A Chat with Peat Wollaeger

When Peat Wollaeger sent in his first submission to StencilArchive, I was instantly impressed with his mastery of creating stencils. His colors made the images jump off of the page. His cutting style had its own unique characteristics, and his love for the artform was easily apparant. When I mentioned having an online chat, he got really excited about talking stencils. He even mailed me some pix of the separate color stencils for his newest image, Myrna the SK8 dog, for visual reference. Here's what we discussed early on Super Bowl Sunday.

SA: Lets start by hearing about your background and how you got into stencils.

PW: My background is in commercial design. I started in Graphic design in 1993 and worked mostly in print. I have always been into illustration and design. I have done commercial work for such companies as Coca-Cola, M&M Mars, and Anheuser Busch.

SA: Had you seen stencil art before you found Banksy's stuff?

PW: Bansky was the first stencil artist I saw.

SA: You just recently started doing stencils, right? Was the Virgin Mary stencil you sent me your first one?

PW: No my first piece was an image of my son Sam. I wanted to do a silkscreen but did not have the means to do so, so I decided to try the same technique but with cutting stencils.

SA: Silk screening and stencils are similar. Doing separate colors on different "screens" for example.

PW: For sure, but stenciling has it's own look. Also at that time I wanted to work with spraying on glass.

SA: Did you do a lot of stencils on glass? What type of paint did you use for that (I'm guessing that it was hard to keep from dripping)?

PW: I mostly use Kylon, it dries fast and the colors are rich. Most of the inside work I do is on glass .

SA: So you had no problem spraying Kylon on glass. Any technique for this?

PW: Yeah, don't mix paint unless you want to risk having the colors run together, which sometimes actually turn out pretty fresh. Also, make sure the surface is very clean.

SA: Are there any characteristics of stencil art that you really like to try to get?

PW: Perfection is the key. My goal is to create an image that you may not think was done with a stencil.

SA: When I saw your first submission to StencilArchive, I was struck with how different it was from the other ones. Rich in color and character is a good way to express what I saw.

PW: Fresh.

SA: The stencil pix you just sent look like an animation.

PW: Animation?

SA: You em'd them to me together, so all four downloaded at once. Scrolling down each image made it look like the dog came to life one color at a time.

PW: Wow, I will have to check that out... Those are actually the different color plates. I also sent you the final product in a separate Email.

SA: Yeah, thanks for em'ing those to me. I don't have a lot of photos of the actual stencil, and it's always good to have those so people can get an idea about how to cut out an image. Are you getting these images from photos?

PW: I usually start from taking an image with my digital camera, for reference.

SA: Got the final Myrna stencil. Does she actually skate, or just run along on the side (had to ask).

PW: She pulls me. It is quite fun. She truly is a Skate Dog.

SA: Pulling is good. Saves on the pushing. I bet people in St. Louis are amused when you all go by.

PW: Yeah, It quite a visual. I get people yelling out their windows at us!

SA: Do you put up stencils outside as well as you indoor stuff? Do you do other types of graff?

PW: I do some street work, but it is very difficult to spray in this town. There are a lot of conservative bastards who don't appreciate art. And the Cops are also punk asses.

SA: Maybe that's why I haven't gotten a lot of street pix from St. Louis.

PW: I have started asking property owners if I can throw up a piece in the alley on their fence, wall, or sidewalk. Back in the day I used to do traditional graff. I did a little bit more in when I lived in Chicago, but that city cracked down on writers.

SA: Technically, sidewalks are public property. In more corporate areas of SF, the buildings will put signs on the sidewalk saying that it's private property. Other than that, sidewalks should be for the public enjoyment of art.

PW: I agree.

SA: I know a fairly prolific stenciler in Chicago. He does walls as opposed to sidewalks.

PW: They look great to the Passer-by-walkers. Who is that? In Chicago?

SA: JS04.

PW: I talked to him awhile...good cat...never met in person though. Just Email.

SA: I only met him briefly when he came to SF. He went out photographing stencils while he was here and even found a few that I hadn't. Typical stencil geek.

PW: Good to know.

SA: Would you like to share your stencil crafting technique with us? I always like to hear how people make stencils.

PW: Sure.

SA: You said you started out with a digi pic. How do you transfer that over to the material you're gonna cut?

PW: I usually take a picture of the image I want to stencil. I look for the image with a lot of contrast. I will take that image into Photoshop and I will then look for the dark, middle and light tones of the image. Then, I will take that image into Illustrator and work on the different color plates. I rough out each color on a separate layer and then print them out. Then I copy the image and paste it to oil board.

Here where the real magic happens.

When I am cutting, I make most of my decisions here; with trapping, (overlapping color). I make sure that I don't make a bad cut. If you do, the stencil will fall apart. Once I have a layer created I will do a test spray to see how it looks. Then I will go back and make changes and spray again until I am satisfied.

SA: When you spray the image, how do you keep the stencil flat? Does oil board curve at all?

PW: Now I go to the Spraying part.

I will usually use a spray adhesive to help to hold them down. Sometimes, if there is any paint on your stencil, the acitone in the adhesive will reactivate the paint and it makes a mess.

When I spray I make sure the can is well shaken up. Also, I use several light coats before I pull the stencil off. It holds a crisp line. Also make sure the color is completely dry before you lay down another. This is key.

