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Conversation With: Napkin Apocalypse Behind the scenes with Courtney

what youth napkin

Editor’s note: A few months a go we went to Dane and Courtney’s house to film a For the Love episode on Napkin Apocalypse  We talked at length with Courtney about how Napkin Apocalypse, animal obsession and sewing have created this new world. Below is the extended interview and it is filled with awesome. And we’re also very happy to say that Sammy Boo Reynolds, their new son is happy and healthy and getting a tour of the world from the two coolest people we know. —Travis 

WHAT YOUTH: The last time I interviewed you, you were working at Sea World, I think. This was a long time ago, just talk about kind of early days Courtney and what that was like.

COURTNEY: Growing up I’d always known that I wanted to work with animals and I went to exotic animal training college for two years. They have a zoo on campus and you learn how to train, animal husbandry, what it takes to put on a show, wildlife conservation, how to run a zoo, how to answer a phone. Just everything it takes to work with animals. And we learn the kingdom, phylum, class, origins of species of hundreds of animals. I had wanted to work at Sea World with dolphins and so I graduated in ‘06 and I got a job at Sea World and was there for a little bit. It was a bit more corporate than I had envisioned it as a child. It was still amazing but they kind of have to make it corporate and regimented just because they have animal rights activists analyzing every single move that they make. But my experience there was really good. They took really great care of the animals and it was a super good, positive environment but it was just not somewhere that I envisioned myself staying forever and so I moved back home with Dane and started traveling a bit with him.

Did you have a job then or were you just travelling? I worked at a restaurant for a while and it was a weird transitional phase because

I’d always been this animal girl, and then I was just living with my boyfriend working at a restaurant. So that was a super awkward point for a little bit so I took a sewing class at the community college just for fun and just became enthralled with the idea of being able create anything you could think of and that it would fit you properly.

I would get super pumped every time I sewed something so it just kind of snowballed. but then I still had that animal void and so I got into falconry and started training birds of prey and got my own hawk at home to hunt with.

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You say that, and you’re the only falconer that I’ve ever met but even going back to Sea World, like every kid wants to do that. And then falconry, like, how cool are you? How do you actually go out and do those things?  I think it’s like one of those childhood dreams, like, “I want to be a ballerina, I want to be a dolphin trainer.” It’s just one of those things, those broad, general things that all kids kind of dream of doing and then in high school and stuff, you start learning that, like, “Oh, not everyone’s a ballerina and a firefighter and a dolphin trainer… there are accountants.” And then obviously people go down different paths. I just have such a strong drive to be around animals and learn more about animals that it wasn’t just like, “Oh, I think animals are cool, I want to be a dolphin trainer.” It’s a very strong passion for animals and I knew that it was a possibility, and I just wanted to do it.

Even hanging out with you, it’s so easy being like, “Oh I love animals too.” And a lot of people do love animals, but when I talk to you I feel like I come away educated like I know about pigeons now.  Yeah! And I love animal anatomy and taxidermy and just learning about how they function and just their bodies. Dane and I will just be sitting out there in the late afternoon and all the birds are at the bird feeder and we like envisioning their daily life that they’re going through. You’ll see a girl sparrow land on the bird feeder and you’re like “Oh, she has to go to the grocery store and pick up the groceries. She has the kids bitching at home, her husband’s just getting off of work, he’s been searching for seeds all day.” I love humanizing animals and giving them personalities and envisioning what they do every day and it was something we were definitely taught in animal college. It’s called anthropomorphism — where you attribute human characteristics to inanimate objects or animals — like projecting human feelings onto them. And we were trained not to do that but I really can’t help it. If you’re going to actually train an animal, it really inhibits seeing the situation clearly, but if I’m just making up like, “That blue jay just got in a fight with her boyfriend” and I like making up that sort of stuff.

