7 Tips For Using Stencils

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Stencils are a great way to incorporate a repeat pattern in your work and can act as a basis for a painting.

Stencils can also add visual layering and interest to your work by using them in the background or as highlights.

Collect a selection that includes different sizes and shapes of stencils.

They range from a few dollars to fairly expensive, so amassing a collection may take some time for a starving artist.

If you’ve never used stencils, you’re in for a treat. Applying paint with a stencil is easy to master and your stencils will last almost indefinitely.

1. Secure Your Stencil

Use low-tack tape to adhere the edges of the stencil to your support to avoid damage to previously applied paint.

Usually taping two sides is sufficient, but larger stencils may require tape on all four sides.

2. Use The Right Tool

There are several appropriate tools for applying paint with a stencil. The tool you use will change as the size of the project and the liquidity of the paint varies.

A stencil brush is a round brush has dense, short bristles that are stiff. Used in a rapid up-and-down movement, paint is applied to the support with a lightly charged brush. A scant amount of paint is used so it won’t seep under the edges of the stencil.

A sponge can be used in the same manner as the stencil brush. The only downside to using a sponge is you’ll wind up with paint all over your fingers.

A small roller can also apply the paint and may work well for large stencils where there aren’t a lot of small details. It covers a lot of area quickly so it’s good for wall applications.

3. Loading And Applying The Paint

When loading your brush to paint a stencil, lightly dab the bristles into a very small area of paint. Next, tamp the brush on a piece of paper towel or paper to remove any excess paint. You do not want your brush to be wet with paint.

Work inward from the edge of the stencil towards the center of the area to minimize paint seepage. You will need to dab an area several times to build up the density of color you want. In this way, you can go back in with a different color to get a multi-hued effect without the paint blending together.

By applying the paint in thin applications, you can gradually build up the intensity of the color in some areas while allowing a gradual fade or a change to a new color.

4. Keep Your Stencil Clean

Wash your stencil occasionally if you’re using the stencil over and over for a repeat design. Wet paint on the edges can mark your support and built-up paint near the edge can lead to a less-than-crisp edge.

Of course, wash your stencil when you’re finished with your project so it’s clean and ready to use next time. Use warm water and soap if necessary. If the paint has dried, gently scrape the surface. Be careful not to crease or damage the acetate.

If you’re using a cardboard stencil, wipe the surface with a paper towel to remove any wet paint and let the board dry on a flat surface.

5. Make Your Own Stencils

With an X-acto knife and a wax pencil, you can create your own stencils. You can purchase sheets of acetate in your local craft or art supply store and there are loads of places to purchase it online.

Draw your image on the surface with the wax pencil and carefully cut out the design with the knife.

If you need a stencil that you’ll use only a few times, you can use thin cardboard or cardstock to create your design. Keeping it dry and removing any wet paint immediate will lengthen the life of your cardboard stencil. It should also be stored flat under weights to prevent buckling.

Old x-rays were often used for making stencils. However, now that x-rays are digital, you probably won’t have access to them.

6. Stencil Storage

Stencils should be stored horizontally. Put your stencils between pieces of cardboard and place a book or other heavy object on top of them to prevent curling or buckling.

7. Creating Different Effects With Stencils

Rather than painting the stencils with the traditional methods, there are other ways to use your stencil for creative effects.

Splattering paint on the stencil is a little messy, so cover the areas beyond the stencil to prevent paint from splattering where you don’t want it. You can use a loaded paintbrush for larger areas and bigger spots. Simply tap your brush smartly against your hand or for a very large area, you can fling paint with a quick snap of the wrist.

For smaller areas and finer spray, use a toothbrush. Load the bristles with paint and use the edge of your finger or a small flat object like a palette knife or credit card to splatter tiny drops of paint. You can use repeat the splattering with different of colors for various looks.

Use your stencil to build up a raised surface on your support. After securing your stencil to your painting, use your palette knife or a small trowel to apply gesso or heavy acrylic paste over your stencil. Carefully remove the stencil and allow the material to dry completely.

When dry, these shapes can be accented with paint, rubbed or dry brushed to create a shadowed effect or incorporated with other stencils and designs.

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