Cutting Edge Stencils
designs and produces the best stencils for DIY home décor and crafts. It’s a collaborative expression between long-time professional decorative artists, Janna Makaeva and Greg Swisher. Together, they ran the New York area's leading decorative painting company, Spec Fin (Specialty Finishes), and completed hundreds of high profile decorating projects. Lovers of the arts and all things beautiful, Janna and Greg have a common goal: To empower today’s Do-It-Yourself-er, to teach and to share their wealth of painting and decorating knowledge, and to inspire you to "Go For It!"
We believe in DIY and we know you can believe in it too. We live in a time where anything is possible. There is a shift in the way we think and more and more we see random acts of beauty, in our homes, on our planet and in each other. It's about being fulfilled, creative, compassionate and generous. Done with your stencil? Share it with a friend. And better yet, help them with their project. Restore that old piece of furniture instead of putting it on the curb. Recycle, reuse and repurpose. When we do it ourselves, we get back so much more than just a finished project. The experience, the expression and the love that we put into these projects, we also put into ourselves. When you invest in yourself and do it yourself, you can expect a fabulous return.
DIY can also stand for the "Designer In You," and we want to help you to discover the endless decorative possibilities that stenciling offers.
Ever since I can remember, I've been messing around with painting, decorating and renovating. As a kid, I'd be in our little basement with my dad, refinishing furniture or learning carpentry. Usually without proper ventilation or safety goggles, but that's just how we rolled back then. I couldn’t wait to tear things apart and rebuild, reinterpret, or in some cases, destroy them. It didn't really matter what it was, I just had to mess. I didn't realize it, but I was building the foundation of what grown-ups called “a career.” Fast forward through all of the fort building, teenage bedroom makeovers and garage music studio construction (all on a budget mind you), and I started to understand that I not only loved doing these things, I was obsessed with doing them.
Then one day my mom said that her friend had an artist doing painting faux marble at her house. I asked if I could go watch. His name was Rick Simms and he told me all about the world of faux finishing.
I was hooked. I needed to learn everything. I bought every book I could afford and started practicing on walls in the garage and on pizza boxes (which I had no shortage of), and began to hone my skills. I was a natural at most of the techniques, but something was missing. I didn't understand color. Then I discovered Joanne Day and the Day Studio of Fine Finishing. She taught a class on color (as well as most faux finishing techniques) and I signed up. I figured, one intense color class and I'll be all set. I was wrong. That class blew me away and I quickly signed up for almost every class she offered. My credit card was maxed but I believed in this. At the same time I was studying with Joanne, I took interior design classes, and apprenticed in guitar building and finishing. Along the way I was taking small decorative painting jobs.
Specialty Finishes, later known as Spec Fin, was born. Spec Fin grew into one of the New York area's premier decorative finishing companies, creating incredible spaces, doing fine furniture finishing and eventually offering classes. For about 15 years, Spec Fin was doing business as usual, until one day a beautiful young girl named Janna walked through the door and blew the roof off. Her artistic talent, her attention to detail and her handmade stencils were off the charts. We joined forces and together brought Spec Fin to a level I never thought imaginable. We were involved in countless show houses, including the Kips Bay Decorator Showhouse in New York City. In addition, we decorated 50,000 sq ft residences and worked on important historic restorations.
While all this was going on, we renovated our 1,200 sq ft ranch house into a 4,500 sq ft Arts and Crafts dream home! After a beautiful run with the "New and Improved" Spec Fin, we started to feel the recession of 2008. What's next, we wondered, and Janna said: "How about stencils?" Enter the next obsession: Cutting Edge Stencils!
My fascination with stencils started about 15 years ago, when I was briefly involved as a seamstress-helper at a small theater company in California. I was helping to sew costumes for the Madame Butterfly opera, which was a lot of fun! One of the creative challenges we faced was how to decorate the geisha’s silk kimonos with some traditional Japanese ornamentation, and do it within our (very small) budget. We purchased a bolt of white natural silk, then very creatively dyed it in the washing machine in various soft pastel fabric colors. I had no idea that you could dye fabric in a top loading washing machine! It was so easy and cost effective, and the color gets distributed evenly through the fabric.
Then I wondered how would we apply the traditional Japanese intricate ornamentation to the fabric. That’s when Nette, our lead costume designer, simply said: “We’ll make a Stencil!”
“What’s a stencil?” I asked. She took a piece of oil board and an exacto knife and cut a simple leaf shape in the middle of it. Then she took a weird looking brush with a flat top, dabbed it in paint and instantly produced a perfect imprint, then another one, and one more… The minute I saw it, I knew I was hooked. There was something totally fascinating about how quickly and reliably she could reproduce an image using this simple tool called a “stencil." It was so fast and yet so crisp and accurate! And only a few days later I was cutting various shapes out of oil board, and experimenting with various colors and techniques of stenciling on silk. I quickly learned the Stenciling Rule #1: Use Less Paint! The stenciling technique was so rewarding, and allowed for so much experimentation, with color, shading, translucency, layering, masking… I absolutely, totally loved it! I was definitely obsessed, and spent late evenings in the studio creating more and more stencil designs…. This was the very first stencil “collection." It was made for Madame Butterfly in 1996 and entirely hand-cut out of oil board and vinyl shelving paper with an exacto knife.
Just a few years later, and I was stenciling on walls and ceilings in people’s homes, creating beautiful faux finishes, frescoes and murals and my stencil collection grew tremendously! At this point we were cutting our own vinyl masking stencils too, and used them for very intricate decorating, such as marquetry inlayed floors and painted ceilings. Our creativity soared, and we embraced the unique challenges of each project with joy and excitement. However, I always dreamt of starting our own stencil company, and finally, in 2008, the opportunity presented itself! In only a few years, Cutting Edge Stencils became a blooming family business, with our son Alex running our production and overseeing our studio.
Greg and Janna share a creative life together in Northern New Jersey. Their creativity doesn’t stop with just painting! They live on a beautiful property where they plant gorgeous flower gardens, grow their own fruits and veggies, keep bees and cook gourmet meals (Greg is also a graduate from Culinary Institute of America). Janna enjoys making preserves from homegrown produce, creating handmade soap, and designing beautiful greeting cards with her girlfriends. She makes kombucha and studies traditional herbal medicine. She also holds a master’s degree in zoology and botany (Hence a nicely detailed botanical stencils!) When time permits, Janna is a superb seamstress, knitter, and classical pianist.
Greg builds beautiful adirondack gazebos and furniture and is an accomplished guitar player with his own rock band! He loves to record his music and produces our Stencil Videos!
We feel that there is no time to waste in this life, and, as Abe Lincoln said, "it is not the days in the life, but the life in the days!”
Greg and Janna