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Give me a quick run down on the dogs. Like the personalities of Boogie, Pam, and Truffle. Well, it’s kind of funny. There’s the anthropomorphic side of who I think they’d be. Boogie would be a kind of jock, and he’d listen to Third Eye Blind. But as far as how he is as a dog, he’s amazing. He’s like a loaf of bread and I like that he doesn’t need you. It’s kind of like a bad boyfriend, like he only wants you sometimes and then he gives you the cold shoulder and it leaves you wanting more, and you want nothing more than for him to show affection but he doesn’t really need you like Truffle and Pam do. But Truffle is super loving, obnoxiously loving. She’s 12 now and just in the past couple of years I’ve really had an appreciation for what she brings to the table. She’s always under your feet and super obnoxious and very like, “Mom, mom, mom,” but there’s some dynamic and love that she brings. The bulldogs are like more about themselves whereas she’s like the first one to greet you when you come to the door. And then Pam is just something else. She’s like a diva, she’s manipulative, she’s that girl in high school that you absolutely hated that was like super charismatic and fun and all the boys liked her. She just has it all going on.

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And then, quickly I wanted to talk about the pigeon addition to the family. How did pigeons come to the party, and what does that bring to you guys?  I’ve had an infatuation with pigeons for a while. Hawks and pigeons are a contradiction. A lot of times when I would go to falconry meets, they would get pigeons from the local homing pigeons guys to use as target practice for the hawks, and it’s always hawks against the homing pigeon guys. They’re just a totally different though, I don’t know, I’ve just always really liked pigeons and having hawks makes it really hard to travel. You spend all this time training them and they get really antsy if you don’t take them out flying everyday. So it just doesn’t make sense at the moment to have a hawk, but I love birds so I was like, “Why not just get into homing pigeons now?” They just take a little bit less time and less responsibility. It’s less responsibility than a dog even though I have 22 of them. I can go out there in my pajamas with a cup of coffee, open up their loft and they go do what they want for the day, they’re totally on their own, they come home when they’re ready and call it a day.

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I don’t think many people would know that pigeons fly back home every time. You take them further and further away from home each time and they always return. Take us through the process of having a pet pigeon. For one, I didn’t even know that existed. And two, I thought they were kind of dumb.  They aren’t dumb! Darwin did a lot of his first tests on pigeons. There were thousands of pigeons in World War I and World War II that were sent out and saved thousands of lives. People eat pigeons — for years they’ve been a food source. And then there’s pigeon fancy — people who are just obsessed with pigeons. There’s people that go into New York City, where they net like hundreds of them at a time and sell them to Pennsylvania to live shooting ranges and stuff. So there’s like this whole underground pigeon world. Then also, pigeon racing — you can win hundreds of thousands of dollars racing pigeons. People take it super seriously. It’s very serious as far as training regimens, like, they sell these birds for thousands of dollars. Oh, and each year there’s pigeon fancier conventions. I have this wonderful book where I have portraits of all the different types of pigeons and it’s kind of like breeding dogs for show, like, ones that look nice. Like bulldogs aren’t athletic or don’t perform anything spectacular, they’re more bred for looks. And Pencil, my one tumbling pigeon, he tumbles, he does these aerial displays, but he’s also super good looking. So a lot of them are bred just for looks, like, small beaks, or head back, curly feathers. So they also have these huge shows, like dog shows, where they bring pigeons to so pigeons are… wait what was the question? Oh, you were asking about taking them away.

Yeah, so you drive them miles and miles away and let them go, and they come back.  Yeah, and supposedly, they’re not exactly sure how pigeons are able to home — they think it’s because of the earth’s magnetic pull. I guess cell phone towers are somewhat destructing their ability to home. But yeah, avid pigeon racers can take their pigeons cross-country and they’ll make it home. And they’ll make bands, like, bracelets, so when the pigeon flies back into the loft it clocks them in. You’d be amazed! In your town there’s tons of people that race pigeons. This is not a rare thing. This is real. This is an ancient sport and tons of people do this stuff. I started really slow, just taking them down the block. I was like, “Oh my God, they’re not going to be able to find their way home!”  I’ve been taking them every other day, a little bit further each time, and we haven’t lost anyone. I just do it for fun.

