FAQ

First, thanks for coming here first.

I believe in the idea of collaboration and sharing of information.  I'm humbled and honored when someone from across the globe reaches out to me and lets me know that they've seen my work.  It means a lot.  

I created this page because I am constantly asked the same questions and requests for advice on a daily basis. I’m flattered and humbled at the same time, but given my busy schedule, I can’t answer every email, so I’m hoping this page will help you. There are, however, some things I won't share or do for you.  I believe that you have to find some of the answers on your own, and you'll be much happier when you do.

My goal is to try to help wherever I can, but there’s only so much my words can do for you. That being said, I chose to compile a list of questions that I get asked on a daily basis, in hopes that if someone reads this, they can find most of what they want here.

Q: How long have you been stenciling?
A: I started in the Fall of 2007. I hadn’t even heard of it before then, but developed a condition in my wrist that made it hard for me to draw anymore, but stenciling doesn’t cause me any pain (go figure). I didn’t try to fool around with tons of small pieces or images, I went straight to work on creating something that I felt somebody would think was great. I put a lot of patience and time into my first piece and have since earned the respect of many artists for taking my time on my work. My first true multi-layer piece was called Live from New York.  Back in the day, there was a stencil website called 'Stencil Revolution' and I uploaded the piece there.  I was instantly called a fraud, a fake, and everything else in between because nobody believed what I had done.  I've been dealing with those accusations ever since, but most have now accepted my technical ability and artistic resources.  

Q: What do you cut your stencils out of? Do you ever use cardboard, tin foil, or acetate … etc?
A: I cut them out of a drafting film called Mylar. Mylar is a frosted drafting film that lends itself nicely to stencils. It’s pretty much similar to acetate, but cuts a bit easier. I use a .003 thickness, and you can find it at almost any art supply store or online easily. I’ve recently been doing multiples and sometimes testing techniques, and the mylar stands up to multiple uses, is waterproof, and is easy to transport. That's what works for me, you can cut them out of anything.

Q: How do you get your stencils so big and how do you line them up?
A: I work with digital files an enlarge them on the computer. I then print them out in sections and then piece them together. When I finally end up spraying my pieces, I trust my eye and you should to. Printers can sometimes bend the paper or fudge something up, so if it doesn’t like right to your eye… it won’t. I get my stuff printed at a copy shop, and sometimes use a plotter to print them out with at work. There are lots of different options (some guys use projectors and trace the outline).

Q: What kind of paint do you use?
A: Molotow Belton, Montana Gold, and Montana Black. I've found that with enough drying time, and what I'm doing with the stencils, colors, and layers, one kind of paint doesn't have all the color spectrums I want to use.  However, there's a difference between premium and 'store brand' paint.  It costs more for a reason, and will give you better results.  I'd recommend that whatever you use, you make sure you give it enough time in between layers to dry.  Also, learn some can control and how to spray evenly.  There is a technique to that.

Q: How do you do your backgrounds?
A: It’s a combination of recycled wood to start with. Acrylic, oil, and bleach washes for texture. I also create a lot of distress/drips/texture on my own with a variety of found materials.  I mixed many different kinds or paint together (latex, acrylic, oil) and use plaster, concrete, and other techniques to build up some rich texture layering.

Q: How are your stencils so clean? How do you prevent underspray?
A: By using something thick and learning can control I solved alot of those problems. There’s no one way to do it. Knowing how to hold a can is the best tool you can have. Sometimes, with some insane detail or patterns, I’ll use a bit of spray mount to keep the stencil down. I also recommend latex gloves, as you can use your fingers to hold the stencil down. Additionally, think about your colors and layers before you cut.

Q: How do you make your stencils on the computer? 
A: I use a combination of Photoshop, Illustrator, and the actual image and then cut from there. Since I sometimes can’t get the computer to give me the result I want, I end up cutting on my own from the original image to give me the colors and shapes that I like. There’s a variety of filters and effects I use to get what I want. No, I won’t tell you what they are, that’s the one mystery I keep.

Q: Why do you focus on buildings and photo-realism so much?
A: My work is all about the urban environment. I like haunting cityscapes, and anything with a nice perspective, which modern architecture and urban landscapes give me. I’m very much inspired by the walls, textures, and elements that make up a city, and look to capture that emotion and feeling inside my work. There’s a lot of artists (stencils artists in particular) that are drawn to the same elements, and I hope that my work stands out from the rest. For me, it’s about creating a ‘wow’ factor that a lot of art today is lacking (in my opinion). It’s the process of putting an image together in such a way that is both challenging and complicated that many people do not understand. It reflects the same way that buildings and cities are built. Besides, I live in Chicago and I experience the urban landscape every day and draw inspiration from that.

