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Better Together: Monica Ramos and Leah Goren

If you don’t know them by name, you probably know Monica Ramos and Leah Goren through their work or have purchased their items on Etsy. Monica and Leah, both Brooklyn-based, share a studio with lots of light, plants and snacks. Between illustrating for publications like The New York Times and designing book covers, they also work on sticker packs, make a Sad Girls Zine, and do impressively accurate drawings of what they wear to the studio. Here’s what they had to say about being better together, as friends and as artists.
Interview by Maitri Mehta

Totes by Leah and Monica

So the feature is called Better Together— how are you ladies better together?
Leah: That’s so cute! Before I moved in here I worked at home by myself, or I guess with my boyfriend, but he’s not an illustrator so I was basically alone. It’s amazing to have Monica around to talk to about my work.
Monica: She keeps me from being a total bum.
Leah: It’s good teamwork to get here at a good time and make coffee or tea and talk about what we’re working on—
Monica: And share frustrations.
Leah: It makes us feel like we’re part of a bigger picture of illustration work rather than just being cooped up alone. You can go crazy working alone.

How long have you been in this studio?
Leah: Almost a year!
Monica: I was working in my living room before. It was so depressing! I would be there every day and I wouldn’t go out.

Where are y’all from?
Monica: The Philippines.
Leah: San Diego. Both warmer climates.
Monica: People think I’m from California, I think because how I talk.
Leah: We were talking about moving to California some day, but we’d ALL have to go, because otherwise it’d be too lonely.

And you two met at Parsons?
Leah: Yes. We were trying to figure out what class it was but it’s all kind of a blur—
Monica: I think we met in a printmaking class because I remember Leah did all these block prints of girls’ faces—
Leah: We were making .gifs! I don’t even know anymore! We have a lot of friends from school but I don’t know when we all met. They just showed up at some point.

How did you decide to move into a studio together?
Leah: I started here with Rachel [Levit] and some other friends, and then we convinced Monica to move in.
Monica: I was actually really resistant because I was so comfortable in my living room. I was like, I’m just never gonna leave. But no, it’s been so good. I feel like a normal person here [laughs], with a place to do work.

Catdish by Leah

Alpacas by Monica

What are you working on right now, individually?
Monica: I have this one group show in Copenhagen, it’s about swimming. And a few months later I have another duo show also in Denmark, and I’m hoping to fly there.
Leah: I got an editorial thing this morning! So I worked on sketches today. It’s for an essay. I’m learning things about writing today. It’s a quick turnaround as usual, and then just answering emails, always.

I get bad email anxiety, do you?
Monica: If I answer an email at 1 AM, is that bad?
Leah: I don’t think it’s bad, I think it just means you’re on the clock all the time.
Monica: But not like, 4 AM, right? 4 AM is bad.

What are you working on together?
Monica: We’re working on a ceramics pop-up show, which is how we spend most of our time—
Leah: Yeah, I think it’s the most fun thing I do, because it doesn’t feel like work. Not that my work isn’t fun. We’ve been taking ceramics for maybe a year, or a little over. I started just making things with my mom who’s an art teacher and then taking actual classes in New York.
Monica: I took one class in high school, because my grandmother on my dad’s side used to have a ceramics studio, and then I started maybe half a year ago here in New York because Leah was taking classes and it seemed like a lot of fun. They had all this cool stuff! We just hang out at the ceramics studio, talking and making things. I mostly make a lot of alpacas.
Leah: She’s notorious at the studio for her alpacas.

Ceramics by Leah and Monica

Is it hard making art for business?
Monica: Yeah, it’s strange. Because you want to pursue something like illustration and then you’re like, "OMG I’m gonna love my career," and then it ends up giving you stress at the same time.
Leah: It puts an edge on it, yeah.

Do you guys talk to each other about your own personal projects?
Leah: Yeah, I would say since we’re still just starting out, two years out of school, there are a lot of questions we have to figure out and apply, like pricing and how to answer clients’ questions. Even more basic stuff like, “Is this sketch good?”
Monica: It’s reassuring, too. It helps just being in the same room as people who are doing things that are creative. I think it’s a pretty tough industry to get into and it’s nice to see other friends at the same point. We’re all trying to get to the same place. I don’t know what I would do if not for the studio at this point. I feel so at home here.
Leah: And we’re always so excited for each other when we get jobs! And we also get really mad at things together.
Monica: Also, Leah has been helping me get better at Instagram! She is amazing at it.
Leah: No, you’re really good at it, but you don’t post enough. I grade her Instagrams. "A minus."

Illustration by Monica

Illustration by Leah

What do y’all like to do together that’s not work?
Leah: Go to Vanessa’s Dumplings.
Monica: Yes, dumplings.
Leah: Go to the movies, buy plants… we love to go plant shopping.
Monica: We had a poker night before! We also love to go to ceramics together.

Tell me more about your pop-up shop.
Leah: It’s gonna be in Greenpoint!
Monica: Originally we were thinking of doing a gallery show but then as we were making things it just seemed like a lot of the things were functional so it would be better as a pop-up.
Leah: I think even though Monica does more group shows in a fine arts context, I think our ceramics are more commercial and it makes sense to sell them that way.
Monica: And we wanna be more in control of how our ceramics are sold.
Leah: I think having these nice little home objects that are decorative and affordable is relevant to our interests right now, and we have some other friends who are putting stuff in the show, like quilts and jewelry.
Monica: We’ve been talking about shelves. It’s a totally empty space so we get to put whatever we want in there. It’s gonna be so much fun.