What’s the farthest you’ve gone? Not too far, probably like 15 miles. I mean, it’s still good though.

Have you ever done it in the fog? Do they use sight to travel?  Yeah, they use sight. As long as they could kind of see not to hit anything, I think they’d be fine. They’re amazing. I love that pigeons are the underdog. A lot of people hate them and it makes me love to love them.

Wow, okay, so I need to do my research. I had no idea.  You need to read, well I don’t know if you care enough, but there’s a crazy interesting book and it’s a really easy read. I’ll give it to you for Christmas.

So where does someone go to get a pet pigeon? You can go to the Internet. Like I said, there’s lots of people in every town that raise pigeons and they are constantly reproducing and if you don’t take the eggs away it gets to the point where you have too many for the size of your loft so people end up selling ones if they get too many. So, like, people in your town, you can order them online. You can trap them at a park.

So you could just catch one?  Yeah, you could put seed down and kind of hover, like hang out by the seed. I’ve done it before, where you go to a park, put seed down, and then the pigeons come closer and then you just, like, grab one really quick.

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So sort of shifting gears, but somehow you’ve managed to stitch this animal fascination, influences of pop culture, and sewing, and you’ve created this Napkin Apocalypse world. Was that on purpose? Did you think about this years ago, or has it kind of evolved naturally and snowballed into this room?  It definitely snowballed. And like we were talking about earlier, if you cringe at where you were a couple years ago, or you don’t even notice that you’re changing or growing and then you look back at what I used to sew or just even my frame of mind a couple years ago, and it just slowly morphs. And then the sewing thing has gotten more, I’ve been more devoured by it.

What is the name, “Napkin Apocalypse?”  When I first started Instagram, I got onto it maybe a year after it started and Dane and Blair Marlin [Dane’s manager], were like, “Oh you’ll love this! Taking pictures…and you should get an account,” and they were trying to convince me to set up an account and then Dane was like, “Okay, I’m setting you up an account.” One day I made the name “Napkin” I just liked it. You know, when you say a name a bunch of times and it gets weirder and weirder the more times you say it? So Dane asked like, “What do you want your name to be?” And I was just like, “Napkin Apocalypse.” It was just something that was said in the moment and then we just created the account and then I just haven’t really thought about it since then.

Do you remember the first time you got the dogs together and were taking photos? Have you always been doing that?  No, and

All of this was never a conscious decision. Even photographing the dogs. It’s just gotten more and more fine-tuned or more elaborate. I have photos of me from when I’m like 9 putting glasses on my dog.

I’ve always dressed up dogs and I’ll look back at some of the photos and be like, “Ugh, I can’t believe the lighting in that one,” or, like, “Oh, the dog wasn’t looking at the camera.” So I’ve gotten more particular about how things look, which could be a bad thing but it was never conscious. The more you do anything you just get more particular and fanatical about it.

What was your most difficult project — your most difficult shoot? The tree ones maybe? The urban koalas. Those ones are pretty easy cause you just like set Pam in there and call it a day.

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How’d you have the idea to do that? Wouldn’t you be scared that she’d fall over?  No, I don’t put her up too high typically and she grips on there and her sense of balance is really good. So I don’t put her anywhere that’s compromising. I think I’m always sticking the dogs somewhere or putting clothes on them so I think just one day I stuck her in a tree and was like, “That’s amazing.” And then it kind of just kept going. It’s kind of hard to find urban koala trees. And too, she’s so dark that you gotta get one that’s not too shaded because she just blends and looks like a tree trunk because she’s all brindle and brown and light brown so you can’t even see her.

I remember we couldn’t even take photos of her when she was in our warehouse. Cause she’s just like a silhouette.

I was trying to take pictures of her all day and she’s just black.  Yeah she’s like a black blob.

