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Closeup: interview with Brooklyn’s Ed Roth of Stencil 1

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I was at the Brooklyn Museum seeing the Rise of Sneaker Culture exhibit with some friends and couldn’t help noticing a scrum of excited museum goers huddled in front of a massive piece of paper.

sneaker94​There was a table set up with art supplies and people were grabbing stencils and ink pads, then hustling to find a spot on what turned out to be a sneaker themed mural set up by Stencil 1. Never one to be left out, I joined in and was seduced.

I made sure to take one of the business cards on the table and googled to see who these Stencil 1 people were. ‘They’ are none other than graphic designer Ed Roth who started Stencil 1 after having his book of prototype stencils rejected by publishers for being too expensive. He has not only not let rejection stop him, but he’s a bonafide DIY icon whose brand has been championed by DIY diva Martha Stewart.

Ed’s quiet artistic revolution puts the power of re-invention into the hands of the masses, by creating stencils that you can use to paint your walls or decorate your clothes Stencil 1 is all about high style results with low-stress effort.

In 5 questions, Ed tells us how he started, what inspires him, and where you can see him next.

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photo by Marc Regas

Sassy Ethnic Bohemian: The first, most pressing questions that I have is: are you related the Ed Roth the Rat Fink cartoonist?

Ed Roth: Haha, I wish! I think my parents were fans of his, and I remember, as a kid, playing with some plastic figurines of his designs. So, no relation (that I know of).

SEB: How did you end up getting involved with stencils?

ER: I used to cut stencils as a hobby, as well as make my own stamps, dye clothes, all that fun stuff when I was a teen-ager. I would also paint furniture as a hobby. I lived at the Salvation Army.

Later in life, I worked as a graphic designer and for inspiration bought design books, this is pre-internet. I always wanted to make a design book myself. I was buying a lot of Stencil Graffiti books and thought it would be great if a book had stencils in it. I then decided to design 50 stencils, bind them in a book, and shop it around to publishers.

The pages were literally spray painted, the cover was scored cardboard, it was a total DIY book! So I brought the prototype to one or two publishers who liked it, but passed as they said it would be expensive.

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Having a web design background and having fuel from being rejected, I built a site and listed the 50 designs for sale. Stencil1.com was born. I then got press on http://www.coolhunting.com/culture/stencil1, then the New York Times. Blick Art Materials then called wanting to carry the stencils. Two years in, Chronicle Books asked me if I wanted to do a book, so I got my initial goal fulfilled. Now I have 6 titles with Chronicle.

So, yea, it started at home as a hobby.

SEB: What were your artistic influences as far as stenciling goes? What gets your artistic gears moving?

ER: Stencil graffiti is a huge gear mover for me; I do my own artwork and am in NYC so I see a lot of stencil work around. I more so, though, get influenced by patterns I see when I travel: beautiful plants, animals, the city landscape.

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SEB: You had a real, interactive vibe at your sneaker mural at the Brooklyn Museum. What do you think makes people love the stencil process so much?

ER: I think as we get older, we don’t take as much time to do art so that excites people to have the chance to. Also, stenciling is easy and so satisfying, you have this stencil design in your hand but you are not sure how it will look, so there is this wonderful surprise element when you see your results.

You also get empowered; [you get] a feeling as if you drew the image. I love seeing people stenciling.

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SEB: What’s coming up for Stencil 1?

Stencil1 just won Product of the Year award for our repeat pattern stencils, so we are excited to promote that and get the designs in to paint stores to reach the DIY and Decor customers.

In September we are doing workshops at Le Bon Marche in Paris. We are also named a Martha Stewart’s American Made audience choice finalist. Voting will start soon and being American Made has been important to us, so we hope to get votes on this contest!

We are also actively [creating] new stencil designs and tools and working on textile designs and some licensing partnerships are in the works.

So yea, keeping busy!

stencil1 x modify 2 watches

You can catch up with Ed and Stencil ‘s projects (like these Stencil 1 x Modify watches) on his site, www.stencil1.com, follow his inspiringly gorgeous instagram see him at Bon Marche in Paris September 7th and 8th, and vote for him in the American Made contest starting September 21st

xoxo, Faith/Sassy Ethnic Bohemian

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