Peter Kuper and stencil art


For many years I have been transfixed and facinated by the stencil and spray artwork of Peter Kuper. I was absolutely blown away when I finally got my hands on "THE SYSTEM" which was a graphic novel hundreds of pages long with fantastic colour stencilled artwork. I have since added several other great Kuper comics to my collection.

Recently I have seen much more stencilled graffitti appear on the walls of Sydney. While some of these are great they don't generally have the craftmanship, humour, counterpoint or sense of design that I see in Peters work. When I tried doing my own I ended up with lots of questions and now with the miracle of the internet I can ask Mr. Kuper himself. 


So here are my hard hitting stencil ?'s...


Robin Cave - dark grey questions

Peter Kuper - light grey answers



How did the whole stencil thing start for you? How long before you were pretty comfortable with it?

I made a stencil with my friend Seth Tobocman and also saw other work he had done with stencils and was very attracted to it.
I didn't try my first stencil comic for several years. And it may have been another year after that that I felt I could apply it to comics. In illustration however, it seemed to work pretty quickly.


Do you do any other cutting style artwork? ie; linocuts, sculpture,etc.




Do you really go to all the trouble of planning out the page then cut intricate little stencils and spray through the holes with an airbrush?

Yes, but I use spray cans.


How long does it take to do a page?

About a day.


What are they made of?

I photocopy my pencil drawing on regular copypaper.


Do you ever have to stop and really think hard about how certain bits are going to be cut, or is it pretty automatic?



Have you developed any rules for breaking an image into stencil sized chunks of shadow?

More design than a rule, I try to offset figures using black.


Do you ever find yourself observing a scene in reality and subconciously breaking it down into a nice stencil?



Is the sawtooth shadow line the most exciting edge in comics?

I can't speak for all of comics, but it makes for a very active visual.


Have you ever sold or exhibited any original stencils?

Yes, I have done both. Usually if someone buys the stencil, they also have bought the original art.


Have you ever made the stencil as the actual piece of artwork instead of the resulting sprayed art?

No, I haven't.


Do you ever photocopy a piece of your PRINTED artwork and recut elements from that, making it a 2nd generation stencil..?




How do you cut them so accurately?

X-acto blade.


Do you ever cut yourself?



Do you use a ruler at all in the cutting process?



What do you do when you cut off a section by mistake? can stencils be taped up or strengthened easily?

Use a good quality masking tape, cut little strips to ammend the area.


Do you cut different stencils for different color sprays?



Do you keep all the stencils?



Can they be reused?

Yes if they aren't bent


If you know something is going to be a popular image do you ever photocopy it onto thicker paper with the hope it might last longer even though it would be harder to cut?

Yes, but I find it too difficult to work with, only for street spraying.




Don't you live in New York? where do you do your spraying, out on the fire escape?

No, on a spray table with a gas mask.


What is the spraying process?

I have a spray booth and I usually spray red then black on top without moving the stencil. The rest is watercolor and colored pencil.


Have you ever sprayed a stencil onto public property? Has anyone else used any of your imagery and sprayed it somewhere without your consent?

No, but others have used my stencils to do so.


How many times do you spray a page? (I reckon you should spray 2 of everything, sell the one that got printed and keep the other one...)



Is there much difference between good and crap spraycans?

I like working with flat or ultra flat paint, the bigger issue are the nozzles which tend to easily get jammed.


With the color work what is the sequence of events, (ie; watercolor, spray color, spray red, spray black, color pencil...)

Generally stencil first, wc, colored pencil, etc...


Do you ever spray a bunch of a single color page with the hope of trying a few different color schemes?





Thank you Peter for all your valuable time.


The Peter Kuper website has a HEAPS more (and bigger) examples of his stencil work as well as lots of really good illustration. Some of the best examples of Mr Kupers color stencil work can be found in the aforementioned THE SYSTEM also classics illustrated THE JUNGLE and a great 4 pager in GANGLAND. Some of his black and White stencil work is to be found in his 5 issue comic BLEEDING HEART. STRIPPED and SPEECHLESS are good compilations of his work.



THE SYTEM cover stencil artwork in b/w.

© Peter Kuper


A comics page using stencils, coloured pencils and watercolour

© Peter Kuper


© Peter Kuper

Use of other elements

© Peter Kuper

Poster art available from Peters site

© Peter Kuper

A pretty complicated peice.

© Peter Kuper

"Ali " using misaligned colours.

© Peter Kuper




My first foray into making spray-stencils was to photocopy a page from Kupers comic "Bombs away" which was in Bleeding Heart #2.

I blew up the image to about 120% and cut the photocopy, viola! It was a really good way to learn and taught me a lot of what and what not to do in the design of the stencil.

Here is a detail from the original comic. click to see full image --------->



© Peter Kuper

The detail from my sprayed version. click to see full image ---->

Notice that I didn't do a very good job on the details, like whiskers, and it ended up very oversprayed. A little bit of overspraying gives it character and that hand made feel, but here the whole thing has gone way too muddy. Strong solid shapes work best for a good stencil. Small details can always be added by pencil or brush later.

This is from my stencil. click to see full image ---->

I should have but a bridge all the way up the back of the armchair seperating the cat. The gap between the legs isn't thick enough so it just lifted up when I sprayed. Also notice the great counterpoint in Kupers original where the whiskers go back into the body of the cat. It makes for more finicky cutting but adds much more dimension.

Now we will leave Mr Kuper and have a look at a couple of my own early stencils and some street art that is stencil based.




to see more stencil stuff