A year after first meeting, the friendship of Minneapolis fashion illustrator Cait Courneya and Megan Gonzalez, owner of local stationery and branding design company MaeMae & Co has blossomed into a creative collaboration. The pair recently launched a six-piece line of co-designed pillows and prints online, featuring tropical imagery such as pineapples and palm leaves—a nod to L.A., where both designers have lived.
They selected a simple black-and-white palette to help marry Courneya’s softer, fluid style with MaeMae & Co’s harder, graphic aesthetic. I chatted with the two designers about how the collaboration came about, the creative process they went through, and how the collaboration has inspired their own individual work.
How did the collaboration come about?
Megan: Cait and I met through a mutual friend, Wing Ta (of Canary Grey Photography, who shot the collaborative product line). We’ve been friends for a while and talking about what we’re working on and our businesses when Cait approached me and asked if there’s anything we could work on together so we started brainstorming. I loved her illustrations and watercolor work, and used that as a jumping off point. We talked about using tropical imagery, since we’d both lived in L.A. for a while, and we stuck to a black and white palette which I think was a cool way to marry both of our styles, since our work is a little different. We wanted to bridge the gap between Cait’s softer style and MaeMae’s more graphic, harder style. We both print our work on paper often, so we talked about exploring new ways of printing our designs. We landed on textiles, which we created for the pillows. We also decided to create some prints, in case pillows weren’t the right fit for someone.
Cait: I felt like both of us were wanting to explore home good and textile design. Megan had done a little bit of it before, that’s why it was fun to do the pillows—it was a different avenue and medium for us.
What was your creative process?
Cait: Megan and I utilized Pinterest as a starting point where we gathered inspiration through a shared board. Then we pulled out the watercolors and printed off the images that inspired both us, creating images together in Megan’s studio. So the images on each of the pillows were created by both of us. The graphic palm was created primarily by Megan, as well as the alpha print—the pineapples and the palms were done with my hand, but we both contributed to the whole thing as far as vision. We were looking over each other’s shoulders the entire time—it was a true collaboration.
Megan: Like Cait said, we made art with our own hands but came together about scale and how they were applied. The work as a whole speaks to things that we’re both interested on our own, and it was cool to see it come together, from painting to fabric sourcing. It ended up being a part of each of us, of our styles.
Did working on the project together inspire future your own work in any way?
Megan: One of the things I really struggle with is getting some fire underneath me to pursue projects I’m excited about, so having Cait’s encouragement has been great for us, as MaeMae as a team, to work on more prints and work on more options, like the pillows, that are outside of our usual style. Creating actual materials and product was really inspiring to myself and my team to make more items like that.
Cait: For me, my business is younger than Megan’s, so it was fun working with her because she also has the insight into selling the product and what her customers want. She pushed me to work in a style that I wouldn’t normally work, and I was so inspired by the products we created and images that I’d like to explore that more. i typically don’t work in black and white—I typically work in color—but I really love the patterns how they came out and the technique I used. It’s been fun to see the response we’ve gotten from people too—it’s been really encouraging. When you’re a creative, of course you like what you’re doing, but it’s gratifying when other people respond to it.
How do you balance creative projects like this with business?
Megan: Projects like these are something I’ve been missing in my daily routine, so it was fun to have something that allowed me to talk abstractly with Cait and dream up what it could become. I think we stayed pretty close to our original intention but there were moments of, ‘Maybe we can do this or that,’ so we had a lot of freedom. It can be scary to have a lot of freedom. Having a boss or client guiding the process gives you a lot of security so you know where you’re going, but since Cait and I had a lot of control over what was going on, you could go in circles for infinity, so that was a good learning experience. In the future I would practice putting parameters around the project, so that was something I learned myself about trying to get it done. It’s tough for yourself instead of a client.
Cait: Being creative, it’s important to have boundaries, and it makes your job easier. I think there were a few moments where we started getting carried away, and you’re overwhelmed by the amount of options and directions you could take it. I think it was cool to branch into this realm with a partner, because Megan already has a business mind, and she was able to reign me in and vice versa—there’s no boundaries, and all of a sudden you’re going in circles, and you have to pare it down to a great, tight, small collection because it will be so much more successful.
Do you see this being an ongoing collaboration?
Megan: We talked about what the future could hold for more collaborations, and I think we’re both open to it, so it could be cool to see what could be next. Here at MaeMae, we’ve changed our name from MaeMae Paperie to MaeMae & Co to reflect we don’t just do paper, but because we’re looking forward to doing a lot of collaborations, and work on projects beyond paper.
Palm pillow, $110 @ caitcourneya.com
Pineapple Pom Pom Pillow, $128 @ caitcourneya.com
Palm Row Print, from $69 @ caitcourneya.com
Alpha Print, from $69 @ caitcourneya.com
Palm Print, from $69 @ caitcourneya.com
Pineapple Row Print, from $69 @ caitcourneya.com
[Photos by Wing Ta/Canary Grey Photography and MaeMae & Co]