But she’s the most photogenic dog. Yeah, if you bump up the light, she is on.

I remember you said, “Pam doesn’t even show up in photos,” and I’m like, “She’s the most famous dog I know.” Have you had Pam since she was a puppy? A kid? Yeah.

A kid. Since she was a tot.

I was telling Dane the most-asked thing probably I get when people know that I know you guys in any way, whether it’s at a bar or family function, or anything, it’s like they wanna know the behind the scenes of how the dogs do it. And watching Pam today it would freak people out if they knew what I could see right now. We recently had a Pam Wear pop-up shop in San Francisco and I was thinking about maybe bringing Pam, but then I was like,

I bet that would’ve bummed people out even if I did bring her because they’ll realize that she’s just a real dog. That would be such a bummer for who I’ve created her to be and then you realize she’s just a totally annoying real dog.

It’s like when we pulled up today and she came running.  And jumping, and being annoying!

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Do you have goals or aspirations for Napkin Apocalypse or the account you have for clothing? From where you are in this room, how far out can you forecast it?  I think that’s one of my downfalls is that I don’t really plan out the future that well. I made a really good friend online who paints and sells her paintings and does some textiles and makes clothes and it was cool to be able to meet someone who’s doing what I’m doing and she has sold a lot to shops and had a lot more information as far as wholesale and how to run a legit business. I didn’t go to school for this, I went to school for animals. I don’t know about running a small business, or anything having to do with clothing — I never even really liked clothes growing up. I wake up every day and I might plan out the next week or two, but I’m like, “I want to make this clear plastic backpack with babies sewn inside.” That’s why I kind of feel like I’m on a treadmill because I wake up everyday and I’m just like, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” Which is nice in some ways, but I feel like I’m on a treadmill all the time.

But you need that creative, like, “I wanna do whatever.” But then you also have to be like, “How do I support the business so that I can go buy more materials?” Yeah. Well It’s definitely paying for itself and some, but I just question what I even want. I feel like it’s pretty easy to make a rad company these days. You can see what trends are, what’s like kind of cool or what could sell and just get it made in Bali or China. I feel like 50% of what really makes a company badass that you want to stand behind is how it’s made and their story behind everything. So I would maybe get stuff mass-produced but maybe locally. Like I have some women helping me sew now, but if I wanted to scale things up I don’t know if I’d ever go to China or Bali or anything. I don’t know if I can see it growing too big.

It has that hands-on, it’s like all in this room. Yeah, it has its downfalls too. I guess you could argue it’s beautiful in the way that it’s more spontaneous. I can wake up every day and be like, “I wanna make this!” or “I wanna do this!” It’s not, like, where I’m planning out the Fall 2015 line, like, a year and a half in advance, but then that’s kind of how companies get big and successful — when they make plans and I’m just like running around. So I don’t know what I want.

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You keep referencing how you wake up and feel that urge. What are your influences, immediately?  Coffee. Well, animals. I pretty much always photograph animals that I come in contact with. A lot of times birds in our yard, or if a bird hits the window, I photograph it. And in turn, I do a lot of photo reel fabrics where I print photos onto fabric so then it kind of comes full-circle. And I like to just always bring animals in cause we can be so removed from the natural world. You don’t have to even think about where your food comes from as an animal. So I just think it’s fun to incorporate animal facts, or just keep reiterating animals.

Weren’t you saying some people get bummed about your approach to animals sometimes?  Yeah. I worked with a raptor rehabilitation center in Ohio and they actually saw my Instagram and called me and were like, “I don’t know if we can have someone associated with the center with your type of photos,” ’cause I have lots of dead birds. Just cause normally rehab type places they’re approach to bird habilitation and nature is like, “This is an owl and it lives here and everyone view it,” it’s just very hands-off. I like to humanize them in a way and sometimes it takes humanizing them to get people to even care because not everyone was born to love animals as much as I do. So I like to humanize them to get people to think like, “Oh my gosh! They feed their babies too like that?! They build a house and he’s bringing that girl that gold shiny wrapper to impress her?!” Just like we would try to impress a girl or something so…yeah.

