How To Paint With Stencils

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Using stencils is a fast, easy method to create multiple images that can be used for crafts as well as fine art.

It is simple and costs little to create reusable templates that can be used on walls, clothing, decorative objects and paintings.

The simpler the shape, the easier it is to create a stencil.

Basic elements are best suited for this type of craft. Geometric forms and simple shapes from nature work well, and they can be adapted to enhance a painting or create an entire work.

Materials To Do The Job

A temporary stencil can be created using poster board or other thin cardboard. A stencil that is intended to be used for some time should be made with a plastic, non-porous sheet such as Mylar. This product is available in any craft supply shop and comes in many sizes.

Use a hobby knife to cut the stencil. A sharp cutting tool is necessary, as any ragged edges will result in imperfections in the painted design.

Tape is used temporarily to hold the stencil to the support. The type of tape used will depend on what support the artist uses. A watercolorist must be careful not to use a tape that will damage the paper, while an oil painter using canvas must have tape that will remain in place on the rougher surface.

Standard brushes can be used to apply the paint, but there are also stencil brushes made specifically for paint application. These brushes come in a variety of sizes, but are round with a blunt end for tamping paint in a consistent manner. Sponges and sponge brushes are also used. These are economical, disposable alternatives and great for youngsters and quick applications.

Almost any medium can be used with stencils, and a bit of practice will show what consistency is most suitable to use for best results.

Creating A Stencil

The more simple the shape, the easier it is to create a stencil. Thinking in terms of negative space makes creating a stencil less arduous. Learning to think in terms of negative space takes practice, and is a sort of mental exercise that prepares an artist to create good stencils.

Draw the full size design on paper. Remember that the object will be cut out, leaving an outline to be filled with paint. A simple shape, for example a vase or heart, is just one outlined object. An object with shapes within must have connections left in the plastic to hold the other portions of the design in place. This mental process gets easier as the artist works with the process, and a few faux pas are to be expected. A student should practice with cardboard until he feels confident that he is cutting away the right parts.

When satisfied with the design, transfer the drawing to the stencil material. Be certain that the connections are drawn in place properly. One slip and the design is useless. Use the hobby knife to cut the design, making sure all cuts are crisp and neat. Tidy up any ragged borders, so that the paint application will not have rough edges.

If the stencil is to be used in a set, repetitious manner, it is a good idea to measure and mark centerlines. This makes consistent spacing easy, and creates a more professional appearance to the completed work.

Painting Technique

Whether using acrylic, oil, watercolor or ink, there are various ways to apply the paint. Each painting or project is different, and the artist may use diverse methods, depending on what effect he wishes to achieve. He can produce painterly effects, a primitive look or a commercial screen print appearance, depending on how he applies the paint.

Stenciling is commonly used on walls and home decorating accessories. A border along the top of a wall is easily accomplished with a stencil, recreating the motif many times quickly with consistency. In this case, the craftsman is not concerned with a painterly effect. Using a sponge or tamping brush is efficient, and the job can be done as rapidly as the artist can apply the paint and move the stencil to the next location.

Painting a home accessory, such as a wall plaque, wooden serving tray or other one-off item may take a more leisurely approach. A craftsman may use the stencil brush or sponge, but may also opt for using standard paintbrushes. He can complete the item quickly, but may take time to add character and a personal sense of style to his work.

When using stencils for a painting, the artist may use the design as a starting point for a piece, as a way in which to repeat a theme with consistency, or as the entire work of art. It may be an invisible portion merely hinted at, or the main focal point of the artist’s composition.

Regardless of the style in which the artist works, stenciling can play a role in the artwork. A watercolorist, painting an ethereal floral may place leafy silhouettes in the mist-filled background. An acrylic painter may use a stencil motif of geometric forms repeated in various colors and intensities, overlapping shapes in an abstract piece. An oil painter may incorporate stenciling in painting the drapery that forms the background of the intricate still life he creates.

Stencils may be static, but they can certainly liven up a painting. Use them expressively as a creative tool, and see what the simple stencil can do for your work.

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