I recommend spraying outdoors, and where a mask. That stuff is mad toxic. Also it's better to spray in dry places. I usually spray in my garage. That's about it on spraying.

SA: Is the oil board board that's dipped in a substance to keep the paint from soaking in? How thick is it (I use a thin type and always have problems getting flat on the surface)?

PW: About 100 points. It's super study. I usually get about 30 sprays from one board.

SA: You cut it with a regular Xacto blade?

PW: Good-old Xactos.. I go through those things like crazy.

SA: Always good to keep the tip sharp. That's where all the cutting is.

PW: Don't ever use the Stanley or other knock-offs.They break even more. You need to stay sharp if you want the detail!

SA: Does working on the computer keep you stuck to smaller sizes? Its easy to blow up a vector image in Illustrator.

PW: Most of my work is 18" x 24". The Myrna piece is actually one of the smaller ones that I have done. I like to create larger images. The Stencils hold up better.

SA: Do you tape up 8.5” x 11” pages or do you have access to a large-format printer?

PW: I usually print out 11” x 17” and glue together.

SA: I usually make my stencils in Illustrator and make it larger on a thinner oil board. I wish someone sold the thicker stuff here in SF. Might need to hunt more...

PW: I found this guy who sold me a box of 100 sheets of 24” x 36” oil board for $70. This stuff is mad sturdy. And fairly easy to cut.

SA: The board I use is sturdy, but doesn't lie flat after a while. One stencil has been used dozens of times, though not for detailed work.

PW: I want to try doing some ministencils. I think that would be dope.

SA: I have photographed ministencils. They are fun, especially if you want to put about 50 in one area.

There's an artist here in the City that makes graff murals with stencils added in. He usually takes one image and puts it up dozens of times, then paints the graff around it. Usually smaller stencils.

PW: Yeah I am still trying to experiment with new ideas. I am not quite exactly sure where I want to be with my work yet. I want to push it further. I really want to work more with type and lettering. To say something with my work.

SA: I noticed you used type with the Myrna board. I've found that cutting letters can be maddening if you want the detail right. I still love it (I like type as well and have been a "typesetter" in the past...mostly a text layout person).

PW: That was one of the first with using type. I actually enjoyed gutting. It was pretty easy. I just gut exactly what I printed out. Not much experimenting needed. Cutting not gutting.

SA: I've photographed several stencils in SF where the artist wrote a long paragraph of text and then cut it all out. People are usually impressed by these pics. Probably because they have to sit there and read a stenciled paragraph.

PW: Yeah. That is insane when you stencil a complete story. That would get quite tedious if you ask me.

SA: It's impressive to look at.

PW: Agreed.

SA: Do you feel like you're headed somewhere with your stenciling?

PW: Definitely. I have been doing a lot work in galleries and people have been digging the work.

SA: I guess when you said you want your art to say something, you were literally meaning that you're going to start adding type.

PW: I think art needs to send a message or feeling to the viewer. And, yes, maybe with using type.

SA: I was just thinking about Tristan's book (Stencil Graffiti), and how there isn't a lot of experimental type going on right now. The way you flipped the word "Myrna" on the board, in the grey paint, and blurred it. That's got potential to be a really neat technique. Simple thing to do, but different.

PW: See that is what I am talking about when I am still looking to push my art further. This medium has endless possibilities. You can spray on virtually any surface and flip your stencil in anyway imaginable.

SA: Stencil artists are always excited about stencils because of the possibilities. Having a repetitive format helps. Its also easy to create concept art, like Banksy's graffiti wall stencil, around stencils.

PW: I want to try sand blasting on glass with stencils.

SA: Now that's different! I guess you could use a metal stencil.

PW: I think it might have a cool effect. I have also been experimenting with glow-in-the-dark paints and mirror paints.

SA: One stencil only for the sand blasting?

PW: Of Course.

SA: Is there an actually mirror paint that you can spray?

PW: Yeah, it's called Looking Glass, and is expensive. It costs about $20 a can.

SA: Chris Stain likes to paint on pieces of metal. And book covers.

PW: Yeah. His work is very inspiring to me. He also is taking the fine art approach to stenciling. Much respect to him!

SA: He still loves going out to the trains and putting up stencils on the cars.

PW: I have never tried metal, It isn’t really my thing.

SA: Spray paint works well with metal. I think metal likes paint.

PW: I would love to hit up some bus terminals with clear glass windows. The hard part with a multicolored stenicil is that they’re hard to hit up on the street. You have to wait for each color to dry before you can lay the next down.

SA: You can always do one layer and then come back through and do the second.

PW: And hope they are not waiting for you when you return.

SA: Maybe space it out a week. I have seen two color stencils on the street though.

PW: Yeah I think they are great, I hope to do more when it warms up.

SA: It was good getting to know you better, and chatting with you about your stencil art. Looking forward to seeing your new stuff. Any last words?

PW: Yes it was good talking to you, and I hope for the best with the stencil archive. I hope that I gave you some ideas on technique, and I will continue to update you and my new pieces. Much respect and keep on spraying...

SA: Thanks a lot. I appreciate your submissions. This conversation will be posted with the next update. Thanks too for being part of this growing international stencil community.

PW: Peace!

See ya