Nassar from Press Works on Paper ( co-founder of WCC) and congrats to the WCC team for putting on the best craft and design fair we've seen all year. We can't wait for the next one! 

A Young Dude on His Art Game Hustle- An Interview with Greg Ito

Greg Ito is a force. If you are looking to meet someone more committed to his practice than most well-heeled, seasoned artists, who has his hands in more pots than most professional multitaskers, who is an Art World Jack Of All Trades and Master of All, look no further. Along with his friend and business partner, Andrew McClintock, Ito edits and produces San Francisco Art Quarterly, an international arts and culture magazine, and operates Ever Gold Gallery in the Tenderloin, as well as devoting himself to his own works of art. I was stoked to have the opportunity to interview Greg about his work and visit his incredible live-work studio space. Read on to learn more about what Greg has been up to. 

First off, how do you have the time to do it all? Do you sleep? You've got a lot going on between producing your own artwork, running Ever Gold Gallery and editing SFAQ. You must be a master doubletasker, or else really good at scheduling your time. 

Well to start, my endeavors at the Ever Gold Gallery and SFAQ are shared with my business partner and good friend, Andrew McClintock, who is also the interim director at the Walter McBean Gallery at SFAI. I do find time to sleep, which always seems to be too short, but I manage to find time to spend in the studio outside of the current extensions of my art practice (the gallery and publication). Every year opportunities come up to exhibit, which is great, but I learned to not double up, or even triple up the work load. Poor scheduling leads to catastrophe and frustration. Biting off too much to chew is a common mistake. I used to say that I would juggle all of my endeavors, but you can't do that forever, one day things can fall apart. So now I like to say that I balance all the tasks that I have obligated myself to doing, allowing everything to coexist in my schedule, to flourish and continue to grow. But there is always room for improvement, so it's still a learning experience.

It seems as though your past work lived in abstraction (and pattern) as opposed to representation. Some of your pieces reminded me of mandalas or yantras. How did you arrive in this place? Do you privilege abstraction over representation? It is something I think about a lot regarding my own work. Somehow the dogma of Capital "A" Art School and being trained to look at art has made me feel that working representationally is somehow of less value than working abstractly, yet I can not work abstractly with confidence at all. Has this always been your method of working of arranging your world?

My older works do exist as paintings. The way I would describe the work is geometric abstractions of the relationships observed between the Sun, Moon, Earth, and eternal through a lens rooted in human euphoria, the spiritual, and the distant relationship found between these monumental celestial identities and today's contemporary society. We just don't pay attention to our surrounds like the ancients did, and I found this disturbing. Again these paintings are older works, that I have chosen to discontinue, because they no longer have any resonance in my current mode of making, and the satisfaction of producing the work is no longer there. Visually I still find them beautiful and people ask me why I no longer make them, but this transition is a personal decision, for I recently regained an intimate relationship with my work through a new approach. Representational or figurative work has always been difficult for me to grasp. Acceptance of artists who do make representational/figurative work is present, but it's just not what I'm seeking as an act of creating an image or object. This is kind of funny, because currently I've been making new work which is investigating the relationship between image and object. This allowed growth in my practice to include sculptural elements and installation more effectively into the work, incorporating the readymade, distancing myself from being labeled purely as a painter. I still look at everything through the eyes of a painter, but this does not constrict my approach to making art. The same concepts that fueled my paintings are still present in my current works but the conversation has also expanded exponentially I feel, allowing more freedom in the decisions I make in the studio. The founding concepts in my work continue to be the driving force for my forward momentum into the giant realm of what art is, can be, and will become. My years at SFAI helped develop these ideas, and I am grateful to that school, which has an incredible history in San Francisco, and California in general. Amazing artists have taught there like Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Ansel Adams, Diego Rivera. Some of the more recent and current faculty include George Kuchar, Paul Kos, Tony Labat, Carlos Villa; the list just goes on.

In the bios and artist statements I've read regarding you and your artwork attention is drawn to your interest in our understanding of and measurements of time, the celestial, spiritual and how these ideas connect to our humanity. What is particularly fascinating about these concepts or phenomena to you? How does it relate to you personally?

