It is generally not considered a good sign if people are staring at meeting room walls. Please stop talking. For the love of all that is good, please stop talking. Yet, people from around the world – USA Today, Tech City News UK, Canadian Business, Azure Magazine, Mashable – are staring at Hootsuite’s boardroom walls and they are excited. ‘The coolest office in Vancouver.’ ‘The Top 10 coolest offices in Canada.’
Staring back at these boardroom boosters are the intense yellow eyes of a Great Horned Owl. This beautifully detailed mural is the work of Sandy and Steve Pell, the artists behind Pellvetica. These spouses create intricate, organic graphic designs for their high profile murals. “I want to change the way people interact and engage within office spaces,” says Sandy, “especially in the way they engage and collaborate with their colleagues.”
The ‘Owl Eyes’ Spotted Boardroom is a particularly meaningful project to Sandy, as she was one of the first 30 employees at Hootsuite and now serves as their Corporate Communications Manager. “I am especially proud of this mural since it was the first professional space I had ever painted.”
“After moving to Vancouver, Steve and I were on a walk together in Stanley Park, and we came across a Great Horned Owl perched on a tree. The owl was staring at us with the most intense golden yellow eyes I had ever seen.” Sandy, Steve and The Owl stared quietly at each for three, four long minutes.
By the time the owl flew off, the Pells had their inspiration for the Hootsuite boardroom wall. Their Great Horned friend seemed a particularly good choice given the owl’s centrality in Hootsuite’s branding. CEO Ryan Holmes and the design team loved the idea and the Pells were off and planning.
For all of their murals, Sandy and Steve take on different roles. “Together, we came up with the idea of doing a close-up of the Stanley Park owl’s face. Steve is a graphic designer by profession. He is a Jenga master when it comes to creating experiences for people to feel a certain way when they walk into a space. He is really strong in interior design, in layouts. He’ll use a lot of math and psychology in thinking about how big the eyes should be, how pointy the beak should be, why every stroke is where it is. My role is doing the pattern work, the illustration.”
When it comes time to install the office murals, Sandy and Steve are committed to starting on Friday evening and finishing by Monday morning. “We never want to interrupt or disrupt the workplace. We want people to come into a new experience on Monday morning. It shouldn’t be half done, or almost there. We want to have that Wow factor.”
Though they will sneak home for mini-naps, the Pells get into the flow of painting whilst listening to about 30 movies over the course of the weekend. “We’re together, we’re laughing, we’re working solid. We rotate choosing movies and the other person can’t say anything about your choice.”
Of course, it’s one thing to create a mural for a client, and another thing to transform a boardroom for your boss and fellow employees. “We had a couple of people sneaking in to see how things were going. The cleaners would walk by and peek in while they were vacuuming. They’d be like ‘woah’ and that alone was really inspiring.” Before Sandy got back to work on Monday morning, co-workers were already sharing their Owl Eyes selfies all over social media. “The feeling that people had: the joy, the excitement. You never know how people will react.”
Sandy has been actively involved in creating art since she was a child. “Every moment of my childhood was filled with art. I can’t actually recall any time where I was not feeding that side of my life.”
When she decided to major in Communication Studies and Sociology at Wilfrid Laurier University, she established a stock photography business on the side. Sandy and Steve started doing murals in 2008, when they were living in a white-walled loft space in Kitchener, Ontario. “Both of us craved the addition of a fun wallpaper print, but we were quoted $450 for the wall we had in mind.” That wasn’t going to happen, so they decided to paint the space together.
After graduating and moving to Vancouver, Sandy established a portrait and product photography business. When she took on social media for one of her fabric design clients, she started using the Hootsuite dashboard. Intrigued, she began researching the company and scanning their career boards. “I just love working there.”
And how does she balance a serious career at Hootsuite with a serious clientele at Pellvetica? “I don’t break my world into two roles. I am not just Public Relations for Hootsuite, or a mural painter for Pellvetica. I find that the two roles merge throughout the day.” “When I have the opportunity to paint a mural over a 30 to 50 hour span, I feel balanced and driven to take on my work at Hootsuite come Monday morning. Muraling is not a chore or work. Muraling is my meditation.”
The Pells are in high demand for their mural work. They were brought on to create a tiger wall for Mobify’s new Yaletown offices. “Not only was this the tallest wall we had painted to date – spanning 22 feet across and 12 feet high – I also did this work on a matte black background rather than white. I had a chance to experiment with different metallic paints and airbrushing techniques for added depth.”
For Allocadia, they created a butterfly mural. “This mural is also one of my favourites, since it was the first mural that we completed which mixed branded metallic paints through a gradient across the space. Patterns included in the butterfly illustration work also evolve and grow as the viewer looks from left to right, which speaks to the company’s vision around transformation and evolution.”
Back at Hootsuite, Sandy and Steve have created 3 additional murals. Particularly intriguing is the Elf and Barn Room. “Hootsuite’s office used to be a CSIS building. We knocked out 90% of the walls, but we did keep these two tiny rooms that use to be used as interrogation rooms. No one liked to use them. They were tiny and really uncomfortable. They felt like interrogation rooms.”
In the time-lapse video below, you’ll see how the Pells used floor to ceiling, back to back mirrors to make the rooms feel bigger and to make the half-of-an-owl painting look like a full owl.
By working in a start-up and with so many start-up clients, Sandy is inspired as an artist. “I realize the importance of focusing, of having a goal. Of making sure that everything you do in your life is contributing to that goal. Thinking about the demographics of your buyers.”
And given her own expertise in social media, what special advice would Sandy offer to artists and designers who are trying to establish themselves online?
“I’ve explored social media from an artistic capacity for a few years now, having focused my Instagram account ‘SandyCanvas’ specifically on artwork. Immediately I noticed that it was the art focus that promoted an increase in followers.”
Sandy’s social media tips for those looking to promote their artwork are:
- Understand your audience and your goals.
- If you’re looking to promote your art, follow and engage with interior design firms, design and build companies, and operations teams.
- If you to want to inspire an audience, follow and engage with students, schools and art professors.
- If your goal is to get your work featured, follow and engage with publications, reporters, editors and feature accounts.
Written by Elizabeth Newton
Photos Courtesy of Pellvetica.