Johnman is a UK stencil artist and is part of the Devonshire based Arts Anonymous crew. Johnman emerged from the urban art crowd at a time when he felt other stencil artists seemed obsessed with painting as large as possible, with as many layers as possible. Inspired by Graffiti’s roots with the painting of trains; Johnman set about spray painting intricately hand cut stencils onto train tickets (and other media), which he hand finishes with acrylic ink. A style which suits his nomadic lifestyle, allowing him to take his cutting mat and craft knife with him wherever he goes.
He has been featured in Bizarre Magazine and had collaborative work with Mos Shaw published in the 5 year anniversary book of Europe’s largest live painting, urban arts festival. A self confessed romantic, when travelling the London Underground keep your eyes peeled for one of his heart painted pebbles from Brixham beach, tagged with his adopted mantra “the best things in life aren’t things”.
1. How did you get into making stencil art?
I always used to paint a lot with oils and watercolours when I was younger but hadn’t done anything artistic for years. About 4 years ago I moved into a new flat and wanted some new artwork for my walls. I’d always had a strong interest in urban art but being completely skint from the house move and buying some new furniture I couldn’t afford to buy any. With that I bought a craft knife and some paint and set about creating my own.
2. How would you describe your style of art?
Gosh. I generally try and avoid describing it as I never feel at ease doing so. I have a lot of experimenting left to do before I’ll settle into a style I’m truly comfortable with. I may paint something romantic one minute contextualising the subject matter onto a background compiled from everyday objects or it may be something bright and colourful with meaningless humour on canvas the next. To some people I find it’s much easier to just say “I use spray paint and stencils. It’s a bit like Banksy but on train tickets”.
3. Where does your creative inspiration come from, and which artists have influenced you as an artist?
I find inspiration in lots of things, sometimes I’ll take an object and think “I could do something really creative with that” and then ponder and think about it for ages until I have that eureka moment. Other times something will just pop into my head and it’s there like an itch which can only be scratched by excitedly executing the idea as quickly as possible. Taking something that’s an iconic work of art in its own right such as the british train ticket, a street map or train station platform sign and incorporating one of my paintings into it is where most of my creative output originates.
With regards to influences the biggest has been Mos Shaw who heads up Arts Anonymous. Not only is he blessed with one of the most creative minds I know, but he also gave me both the confidence and the opportunity to start putting my work out there. I’ve worked collaboratively with him on numerous occasions which is always a great laugh and an honour.
Deeds (who should be much better known than he is) has also greatly inspired me. When I first set out on my artist journey, his was the first stencil work I’d seen that totally stood out in a massive and ever growing crowd. I’ll look at a lot of other artists work and can’t help but try and unravel the technique but to this day the CMYK stuff Deeds does with transparent paints leaves me somewhat in awe.
4. Describe your stencil making process – how does an idea move from being an idea into a finished artwork?
I always tend to take an idea and study it over and over in my head until every detail is worked out. Sometimes this can take months. If there’s a part I feel I can’t execute I’ll park the idea and revisit it as I learn new things. One question I’m frequently asked is “so how long does it take you to do a piece?” which is always impossible to answer. The jigsaw puzzle pieces I created for my solo show where cut and painted in a weekend, yet the idea was over a year old. I’d just mulled it over until I was confident I could paint them, flip them, glue them and mount without the whole thing falling apart in the process. By the time I actually came to execute the pieces I’d done them that many times in my head it was almost second nature.
The next set of work I intend to create is also another equally an old idea that’s only become possible for me to pull off as I’ve learnt to use resin.
In transverse when it comes to cutting stencils I find these are best not thought about at all. I know people who’ll spend ages working out where all the bridges (the bits that stop a stencil falling apart) will go in their image. I just start in the middle and work outwards, working it out as I go along.
5. What would be one piece of advice that you would give you young artists starting to explore the stencil medium?
Firstly, above all else enjoy what you’re doing. Secondly, look at all the other artists out there and then strive to be individual. Lastly don’t be disheartened if you make mistakes, it’s all part of your development as an artist and they’ll be a few happy accidents along the way!