By JOHN T. WARD
Deb Jellenik won’t be bringing her wallpaper printer to the annual artists’ show at Sickels Market this weekend.
It’s about the size of a compact car, for one thing. And it’s parked in the basement of her Red Bank home.
More than that, though, is the fact that hitting “print” on a custom wallpaper project is among the final steps in a process that requires a painstaking combination of art and craft – not to mention a dash of crazy.
Jellenik, 50, operates under the name Plumline Wallpaper, practicing a craft that few others are engaged in and few consumers know exists: singular wallpapers that reflect an unyielding artistic vision and devotion to detail.
In her home studio, she shows off pieces that required dozens of hours of experimentation – applying silver leaf or gold leaf square by square, distressing it, printing on it, laboriously hand-brushing on glazes and varnishes to create subtle effects, sometimes requiring several passes through her printer.
“Yeah, I’m crazy,” she says.
“It’s a lot of layers, a lot of work,” she adds. “That’s why nobody else is doing this, and I understand why.”
It’s a long way from her starting point as an English major at Drew University. Though as a kid she was “known for drawing trees in pen and ink,” Jellenik avoided art school because “I knew deep down I would only be a mediocre artist.” A career in real estate advertising followed.
But after her mother died, Jellenik reviewed her life, and decided to join a friend in a faux finishes wall painting business, waiting tables on the side at Red Bank’s Front Street Trattoria to supplement her income.
That led, after more than a decade, to an interest in the possibilities of wallpaper as a medium, though to get her ideas from her head onto walls, Jellinik had to educate herself, mostly through trial and error.
One challenge was in finding a print shop willing to let her run her hand-painted creations through printing technology more accustomed to spitting out paper and vinyl banners.
“I decided, alright, what if I was the printer?” So she bought a commercial printer for about $5,000 and installed it in the cellar of her home, next to the computer with the large-screen monitor on which she does much of her design work.
Among the projects in her studio during a recent visit was custom wallpaper totaling just 230 square feet for a residential bathroom, a job that would take a painter a few hours, including cleanup time.
“The client said, ‘what’s our turaround time?'” Jellenik said. “I said, ‘don’t book the paperhanger until June.'”
Who goes for custom wallpaper? The bathroom client, she said, is typical.
“She’s somebody who wants everything just so,” she said. The client had carefully chosen floor tiles and faucets, but found that “nothing’s tying the room together.”
When Jellenik told her she could have custom wallpaper, “she flipped out. ‘I can create my own wallpaper?'”
Even after a decade at the craft, it’s still a lot of trial and error, Jellenik said. “Some things you think are going to work don’t. But it’s a lot of fun experimenting.”
“There are a lot of steps to get there,” she says, “but once it goes up, it’s just kind of magical.”
The Sickles Art Show runs Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the greenhouse at Sickles Market, 1 Harrison Avenue, Little Silver.