But also you were kind of alluding  to how you show the dark side, you’re photographing dead animals — the taxidermy. And highlighting that that could be beautiful and you could get knowledge from that. And they aren’t just a waste, and they do die — you incorporate this in in a positive way I feel like.  Yeah and I found owls on the freeway and they’re just going to rot and riddle with maggots if they’re just left on the side of the freeway. And I’ll come take some of their feathers or dry out their wings and bury them in the backyard instead of letting them rot on the freeway. But then, say I take a picture with an owl and people think I killed it for the photo, it could just be misconstrued.

You can’t worry about that. What are some of the things you’ve stuck to that you’re stoked about that allowed you to create? Just advice to some kid. It seems like you have no barriers.  It’s different in my situation and I’m fortunate enough to have time to where I’m able to create. Sometimes I feel like everyone’s crazy cause I see things a certain way and I don’t think people understand. But I have all this free time isolated at home where I work on these projects and go on these tangents and then I start to think maybe I’m the one who’s crazy because I have all this time to go down these paths and trains of thoughts. I don’t have to check into work and perform in normal society so I’ve been fortunate enough to have the free time. I think for your question, it’s already stuff that I liked. I just spend time executing it and I guess it’s a luxury that I even have the time to do it. It’s not like I ever had a strategy, it was just stuff that I liked or thought about, and then I’m lucky enough to have the time to sit around and just make shit like this.

Did you have any other creative outlets before making clothing? Like music, or…?  Uh… not so much.

Tennis?  Sports, yeah. I hula-hooped a lot, too. Yeah, I think animal training was a creative outlet before because you spend all this time with this animal and you make small bits of progress and it’s just really rewarding and it’s just like trial and error as far as seeing what works and what they respond to. And it’s like another living being that you get to interact with and they have equal say in where your training session goes and it’s just kind of playing off of each other and seeing what works and what doesn’t so that was super fun. I think it’s a creative outlet.

At what point when you were making clothes, did you go, “I actually like this stuff, I’m proud of it, and I want to show people it?”  I started selling anything I made on Etsy when I first started sewing, like really shitty stuff. And I think — have you guys ever sewed anything?

No, well, like my grandma had a sewing machine and I used to use the pedal because I liked the pedal, but that was it. But you would just press it — like, you didn’t actually make anything?

I didn’t put anything together, no.  You guys would freak out! It’s insane. The first thing I made in my sewing class, I was flipping my lid that I made this, I made this! I was like running around, showing everyone. Like we all wear shirts, and bags, and backpacks but when you actually make it yourself it’s so gratifying and that was just really rewarding. I think I was just so pumped on anything I made from the get-go, I was like throwing it up on Etsy, whereas now I’m, like, “Oh…the quality was probably really poor” because, well, it was when I was first learning to sew. But still, now, the stuff that I make now will probably be sad about four years from now — we’re all evolving.

Who are your influences? Are you influenced by designers? Do you play that game?  Not that I’m against that game, I’m just not that in the loop as far as favorite designers. There’s definitely companies that I like more than others. But I just get super psyched on just different elements of how people say they have muses, like somebody who just can’t do no wrong and embodies their work — I don’t have anything like that. I see a homely woman in the grocery store wearing something — she’s all disheveled but has the bombest tank top on that I’m like “Yes, that woman’s ruling it and I need to recreate that tank top.” Or just different pieces from individuals but I don’t know if there’s anybody that’s just ruling all the time.

It’s like the everyday world is your muse. Yeah, just little pieces. I’m sure there are girls that are entirely ruling it but I don’t know if I’ve seen any in Carpenteria yet. There’s for sure girls ruling it all the time, I’m just not around them. —Interview by Travis Ferré

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