Culture  Worth its salt

Sel et Vinaigre goes from zine to silkscreen in 1-2-3

Two young Montrealers launched an audacious project when they opened their own silkscreen shop a few months ago. Silkscreening may not be a new phenomenon, but Julien Bakvis and Mélissa Di Menna are determined to make a name for themselves with their label Sel et Vinaigre.

Silkscreening, or serigraphy, is a printmaking technique that involves using silk stencils to create a sharp image on a flat surface. Julien Bakvis was introduced to silkscreening when he was studying film animation at Concordia. Taking two silkscreening electives provided a welcome break from the daily grind. “I was drawing so much, I almost got bored of it!” he tells me. It also allowed him to merge his interests: “Silkscreening was a good way to combine graphics and my other passion – music,” he says. In trying to promote his band, silkscreening gave a fresh, inventive, and – most importantly – professional look to demo covers and posters for shows. Beyond its artistic value, “silkscreen has its practical use,” he admits.

Julien’s collaboration with Mélissa began seven years ago when they published a fanzine together, working on everything from graphic design to editing. Since the zine was called Katshup, they ran with the condiment theme and called themselves “Les productions Sel et Vinaigre”; it stuck. At this point, they decided to dedicate themselves to silkscreening on a more permanent basis, and redesigned their loft to make room for a studio. But the possibilities were limited. Working on textile requires the use of toxic chemicals, so you cannot work with in the same environment you sleep in.

The duo realized that they needed proper equipment and an adequate working space. They applied to Service d’aide aux jeunes entrepreneurs, or SAJE – a program whose mission is to offer consulting services, coaching, and training to new entrepreneurs – and received funding. But when they had finally settled into a new location, SAJE cut their lifeline. With rent to pay and a lack of financial support, they went through rough times, but they managed to pull through. “We’ve been lucky. We had approached a lot of potential clients before relocating, and we started receiving contracts. But it was not easy. When you start a new business, there are always more expenses than revenues,” says Bakvis.

Today, Sel et Vinaigre works with clients from many industries. Several bands hire them for designing t-shirts and posters, as do artists who don’t own silkscreening equipment but want to display their designs using the technique. The latter job is very demanding and attention to detail is crucial; because the prices of these pieces can be high, the silkscreen reproductions must be perfect copies of the originals.

Making a silk stencil is costly, but it can be used to print a design ad infinitum once it’s made. As a result, the process isn’t expensive for clients when they order many prints of a single design, but it gets pricey when they only want a handful of copies based on different models. Clients with lower budgets, like underground bands, usually stick to the former alternative. But clients in the film industry tend to have larger budgets, and aren’t afraid to splurge on two or three copies of several designs. “When these people call, it’s always on a rush. But it’s all right; they’re willing to pay,” says Julien.

Sel et Vinaigre’s target clientele are people involved in the arts scene for both business and personal reasons. They’re big cultural consumers and they’re each taking part in music projects. Julien is drumming in Jacquemort, whose bassist, Thomas Augustin, also plays with the francophone band Malajube. Being part of the underground musical scene allows them to network, but it also means that they’re associating with people who share their interests. They make regular appearances at all sorts of cultural events, to discover new artists and publicize their brand.

Sel et Vinaigre isn’t the only silkscreening business in Montreal. There’s plenty of competition in the city, particularly in the t-shirt industry. But the two brains behind the project are confident that they are going to make it – and they’ve got a clear vision for the label. As graphic designers, and thus artists themselves, they want people coming to them for their distinguished style. Bakvis says, “When it comes to dealing with the bigger players who always have tons of contracts, it’s an anonymous relationship and clients feel like numbers. We want to become a reference on the cultural scene. We are present at music festivals. People talk. We want them to associate our work with us, our graphics with our name.”

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