With more opportunities coming my way to make art in new ways and new locations, Mark has challenged me to put together my essential kit that would act as a portable studio and enable me to make art wherever I may end up...
My first port of call whenever I have a new idea is my trusty Macbook. Photoshop provides me with all the tools I need to take an idea and use graphic design witchcraft to create a something that comes close to the visual in my imagination. Depending on whether it's for a graphics-based project or a new stencil, I can then go on to render it further on the Mac or I can print it off ready to be worked on with pencils and other such handheld tools on my lightbox. The Macbook has become so vital to my creative process that it is the first thing to go in my studio kit. Congratulations Apple, you win round one.
I have had many lightboxes over the years, scaling up over time from little boxy plastic A4 and A3 size until recently when I upgraded and got a huge A1 size LED lightbox that is less than an inch thick. It takes up my entire desk and allows me to see everything I draw without moving a smaller lightbox under chunks of a large stencil hoping it all comes good at the end. Sometimes it’s nice to reward myself after I sell a painting and upgrading my kit over time has allowed me to make better art and enjoy the process with a bit more luxury. Lightboxes allow me to see a photo or design through the paper I use and redraw it in my own style, make the changes I need with a pencil to engineer the actual stencil and have all the little gaps and bridges in the right place. Essential for making my stencils and easily makes the cut for top ten studio tools.
Scalpels are the quintessential tool for any stencil artist. It is this sharp little critter that allows me to cut away the necessary parts of my drawings to create the stencil that I can eventually paint with. Every stencil artist I know has a different preference of what knife or blade works best for them and a different technique for how to cut, hold and protect their hands but for me, I love a simple red handled Swann-Morton disposable scalpel. Cheap, easy to use and lasts well, but as an added indulgence, I get a lot of satisfaction from popping the lid and using a brand new knife for every new stencil I cut. My stencils are a huge investment of time, energy and imagination so I treat them with the respect they deserve and give each one its own knife. The downside of this is that somewhere in my studio I have a box with literally hundreds of old scalpels. Maybe one day I’ll make a sculpture out of them or something...
Straight lines are wonderful things. The Romans loved them and so do I. That’s why the often underrated, but always useful, ruler comes in handy. In my case, it is a nifty metal one that I can also use to cut straight lines as well as draw them. Multitasking little bugger. I’ve had this ruler since I was in college and it has served me well for a decade now.
You never know who you’re going to meet when you’re out, especially at gallery shows, which is usually where I go if I’m heading out in London. I even met Hi My Name Is Mark’s very own Mr. Hoppus this way. That’s why wherever I go, I always carry a some Trebor Extra Strong mints so I have fresh breath for every occasion. No one likes to have a conversation with someone with bad breath so I make sure I’m always minty fresh.
Music is massively important to me. I used to play bass in bands when I was younger and I have a drum kit in my studio for when I get stressed out over tricky stencils. Whenever I’m alone in the studio, I always have headphones in and my iTunes on shuffle. One of my biggest regrets is giving up being in a band to pursue a career in art which takes up almost all of my time so I try and have music playing as much as possible.
If you’re a Mythbusters fan like me, you will know how incredible duct tape is. I haven’t gone as crazy as those guys and built a canoe or fort or anything yet, but it does come in handy with so many things around the studio. From putting stencils up on the wall to spray them, repairing things around the studio, taping rollers to large poles to paint up to the ceiling in the double height painting room and many more tricks and uses, duct tape is an amazing thing and no studio or household is complete without a roll or four.
I never know when inspiration will strike and an idea will be formed. Usually for me, it happens on trains or walking around London. This is why I always carry either an iPad or a notebook around with me so I can quickly scribble down some rough doodles or mind maps so I don’t forget it on the way home. The iPad also allows me to connect with others to share ideas and get feedback straight away. Also, Angry Birds.
Spray caps are to an artist what plectrums are to a musician. Everyone’s got a preference and different caps allow me to do different things with my spray paint. I have my own special blend of caps I like to use for different things and always try and have a bunch of each kind in my kit. A stencil might require a completely different size and pressure of spray compared to painting something freehand or adding different kinds of effects so it’s essential to find what works for you as an artist. Spray paints can have different pressures and will work best with specific caps, so having a range helps me control the paint. I love using the standard MTN 94 cap as they give a really good pressure and size of spray, especially for my style of stenciling. I am also partial to a pink dot fat cap for spraying bigger areas and a grey dot soft cap for smoother blends and background work but as I said, each to their own and every artist has a different set of preferences and requirements. They look awesome when they’ve been used a bunch of times and I save each cap in case I want to use them for sculptures or projects in the future.
Remember that wheezing asthmatic kid in school who was always too out of breath to achieve anything remotely sporty? That was me, still is. That’s why using a dust mask while I paint in the studio is an essential piece of kit to, well, keep me alive. Paint fumes can be quite nasty to breathe in. I use a 3M moulded mask but there are many different kinds available. Even if you can only afford a pack of disposable dust masks, it's still worth having them if you’re spraying a lot and they’re really good for the art workshops I do so kids can wear them for a few hours and then throw them away after we stop painting. With the dust they create and hardcore varnishing sessions (to make the work lovely and shiny), I create a pungent cocktail for my lungs, so open windows and dust masks are very important. Safety first kids.