The good ol' artist statement. Yes, time is important me. My time on this Earth, what I'm doing with this time in the present, the time that was spent before me in history, where we are now from the times in history, and how we move forward into the times of the future.  Spiritually moving through time, as well as culturally moving through time. Time in general is a strange subject. A moment in time that has been a very powerful influence on me is one that we experience everyday, twilight. Twilight is this ephemeral moment between day and night, the two halves to one whole, short lived yet epic. It is in these moments where I found clarity. I don't know really how to explain it, but it speaks to me, and it speaks to a lot of people. Watching the sunset is a shared experience between everyone on this Earth, now, before, and in the future. It just amazes me. I used to say, and I guess I still do, that twilight is the one moment where you can truly see time pass, with the gradients of color that effortlessly float through the sky then beyond the horizon along with the Sun and its immense presence. I think that our connection with time is one quality of being human, how we can address time, what it is, what it does for us, how we live through it, and knowing our time will end when we die. 

Who are your heroes? Who and what influences your work?

Heros would include Orion, the one constellation I would see in the night sky while growing up in LA. The stars of Orion are said to be associated with Osiris, who is the the Sun god of rebirth and the afterlife of ancient Egypt. My influences would include all the artists i have met, seen, and read about in my life. My family is really important to my career as an artist. My grandfather was a carpenter, sign painter, and cartoonist. My grandmother was a seamstress. My aunty is an animator (hand drawn) and her husband works in special effects for big blockbuster movies. My other aunty was an old school designer when everything was done by hand before computers and now manages her husband, Peter Shire's art career. He is part of the Memphis School and owns Echo Park Pottery too. His brother Billy Shire owned a gallery in LA and it was one of the first stores on Melrose that began the madness around that strip. And my dad was the one who got me into drawing and building things. He bought me a tool set when I was young for woodworking, and encouraged me to paint and draw. I still have this "How to Draw" book he had when he was a kid. And my mom is one of the most encouraging human beings I know, who was a musician, and I remember my earliest years as a kid listening to her play the piano at the house. And lastly, my younger brother, who is graduating from Pratt in Brooklyn, New York with an emphasis in Sculpture, who will be doing some big things this year. He has already been showing his work and has a residency planned with Stillhouse.

How did Ever Gold begin? What was your inspiration behind starting the gallery? What is the story behind the gallery's name?

The Ever Gold began with a group of 5 artists who graduated from SFAI, including Andrew and myself. We were all friends who opened and funded the space collectively. When we opened the space we learned it was an old shop that bought stolen jewelry and made them into gold fronts (grillz). It was called Ever Gold originally, and we kept the name. We figured that having an art gallery in that crack infested area was a slice of heaven for the block. Soon after opening the gallery some of the partners decided to go elsewhere and work on other endeavors, and then Andrew and I were the last two standing. It was at that point we realized we had to change it up somehow to keep the gallery open. We elevated our programming and did more solo shows and worked with more specific artists who we believed in. We also couldn't run the space on our own money and was on the brink of closing until the Kenneth Rainin Foundation decided to support us through a rolling grant which has been in effect through 2013 into next year. Also increasing our art sales helped immensely by doing fairs and getting our name out there. We truly appreciate the Kenneth Rainin Foundation's support, because without them the Ever Gold could have faded away long ago, but instead we are still here and exhibiting some amazing work by a range of artists based in the Bay Area, New York, and Los Angeles.

If you didn't live and make work in SF, where would you be? Do you think you'd be making similar work in that other place?

If I wasn't in SF I would be in Los Angeles. I moved to the Bay Area right after high school, and I've been here for 8 years now. Going back home seems to make the most sense. The only things keeping me here is Ever Gold Gallery, SFAQ, and my amazing live-work space that I built out 3 years ago. It's a 2000 square foot warehouse I live in with my cat, Luna. I have a woodshop with a gallery-eque space in it where I shoot installations and the work I make, an office area for computer work, and a clean wall for paintings and drawings I work on. I also have an art storage area with flat files, loft, and a materials section where I keep a lot of objects and stuff I use in arrangements. Then in the back is a kitchen, half bath, and my bedroom with a walk in closet and I put a claw foot bathtub across the room from my bed. Pretty crazy space, and when I first moved in it was completely empty with the exception of a toilet. If I were to move to LA, I'm sure the work will change because of the cultural landscape there and the activities I will find myself doing in my spare time, like going to the beach or the hills of LA. Also the ability to access fabricators and materials is mush easier, and the cost of living is so much cheaper. I'm trying to make it down there more often, which is great, and the past few trips has sparked some ideas for future exhibitions. In the end it's all Cali living, so as long as I'm on the West coast I'll be happy.

