Jessica Kease began stenciling in 2005 and has spent most of her time toiling over a table ever since. Under the pseudonym 23rd Key, she creates photo-realistic stencils, taking no short cuts and spending up to 6 months on any one piece. With a background in printmaking, graphic design and audio engineering, she utilises all aspects of these experiences, contributing greatly to her already photo-realistic style.She hand-carves each delicate, perforated layer, and this attention to detail is the trademark that won her the Stencil Art Prize in 2011 and 2014. We recently spoke with 23rd Key about tips she could share with new stencil artists, here’s what she had to say:
You can read more about 23rd Key here or check out her Top 10 Stencil Artist list here.

How to price my work.
I still struggle with this. It’s almost like a triangle of quality vs. time vs. money. It’s definitely important to research things and ask as many questions as you need. A lot of details usually get left out and can come back to bite you. At the end of the day you are negotiating something that is meant to have a fair and reasonable outcome. But everyone loves getting stuff for free.

Belief in my craft.
There will be moments where you feel like what you’ve created could be the photo accompanying the dictionary definition of ‘worst art in the world’, and there will be moments where you wonder when they’re going to finally take down that old raggedy painting of the Mona Lisa and hang your work up instead. It’s finding a balance between the two, and taking it all with a grain of salt. Being ‘great’ or ‘bad’ at art doesn’t really mean anything, it’s all just perception anyway, and you can’t ever please everyone. As long as you’re getting enjoyment out of it, you’re doing well.

Learn when to say no.
Again, this is a difficult learning curve for any artist. Knowing how heavy you can structure your workload and how much a job should cost in order for you to get paid right is more than a bit difficult. This can only really be learned through trial an error but it’s a good thing to be aware of and realise you’re not alone in.

Over working a piece, doubting yourself.
Before I started incorporating freehand elements into my work, it was a lot harder as a stencil artist to ‘overwork’ something. The closer I strive to getting my work perfect, especially over the last year, it’s definitely been a struggle not to overwork things and realise what you’re trying to achieve and not over shoot that. So many artists seem at war with themselves to discover their ‘voice’ or a style that’s never been used. I feel like I found this when I started crating movement works. I also know that that body of work couldn’t have come about any other way than under those particular circumstances. You can’t force an epiphany or an idea.

Building a creative network.
During my first day of class studying graphic design I was told networking was an incredibly important part of design and it’s also true for art. I almost walked straight down to the administration desk and differed. I think most stencil artists secretly have a bit of a loner quality to their personalities, which can make networking a bit daunting. I think this is because we’re so used to spending a lot of time in our own heads, cutting stencils. I’ve never been against networking with other artists, but having this quality to my personality has definitely made it a bit more challenging. Moving into a collective studio was definitely a step in the right direction for me and opened up my creative network a lot.

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