Q: Do you ever paint on the street?
A: Illegally, no. It’s almost impossible with my work.  I also don't think what I do is meant for the streets.  I have done some legal walls and mural projects before, but it hasn't been a primary focus of mine.  

Q: What is one thing that could make me a better artist?
A: A better artist? I couldn’t tell you. I could tell you that your work will get better with the more time you put into it. There is always time for more details in artwork or taking that extra step to add a nice frame or accent to something. Quality is more important than quantity. Again, it’s better to make one great painting, than 20 bad ones.

Q: Will you cut a stencil for me?
A:  If you're talking about a commission, Sure. What’s your time and price range? If you want something custom, I reserve the right to say no. I’m sure if you look at my website, you can see the kind of thing I do. If you want a commission, email me directly, and we can talk. Before you do, my average gallery prices for a painting go for around $1000 (2ftx2ft) to $3500 dollars (4ftx4ft). Just keep that in mind, and don’t ask me to do anything for free or for love of the art, I have bills to pay, and I find it insulting otherwise.

Q: Will you donate a piece to my charity/fundraiser/etc?
A: Unless I know you, or your charity specifically, the answer is probably no. Feel free to email me though, as I always take it into consideration, but I specifically work with a select groups on my free time. I believe in working with people within my community and making that a better place, so I focus my time there. Unfortunately, most requests I get for charity have lead me to have my work stolen, or used for other purposes than what I've donated it for. It’s horrible to know but some scammers actually use others misfortune to get their hands on artwork so I’m always very cautious.

Q: Will you look at my work and comment/give advice/get me in a gallery show?
A: I was guilty of doing this to several of my favorite artists when I started out, and have since apologized. The answer is no. I don’t have a lot of time in my life between artwork, film, and the little time I get to spend with my wife to sit down and critique each painting. If I know you personally, chances are we’re emailing each other back and forth already.  My only advice: Take some time to be as creative as possible. It’s difficult at first because stenciling is incredibly addicting and you only want to create when you first start out, but use that as a stepping stool for where you go. In my experience, if someone is interested in what you do, they’ll reach out to you for exhibitions, shows, trades, etc. Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, Instagram, DeviantArt, Behance, various forums, and many other sites all have huge communities where you can stick your toe in the water. I could only advise you to have thick skin, and take every ounce of praise the same way you take criticism. Not everyone is going like to like what you do, it’s just life.

Q: What is one piece of advice you can give me to become a better (stencil) artist?
A: Go out and try something. I learned everything from studying other works and photos and then trying something. I also studied classic printmaking technique, and rubbed shoulders with print-makers and mixed-media artists.  I failed some times and then fixed my failures. Every choice I make in my stencils is from a mistake I learned in the past. I can’t cut your stencils for you, spray them, and post them… you’ll be amazed how much more fun and how much more you learn when you are doing it yourself.

Q: Are you stencils hand-cut?
A: Number one question I’m asked, still don’t know why. I put it at the bottom for a reason I guess. When I first started stenciling, I thought that it was ‘cheating’ to cut by a machine, and that it only counted if you put the hours in, I quickly realized that was the wrong way of approaching this art form. I think a lot of stencil people think their art is ‘better’ if it’s cut by hand, regardless of if the final image looks like garbage or is completely un-original. Art shouldn’t be judged by the tools used to make it, but rather then final product. I’ve been ‘accused’ of laser-cutting since I first put my first piece online, and I take it as a compliment. The sheer cost of laser-cutting would increase the current price of my work 10 times (I don’t know why people don’t think of that first).  The first reply I can always think of is; 'why does it matter?'.  

…but....

since that didn’t answer the question, yes my stencils are cut by hand. I spend countless hours digitally reworking my photographs and found imagery and several more assembling and painting the panels I use. I also use screen printing in some of my layering and will continue to explore how modern-day technology can be used. As my current work progresses, I’ve left open the door to cutting some of my images with a machine, as I don’t think it cheapens the art at all, or takes anything away from it. The work has always been incredibly complicated, and the cutting process only represents a fraction of the time I put into the actual piece.

If you still want to reach out, I welcome it, hit me up at the CONTACT PAGE and I’ll try to get back to you.

-david soukup-