Greg Ito and Luna in his studio home

What is inspiring you at this moment?

Right now, it's work work work. I've been able to get into a pretty productive groove in the studio and with my other artistic endeavors here. I've been meeting a lot of people and scheduling more studio visits with artists to see their work and share mine. Also getting a lot of feedback from art consultants and collectors has been great for me just to get another perspective on the work. But as usual, sunsets, moon gazing, and staring at the sun are daily activities. I have been visiting the mall a lot to look at displays and window shop which gives me a lot of ideas for my installations and arrangements. I go to IKEA, Home Depot, and Lowes too for materials and find myself just staring at people shopping. It is so fascinating to me to watch the consumer in their natural habitat. I'm a consumer, too, but I think I have a different way of looking at things, but all artists do. We get weird.

What does the future hold for you, as an artist, curator and editor? You are young to have done so much professionally in the Art world. Where do you go from here?

The future is so full of unexpected experiences I guess. I don't really know what will come out of it. I have been nominated and become a finalist for some awards here in the Bay Area but never got it in the end. No worries, next time I guess. I did a couple residencies and I'm just open to new opportunities. I'll just keep making work, and contribute to the art community through the exhibitions at Ever Gold and editorial through SFAQ. I'll just keep trekking and see what's going to happen as it comes. Fuck it, the world is just a crazy place and I'm living in it so I'll just keep my options open. More art and more art. Hopefully traveling, too, sometime when I find a window of free time.

(All images here within courtesy of Greg Ito - all images copyright © 2013 / All Rights Reserved)

Up to bat next: Joshu + Vela at Voyager in November
A few weeks ago I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to visit the studio of San Francisco based bag and leather goods maker Joshu + Vela. J + V’s Noah Guy had just returned from what sounded like a dreamy Indian Summer trip to Montana and graciously invited me to tour his space and give me the rundown on what’s happening at Joshu + Vela. Check out Joshu +Vela's pop up shop at Voyager starting November 8th. 

ed. note: All N's are Noah and all M's are me, below and throughout.

N: So Robert told you we are going to do a shop at Voyager?

M: You’re going to do a pop up? When’s that going to be?

N: November and December.

M: I figured you probably were and that’s why he prompted me to get in touch. 

N: So let me give you the grand tour. This is obviously the sewing room. This is the other room which is always in a state of flux because it is not totally sorted out, but it’s storage, because we have to keep all raw materials on hand before I can say I can do something, and it’s also assembly. These are unassembled bags, so they’re sewn.

Most of what we do is three parts: leather, sewing, and assembly. These are sewn, the leather is cut here, and then we assemble using hardware and we use solid copper rivets. These are probably the most painful, most time consuming rivets that there are.

M: Why is that?

N: Because they require five operations, and most rivets require one. But they are solid copper and no other rivet is as strong as this. Nobody has been using them for the past 100 years except for saddlery and electrician pole climbers. So they are really strong and also really expensive, they are between 20 and 30 cents a piece. At an OEM cost that’s pretty high.

And here we have solid brass parts and then solid steel. The steel is all mil spec (US military standard.) We try to use full metals wherever we can.

This will eventually be another sewing zone. We’re gonna get in a couple more VM-1 (??) This old Singer is a Singer cut-sew that we’ll be using soon I hope. Sometimes it takes a while to get these old machines totally ship-shape.

This is where we store all the leather because it’s dark. We get full hides. We have a lot of leather right now. And then we cut and assemble leather parts here. We’re cutting everything by hand. 

M: Where do you get your leather from?

N: It’s from Wicket & Craig of Pennsylvania which is US veg tanned, supplying the saddle-making industry.

M: How long have you been in this space?

N: It will be three years in February. 

M: Have you been making bags that whole time?

