What Inspires Ed Roth - The Stencil Artist

Posted by Marcea


Creating stencils has been a passion for Ed Roth since he was a teenager and started using stencils to customize furniture. The owner of the stencil company, Stencil1, Ed has created stencils that have been used in hotel rooms, shown on Martha Stewart’s television show and used to customize Converse sneakers. Read our interview with Ed to learn more about stenciling and how living in New York City defines his artwork.

Why did you select stenciling as the medium to use for your art? I picked it up as a teenager. It was a hobby of mine as a teenager to customize furniture and t-shirts. From that I always kept using stencils. I’m also into stenciled graffiti so I was always cutting them and using them.

Your stencils contain a variety of images from sugar skulls to bunnies. Where do you get the inspiration for such a variety of subjects? I like pop culture, fashion, and landscapes. I live in Brooklyn and I see lots of inspiration. So any beautiful imagery in those categories is great. It’s really all over the place with what inspires me.

Stencil1 Cake

Stenciled cake and napkins by Stencil

You mentioned living in Brooklyn. Do you think living in New York City defines who you are as an artist? Yes, I think so. The energy here is upbeat. It’s straightforward. You’re surrounded by creative folks and that keeps you inspired. The concerts, movies, museums – all the culture here keeps the buzz of an artist alive.

How would you describe your style? (laughs) All over the place. What I’ve noticed over the years as I look back on what I’ve made, I keep things flat and simple. With stencils I’m trying to make a simple image that’s somewhat photo realistic. The stencils aren’t an exact interpretation of ‘what it is’ so people are then able to use them (at home) and paint things the way they want to.

When I’m making the stencils I try to keep them clean and simple. In my own artwork my style is a little more eclectic.

You’ve written several books on stenciling. Can you tell us about them? When I started Stencil1, I originally just wanted to make a book of stencils; I didn’t want to create a stencil company. So I made a prototype of 50 stencils in a book, took it to one or two publishers and although they liked it they said it would be expensive to make and it didn’t go anywhere at the time. So I built a website, had the stencils made in quantity and started selling them from my house.

Then a few years later Chronicle Books came to me and said the stencils would make a great book and asked me if I wanted to make a stencil book. I told them I always wanted to and that’s why I started the company. Working with them was great. They have a very talented staff that helped me develop the book line.

My goal is to give people tools to keep them creative. I think when people are making things that it increases their happiness. I want to keep people creative.

What’s the largest project you’ve ever stenciled? I did a 100-room hotel in New York City (Z Hotel). Each room was an 8’ x 8’ area. We can cut very large stencils with our custom cutters so we used 2 or 3 large stencils taped together. So each room has a life sized taxi, the Rockettes, or Billy Holiday inside.

It took us 4 days to complete all the rooms. I brought in a team of eight and we went from room to room dragging the huge stencils around. I can’t believe how fast we did it!

Is there anything that you haven’t tried stenciling that you would like to? There are challenging materials I’ve wanted to try stenciling on like fake fur – I just wonder what stenciling would look like on certain materials. I just bought three kites because it’s been really windy here so I thought it would be really cool to stencil these three kites and fly them and take photos of them. That’s a new one for me – I’ve never stenciled a kite before.

You’ve worked with the Gap and Converse, been featured in the NY Times and your stencils have been on the Martha Stewart Show. Is there any person or company you would love to work with that you haven’t yet? I’d like to get into more product development. My stencils just got picked up by the store West Elm and I’d like to work on more product development with companies like them. The store CB2 would be a nice fit and I’d like to work with (New York City skate shop) Supreme.

Stencil1 Pillows

Stenciled pillows by Stencil1

Your Repeat Pattern Wallpaper Stencil Kit won the 2015 Product of the Year award from the Consumer Survey of Product Innovation. Why do you think that this kit resonated so much with consumers? I think because we really worked on the stencils and the tools to be affordable and easy to use. It’s very trendy right now to have patterned walls. Everyone is much more design savvy these days with all the design shows on TV and with Pinterest. People see how easy it is. Plus it’s an afternoon project and they’re fully customizable for each person’s taste.

If someone wants to begin stenciling and has never done it before, what tips would you give to them so they’re successful? Practice on cardboard or boxes before going to walls or clothing just to get a feel of stenciling. Make sure you’re using quality stencil brushes with a flat head. The biggest tip is that stenciling is a dry brush technique. We learn to paint by putting a lot of paint on the brush. But with stenciling you have almost no paint on your brush. You dip your brush into the paint and then remove a lot of the paint before you stencil. That way no paint goes under the stencil.

When you’re teaching your workshops, what is the one thing you want your students to experience?  There are so many people who say about themselves ‘I’m not creative’ and I don’t buy that. I think everyone’s an artist. I feel joy when people make something – it’s great when someone says ‘where did you get that’ and the other person says ‘I made it’. I want them to take away that empowerment of not being intimidated by being creative. 

What do you like to do in your spare time when you’re not stenciling? I like to go to art galleries in Manhattan or take my dog to upstate New York to unwind and soak up some nature. When I’m not doing the stencil business I also like to paint. One of my more freeing moments is being creative for myself and not for business.

For more information about Ed Roth and Stencil1, visit his website or follow Stencil1 on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and YouTube.

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