The Fresh List: BRRCH Floral

Twenty-six-year-old floral designer Brittany Asch is refreshing the notion of traditional blooms and bouquets with her youthful and creative take on floral arrangements. We chatted with the Brooklyn-based founder of BRRCH about her favorite flowers, her influences, and just how one breaks into the world of floristry. Words Katie Gregory. Photographs by Katie McCurdy

Have you always been passionate about flowers?
Floral arrangements were definitely not something I was "passionate" about, but I have always loved flowers, plants and paintings of flowers. I was just so completely preoccupied with other endeavors growing up and the only florist in town was this small shop in a really sterile room that was not appealing to me in any way.

So how did you get to where you are today?
I was raised on this track to be in some aspect of the entertainment industry. Acting class every Friday, dance lessons probably eight hours a week after school, singing lessons one hour every week, the whole shebang. I was being groomed, as they say. I had a change of heart after attending Berklee College of Music and felt like there was something else I should be doing, not because I didn't love music but because I didn't love the industry. When I realized that I could actually work with flowers in an artistic way and that it was a job, it totally knocked me over and I was hooked. I am glad I discovered it when I did, though. My previous experiences have definitely played a big role in the work that I do and the way I create. Life moves you in very unexpected ways. Maybe one day I'll be in a biopic about a florist who sings and it will all make sense.

Who or what inspires your floral arrangements?
Different things depending on the day. Japan, the UK, France, the jungle. The ethereal and the fantastical. Royalty and rock & roll. Decadence and grit. I'm super inspired by Tim Walker, Sofia Coppola, Wes Anderson and so many others.

How would you recommend someone interested in floral design get started?
If you're in a city, go to your local flower shop or bodega and buy some stems you like and arrange them in a way that pleases you. If you're not in a city, go walk in your backyard or on the side of the road and pick some things. The only way to get started is by actually doing it. I'd say that goes with everything. You should also get used to heavy lifting.

Any other floral designers you admire?
I really like Azuma Makoto’s work. I freelanced on a job with Thierry Boutemy once and he is a force, too. There’s a ton of really talented designers out there. Exciting times for the world of floristry.

What are some of your favorite flowers to use for spring?
Magnolia, dogwood, fritillaria meleagris, bearded iris, greens, and all of the flowering branches.

What is your favorite flower?
Probably an heirloom garden rose or water lily. But I can't really commit to just one flower. I really love blushing bride protea, forget-me-nots... I just had to stop myself from naming 50 more flowers. I'm not a favorites kind of girl, never have been.

Best smelling flower?
An heirloom garden rose, for sure. True tuberose is intoxicating as well.

What's the “It” flower of the moment?
I feel like the peony is the eternal "It" girl. She's just so agreeable. I've yet to meet a person that says, "I hate peonies." I don't think that person exists. I just made that person up.

Do you have any tips for creating a springtime floral arrangement for a beginner?
Daffodils, daisies, and buttercups. Tie them with a bow.

Where are some good places to source inexpensive flowers?

Bodegas, grocery stores, and farm stands.

Any "dont's" when it comes to floral arrangements?
Don't cut the stems too short. Don't make a dome shape (flowers are meant to be appreciated, not suffocated). But the most helpful “don't” tip I can give to any aspiring florist is this: Don't follow all of the rules of arranging. Make your own.

Fake flowers: Can they ever be done right?
Have you seen that Alexander McQueen dress covered in flowers? That is an example of fakes done right. I'd say yes.

Is baby’s breath totally not cool anymore?
I think until recently baby's breath was really the opposite of cool, but it's currently having an underdog renaissance. I appreciate that. You go get 'em, baby's breath.

Person of Interest: Katie Gallagher

Designer Katie Gallagher was the host for our exclusive ArtsThread party last week, so we took the opportunity to ask her what advice she would give to young, up-and-coming fashion designers.

1. Go where the action is
My initial thing was to move to New York. I was studying at RISD in Rhode Island, and everybody said to move to New York. I told two of the designers [at the ArtsThread event] who live in London that to start, they should probably come to New York. You can't go to L.A. or anywhere else. They told me they wanted to come to the U.S., but I said Nope, you only have to come to New York! It's good for young designers and design in general.

2. Get an internship 
There's not any kind of formula. I interned, of course. I interned for Anna Sui and threeASFOUR. Anna Sui was really good for me because Anna Sui was really corporate, and it taught me all the different areas in Midtown to take fabric to, and other things. I used to write down addresses for god knows what reason, but it was just in case I ever wanted to put buttons on a shirt and not have to do it myself. threeASFOUR was kind of different because it was more avant-garde. I was sewing for threeASFOUR and doing a lot of hands-on work, which was really different from the corporate world of Anna Sui. My advice to young designers would be to try to get a medium [balance] of both of those [worlds] if you can. threeASFOUR is really special, and I don't think it's easy to find that in New York. It's like interning for me, where you have to do a lot of actual labor!

3. Get involved in initiatives like ArtsThread 
I just really liked seeing the clothes [the winning designers created]. It's really important for young people to get exposed this way. It's something that I never had, and it would have been amazing. My favorite piece from the UO x ArtsThread collection is the black jumpsuit because I would wear that.