N: Well, the first 8 months was a lot of setup. We started with about two machines, and quickly added 5 more, and had to get parts for them. It took a while. In fact, I’m still setting up. I have another machine on order.

It’s a process, the actual “making” of something. Actually, to be honest, the process comes in making more than one thing, and then making it for a not-so-ridiculous price.

M: Did you start with one model and then you’ve expanded from there? Or did you start off trying to do several things, then realized you had to scale back before you moved forward?

N: Well, I’ve done this before but I’ve never owned my own factory so I had some experience going in. I just rented time in a factory before, and by factory, I mean five sewing machines.

I started with the zip backpack. Looking back on it, it was the most complicated style. We still don’t have a style more complicated. It was maybe a little silly, but in a way, because it was complicated and needed a lot of working parts and lot of moving parts, different machinery to perform different operations, it really got a lot of my machines on line working through that; the binders, the zipper stitchers, all the different parts, all the different leather components (we use two different weights of leather.) It’s still the most complicated, time consuming bag [to make.]

We started with that one product, but quickly we added a tote bag, which is also sort of complicated, but not nearly as complicated [as the backpack.] And I had designed that bag before and I simplified it three times, through three iterations. It’s a process. A super long process.

M: So, right now, how many styles of things are you making?

N: Right now we have 13 styles.

M: And you’re continuing to expand that? Will there ever be a point where you decide you are making enough different things?

N: The goal was to do seven. So we are going to do seven times two, so it will be seven men’s and seven women’s styles. Or seven unisex and seven men’s. We’re slowly expanding. We’re not adding anything more than what we’ve set out to do right now. We’ll probably be dropping some styles after Spring. 

M: Is your background in apparel?

N: It is, actually.

M: Did you always know you wanted to be making bags and accessories? Or has that been the natural progression of your career?

N: I don’t think it’s been the progression, and I honestly don’t think that I’ve always wanted it, it was just something I’ve always done. I actually started making bags in August of 2001 and I have never made anything else but bags.

M: Was that because it was something you needed? What drove it? What was the initial inspiration?

N: I think I was interested in it because it’s a physical product. There’s a few different reasons. One, it’s product based rather than apparel based so it’s a more manageable starting point. With clothing you can’t just make one piece and put it out into the market. The market has higher expectations. They wants lines, they wants collections, and they want it to change rapidly.

M: It’s season driven...

N: Right, they want it to move. So it was easier for me to comprehend doing. 

I personally tend to buy used clothing so I related more to buying bags. I buy bags and shoes new. [Making bags] felt like a gateway to apparel. I’ve always been interested in men’s apparel. With women too, bags initiate change in look. The industry often describes women’s shopping habits as buying a new bag every season instead of expensive statement pieces as a way to refresh their look. And I think with men, men get particularly stuck. Buying something easy like a bag can help start you off in a new direction. 

M: How long have you been in San Francisco?

N: I moved with my family from New York in ‘89.

M: Whoa, so you’ve been here a while.

N: I’ve been here a long time.

M: Do you feel being headquartered in SF is vital to your business? Would you be doing this elsewhere? How does being located in SF affect, or how is it conducive, to what you do?

N: That’s a good question. I ask myself that all the time. Sometimes the answer is it’s not at all necessary because it’s a city that, without sounding judgemental, leans on the tacky side dress-wise. Then the other thing is at times it feels like if you’re not doing tech, what are you doing here? But then, I love this city. I love the accessibility to the rest of California. As a city, it’s beautiful. We have the wind, which we all hate, but it brings in fresh air.

As far as being critical to this business, I’m not sure. I think it’s nice. I like it. There’s an element of uniqueness; there’s maybe nobody else doing exactly what I’m doing here. In other cities in the U.S. maybe there’s something similar. But having been here a long time, I really like San Francisco. I hope that the tech people don’t push us out.

M: Me too. As a fairly recent transplant I’m still trying to figure out everything that San Francisco is. The thing that really drew me here, aside from having some family in the area and my mom having lived here in the 70’s and early 80’s and having an intense love affair with SF, then moving back to the East Coast, but always missing it... that really instilled in me this intense curiosity about this place, but after spending some time here, it was just the beauty, the sheer beauty that drew me in.

