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FACE VALUE – KARL STEHN



1. Name, age, location?
Karl Stehn, 40, Geelong

2. What do you do?
I am a traditional signwriter by trade. I do all facets of custom, from airbrushing to metal flaking, to murals. I started my apprenticeship straight out of school, so it’s been 20 plus years now in the sign industry and about 13 on my own as KDS Designs.







3. What would you rather be doing?
Maybe a professional skateboarder, but I’m shit at skateboarding. I’m pretty happy doing what I’m doing. It’s cool because I can make a dollar while being creative and collaborating with people to make cool shit. I always do more than the brief and try to take the work into another dimension. That’s the buzz I search for.

4. How have you changed in the last five years?
Being a dad has changed everything. I look at the bigger picture now; I don’t just do my own thing. I’ve hopefully become a bit more thoughtful in my work and relationship, better at communicating.

5. Who do you look up to?
My late father is my hero for sure. He supported me and let me be who I wanted to be. I learned most of my skills being with him on the farm: shooting, riding bikes, welding, making stuff out of wood. If I can be half the man he was I’ll be stoked.

6. How do you look after yourself?
I play with my kids. I don’t go to the gym or anything like that. I try and eat right, try not to drink too much and I don’t smoke. I wear a mask when I’m spraying the most toxic shit on the planet. That’s about it.





7. Do you think men need to moisturise?
Yeah, I think so. Men and women have the same skin, haven’t we? I suppose it’s frowned upon because you might be seen as less of a man or whatever. I use moisturiser, who cares?

8: What do you care about?
I care about the future for our kids; I’m trying to lay some sort of yellow brick road for them, building up the empire so they can enjoy the riches we didn’t have. I care about my friends and my customers, who are also my friends. I’m passionate about what I do. I try and care about lots of things, but you can only spread yourself out so much.

9. What don’t you care about?
Jealous people. I think jealousy’s the undoing of man, full stop. We all have little pieces of it. The tall poppy syndrome is still alive and well in Australia, it’s like the mecca for it. I don’t care for haters. I take it on board too, and it really shits me. I’m still trying to work that one out.

10. How important is honesty to you?
Everyone’s gotta be out in the open. We’ve all tried to bullshit one another but it doesn’t get anyone anywhere. It’s pretty important to be honest.



11. When was the last time you were wrong?
It happens once a week at least. Half of the issues I’ve had with other human beings have been because they wouldn’t admit they’re wrong and they keep holding it in. I’m completely cool with admitting defeat or being wrong. You’re not going to progress if you can’t do that.

12. What’s the most brutal truth you’ve faced?
When my wife found out she was pregnant with our son. That was the biggest, gnarliest thing: not being ready for that. I’ve always gone with the flow through life, a bit like a gypsy. In that nine months, I bought a house for my family. 
The birth was brutal. My poor wife is still lucky to be alive. We had a witch doctor for a midwife, who didn’t believe in drugs or anything. He was pulling out all the old school, medieval shit; it was ridiculous. It was like thirty-something hours, fuckin’ unheard of. In the end I was delirious; I didn’t know what was going on. It’s all a blur to be honest with you.


Being a father is brutal, too. We’ve still got our little things we want to do; we don’t have to wait until we’re 60. I want to ride my chopper, I want to do self-indulgent things. There’s moments, don’t worry about that. That will be there forever.

Interview conducted by Max Olijnyk.

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Brutal Truth