While Campanaro started Eskayel as an amateur t-shirt brand in 2003, her current wallpaper and textiles company began right here, nearly five years ago: After breaking up with a live-in boyfriend, she redecorated by turning one of her paintings into a Rorschach-like wallpaper design, which she self-produced and hung in her Williamsburg living room along with an ink painting by her mentor Tobie Giddio. And yet, “at the time time I wasn’t thinking about what designs I wanted to live with, just about what I thought might be cool, what people might like,” Campanaro admits. “Now I never put out anything I wouldn’t hang in my own house. I’ve learned so much since then about what sells.”

Shanan Campanaro of Eskayel, Wallpaper and Textile Designer

Had you visited eskayel.com back in 2004, when Shanan Campanaro was still an art student at Central Saint Martins in London, you would have seen a very different site from the one posted at that address today. That’s because the whimsical high-end wallpaper and fabric company Campanaro now runs out of her studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, was once a homespun t-shirt label she started with a college friend, featuring the booze- and boyfriend-related escapades of a comic-book character she’d invented. “My tutors at Saint Martins encouraged me to get really honest,” she explains of the project. “It was right when all the YBAs were coming out and Tracey Emin won a Turner Prize making personal quilts — that’s what everyone was into.” For her, the original Eskayel was like one entry in a diary that’s seen the San Diego native reinvent herself several times over the years, from her childhood as the science-obsessed daughter of the bodybuilder who founded Total Gym, to her switch from physics to fine art while studying abroad in Italy, to her time as a graphic designer for the shopping-mall staple Express.  In Campanaro’s case, it’s turned out to be more about the destination than the journey.

One crucial turning point was her internship with noted fashion illustrator Tobie Giddio, which she landed when she first arrived in New York upon graduating from Saint Martins. While bartending, working on her own art, and unsuccessfully attempting to transform the Eskayel t-shirt label into a full-fledged New York streetwear brand — “I was really into sneakers and graffiti at the time,” she recalls — she spent her days helping Giddio organize and run her studio. In return, says Campanaro, “Tobie was helping me develop my paintings away from line-art cartoons and into watercolors, the kind of prettier work I do now. She pulled me out of the edgy streetwear stuff and into things that are beautiful, whereas before I was convinced that everything had to be somehow dark.” It was during a subsequent job working for Express that Campanaro accidentally turned that new approach towards what would become the current iteration of Eskayel: After a breakup with a live-in boyfriend prompted her to empty their apartment of all its furnishings, she decided, on a whim, to liven it up by transforming one of her paintings into her wallpaper. “Everyone liked it,” she says — so much so that she applied to exhibit at the tradeshow Bklyn Designs. “I decided that if I got in, I’d start a wallpaper company.” Since the day she was accepted three and a half years ago, it’s been her singular focus.

Unlike her career trajectory, her current practice is more about the journey than the destination — her kaleidoscopic wallpapers and fabrics start their lives as paintings that can take months to complete, whereas the task of digitally reinventing small sections of those works into Eskayel designs occupies only a fraction of her time. But in keeping with the problem-solving, science-loving side of her personality that’s never really gone away, she almost always follows the same steps throughout her process. We visited Campanaro in her studio this winter to document that approach, presented in the slideshow here.

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