N: It is beautiful. And that’s part of it, but it’s also a city where people come to find themselves, and that can be either really boring, and painful, as people are always leaving, but it can also be really cool because it can mean a lot of good, creative energy.

M: Definitely.

N: New York has creative energy too, but it’s also tempered with this strong desire to succeed. They have that which is not as prevalent here. It’s still prevalent, but it’s different.

M: Back to the bag making, how long does it take to actually make a bag?

N: That the thing I’ve been working on for three years, trying to figure that out. I still don’t know. The first bag, the zip backpack, at first I was estimating it at 3 ¾ hours.

M: That’s straight through?

N: No, if it was straight through, from start to finish, it would be longer. It would be maybe 4 ½. That’s why it’s so hard to create a guesstimate. You save time by running a bulk of bags. It’s hard for me to figure out what’s the critical number. Is it 50? Is it 30? Is it 100? At what point does it become efficient?

It may sound weird and business-like, but my bags, to some people, are already expensive, but the zip backpack, for instance, is underpriced for what it is. One of the main elements is the cost of the labor. Sure, the materials are expensive, but it’s the cost of labor, the hours that go into making a bag, that’s what makes it really spendy. Since I’ve started doing this I’ve gained a new appreciation for expensive Italian goods because I now understand why they are expensive.

So it does take a while. Even as we get more efficient I think the making of the zip backpack will still be over three hours, maybe we’ll get it down to 3 ½, but again, I’m never really sure. It’s different than doing custom business where you might know exactly.

M: Your products are not bespoke...

N: Bespoke meaning custom for one customer, no. That’s not our business. We’re small run, bench made production. Still hand made, but in small runs.

M: How many people work with you?

N: Currently there is five people working with me. It’s a really good crew right now.

M: Is that the largest number of people you’ve worked with?

N: It’s the largest number. I’m thankful. It’s a really good crew. We’ve got two people on sewing, two people on assembly and cutting, and now one person helping me with web stuff.

M: Collaboration also seems to be a big part of your business model. You’ve done bags with Tartine, you’ve done bags with Four Barrel. How did those collaborative opportunities evolve and why is it important to you?

N: I wasn’t looking for it. It evolved naturally. It just happened one day. But since I’ve been doing it I really like it. There’s a lot of great things about it.

One, it’s sort of relieving not having to be fully responsible for a design. And two, it’s exciting. I feel more like a designer when having to think about a particular clientele and what they want. Considering both the store owner and manager, and the people who go there. It’s fun and it’s also a less expensive product which is also really exciting and interesting. I think the Four Barrel bag is 50$ and the Tartine bag is 45$ and my average bag is over 200$ so it’s exciting to make something that is still nice but much more affordable. 

M: What are your aspirations for Joshu + Vela? What is your future? Where are you headed?

N: Right now I think the future is working first with Robert and Voyager and having the store-in-store in November and December. It will be my first time doing retail and my first time building out, creating an environment.

I really see that as being the future for the line. It will provide a lot of things. Hopefully eventually it will allow for me to have more reasonable prices. It will allow me to do small runs of unique fabrics, prints, and what have you. And that’s what I really want to do: small run, interesting styles. Instead of working so much in the wholesale business, on a one year swing, or six month swing, I want to release capsules of styles more quickly. Right now I can’t. I can design and produce something in weeks, but if I have to wait for the wholesale calendar it’s like eight months or something.

That’s where I want to go. And I want to do more collaborations. Get people in here with new prints and new styles and be able to bust out 100 of something and move on to the next style or next print. 

M: Lastly, what is the significance of the name Joshu + Vela?

N: Joshu+Vela: my middle name, Joshu, and my original partner's middle name, Vela - who quit the business very early on - before we even rented space.

M: Those are all my questions, anything else you’d like to add?

N: Oh, and I guess the other thing, since I’ve been talking so much about the logistics of the business side of this, is that I want to work with more fabrics and dyes and surface treatments, as well as prints. Working more with the artistry of fabric and fibers.

(All images here within courtesy of Noah Guy and Joshu + Vela- all images copyright ©2012 / All Rights Reserved)

  • Page 1 of 3
  • Page 1 of 3