Rencontre avec Atelier Universel

Meeting with Atelier Universel

atelier universel photo de cindy boyce

Atelier Universel is an artisanal printing and bookbinding studio, a well-kept secret from the industrial neighborhood of old Rosemont. Since 2016, Stéphanie St-Jean Aubre and Manuel Mineau have been working to offer a personalized service to a wide range of artists, entrepreneurs and artisans. You've probably seen their smiles in our photos ; they sometimes play models for us. Their books and stationery are also available in our boutique and you might have seen their work on our walls in 2019. I wanted to take the time to talk with them about their work and their respective backgrounds to understand what has brought them to where they are today.

atelier universel, photo cindy boyce

The story behind the duo

In addition to studies in commercial printing and bookbinding, Manuel Mineau learned typographic printing at the Montreal Museum of Printing. The latter was located at Lovell's in Old Montreal until closing. "It was the oldest printing house in Montreal still in operation. With these people, I discovered typo, including lead typo and [manual] typo composition. » Lead composition is the fundamental principle used in printing since Gutenberg and his press, which is now automated in industrial printing plants. 

atelier universel photo de cindy boyce

At that time, Manu dreams of 17th century bookstores: " The person who ran the bookstore printed, bound and sold the books to European university students, this is the dream I wanted to replicate in my business. » This is the dream that he first brought to life with La Passe before creating, in 2016, the Atelier Universel de Reproduction et d'Assemblage.

Stéphanie, who is trained in visual arts and theatre, founded {l'ensemble vide} in 2012. {l'ensemble vide}an illustration and silk-screening company. From Montreal to Gatineau, her practice developed and her heart swung between producing the works of others and creating her own projects. In 2018, when they fell in love, she joined Manu to make Atelier Universel the print shop it is today. Together they combine their worlds and skills to print and bind words and drawings.

atelier universel, photo cindy boyce

Is this craftsmanship ?

First of all, Manu is a little flayed by this question. " I must stop thinking that small production must absolutely rhyme with craftsmanship. In our case, we use several industrial methods to make high-end printing. » This is indeed what makes the work of Atelier Universel so special. " In english, there's the word craftman that represents what we do. The word craft has been overused over time and we lose its meaning. But that's what we do here at home, we're craftsmen in the true sense of the word. »

Stephanie is more moderate when it comes to the word. " I understands that one can be rebellious to the word craft, but at the same time, craftsmanship is regaining a lot of its letters of nobility with the focus on local purchasing in recent years. Above all, we must stop associating craftsmanship with a hobby instead of a profession. Then it is the craftsmanship that makes us unique and the industrial aspect that allows us to make a living from it. »

Indeed, when you're at Atelier Universel, you don't feel like you're at the Salon des métiers d'arts. The machines that surround us are between 10 and 150 years old, each one comes with its own whims and stories that create authenticity. " She is the Sphinx by Monique Dussault, a Quebec engraver. I bought it from her for $1000, the same price she bought it in 1971. She gave me a second one as a gift afterwards, it's still a gift of 750 pounds ! In reality, we probably use half of the space in our workshop, because we store many machines that are not used, but which have a great museum value. » The workshop is indeed full of machines that Manu repairs according to the needs of the customers or for their personal projects.


atelier universel photo de cindy boyce

What drives the studio ?

Manu explains to me that it is the failures that mark him. " The projects where we fail allow us to learn a lot. When things don't go well, we manage to dissect what happened and we can make more ambitious projects après ". As if he treats problems the same way he treats, maintains and repairs machines so that Atelier Universel can grow.

For both craftsmen, challenges are like a force or an engine to move the adventure forward. Among other things, Manu is in charge of keeping the presses in good condition. " Some of the machines we have are more than 150 years old. For sure I have to keep them in good condition and repair them so that when a customer asks us for something, or Steph has a project, it's feasible. »

Stéphanie, for her part, finds it difficult to find time for her personal projects but appreciates what the new orders bring her. " Our progress comes a lot from customer requests, complicated requests force us to learn and improve. »

" And to see the projects we've completed, it helps a lot ," Stephanie tells me. Manu adds that according to the purchase orders of the projects completed by their company, they have completed over 100 projects together in a few years. The two artist-entrepreneurs don't hide their pride when they take the time to take a step back and look at their accomplishments since their association. And from an outside eye, it is not difficult to understand them. The work that comes out of their studio is original prints of great quality that stand out from each other.  

atelier universel, photo cindy boyce

For an overview of their work, visit their Instagram account.

Pictures of Cindy Boyce.

Thanks to Steph and Manu for their generosity. Thanks to Mathieu Pipe-Rondeau for editorial assistance and Maryse Boyce for editing.



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