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Stencil Art: Using Stencils in Mixed Media

Stencil art? Aren't stencils those uncreative things that allows you to make the same image over and over again by painting or coloring through them? Yup! That's what stencils are and for a very  long time I could not imagine that  you could really use stencils for art.  As a matter of fact you couldn't pay me to use them (ok maybe just a little )It wasn't until I got into mixed media art and I saw what you can do with stencils that  that I got hooked.

Benefit of using stencils in art

The main benefit as I see it in using stencils for your art is that you don't have to  "draw". That scary word for so many. It allows you to use something (a stencil) that will give you a very good image of a real item be it shape, person or anything else you end up using. It's a great start for all of you who think they can't draw a straight line.

Differences between masks and stencils

Many seem to call both masks and stencils, stencil. However,  the mask is what is cut out of the stencil material. In the image below the plastics with the openings in them are the stencils and the arrow and stars are the masks. To use the stencil you need to paint, spray or color inside the openings. For the masks you need to spray, paint or color over it and them and then remove  to see the space it has left.

small square plastic shaped stencils and masks

Different Types of Stencils

Below are 2 pictures of some of the most common stencils you will see. The purple ones have a grouping of a few items on each page while the blue ones have various shapes and designs on each individual, small cardboard piece. As of now I have not yet found a creative use for the purple ones but, they are common so I wanted to show them to you.

large plastic stencils with pictures
small square cardboard design stencils

There are other types of stencils as well. There are....

  • Number and letter stencils either in one large sheet or individual letters
  • Stencils from companies like stencil girl, crafters workshop, plaid, dylusions and many others.
  • There are also natural objects that you can use as stencils like doilies, produce bags, screens and basically anything that has any holes in it and is waterproof. I've been using a piece from my old dishwasher for a while now.
  • And then of course, there are homemade stencils. (which we will get to a bit further on)

How can you get color through your stencils

There are a number of ways to get the color you need onto your journal page or artwork through your stencil or over your mask. It will all depend on what material you are working on and the result you are looking for. You can  use............

  • Paints
  • Spray inks
  • Markers
  • Pens and pencils
  • Modeling paste (and when I didn't have that I've  used compound plaster from the hardware store)
  • Oil pastels
  • Glitter
  • Magic eraser (This one is  used more to take color off through a stencil)

How to apply the medium

You can use any number of applicators to get the mediums onto the stencils like...........

The trick  when applying the medium is less is better. If you load paint or anything else onto your applicator you may get a very messy result. For example: If you are using a cosmetic sponge to paint with then, dab onto a scrap paper first and then onto  your artwork.

How to make your own stencils

 Ok! So what happens is that you get into using all the different stencils that you come across and that you see other artists recommending  and you realize you don't want to take out a mortgage on your home to support your habit. At that  point it's time to make your own stencils.

As I see it, there are 2 ways to do so. The first is with material  you buy from Amazon or Pj Stencils and the second is with very simple matierlas that you probably have at home.

​The first way is to buy 7 mil white stencil material and an inexpensive stencil cutter which I used to start making these flower stencils.

homemade plastic flower stencils

What happened was that I wasn't so successful with the stencil cutting machine as the plastic was beading up as I was using it. I therefore switched to using a very good sharp scissors that allowed me to stick the point into the material and then cut out the pattern I had drawn.

Recently when reading through the book stencil girl again I noticed that she recommends buying stencil material from the company as she said it doesnt bead up when you use the hot machine.

I just got my order for it and have not tried it yet so hopefully I'll update this post when I do.

The second way to make stencils is with  packing tape , a very good sharp- scissors  (as I said  I use the cutter bee scissors as it  has a very  pointy tip and is excellent for this) and magazines or computer printouts.

You begin by covering over both sides of the image with packing tape. It can overlap but, just make sure the cover it all. If you are making a stencil then you need to cut out the inside of the shape...for a mask you will need to cut around the image. Then just stick your sharp scissors in and start cutting. Below are masks on the left and stencils on the right (the flower one is not of the packing tape type)These are waterproof resistant though not as waterproof as the mylar.

images of people with tape covering them to use as masks
homemade bird stencils

The place to get stencils from is magazines, pictures from the internet and your own photographs.

Now that you've got your stencils its time to start making art with them.​

How to make art with your stencils

Here are just some ways I have found to use stencils:

  • Decorate objects
  • Make your own coloring and doodling pages
  • Make decorative borders for your art and for your journal pages
  • Spray over masks and then doodle or color inside when removed
  • Create backgrounds 
  • Make   painted backgrounds and add stencils  for interest
  • Do one stencil or mask on page and build page around it
  • Use a number of stencils and masks to create story on page of just pick a few random ones and add to page

These images are of some of these ways that I've used 

You can use stencils to create large shape areas that you can doodle in with many types of markers

orange yellow background with shape templates on top ready for doodling

Use them to decorate any number of household objects like I did with this old white vase I had lying around

maroon vase with decorative stenciling

Take your masks and spray or paint over them. Then add to individual pieces. There is a fuller explanation about this piece over here

journal page with outlines of 4 women

Create a background using a few layers of stencils. A larger, lighter one for the background and smaller, darker ones for second and even third layers

double stamped journal page

Use one stencil only to add to a already painted background to tie into  a specific motif

journal page with musical stamp background and music paper on top

Create a story with stencils. Use the homemade ones to make a silhouette sunset scene with black paint over the orange and yellow sky

sunset background with silhouettes of bridge, birds and bike rider

Below are 2 pieces made with stencils. (The top one is not finished yet but, I wanted to show you what I did with it) With the first one I just took a number of household objects, lay them on my journal spread, sprayed through them and embellished the spread. I used black post it notes  that I cut to fit the squares and doodled on them with metallic pens. I also  did some written journaling on top...still in the middle of working on it.

everyday object ready for spraying
spraying over everyday objects
outlines of everyday objects sprayed
journal page created with every day objects

This one is more of a scene but, I had no idea of how it was going to turn out when I started. I found this background I had once made by covering the background with newspaper and painting a sky and grass on it. After I added the stenciled pieces and then added black lines to them I felt it looked a bit empty so I decided to add a quote.

painted sunset and grass background over newspaper background
using stencils over sunset and grass background
stenciled images on top of sunset and grass background
finished artowrk of bridge over sunset and grass background

So now that you're stencils are full of gunk the question is....

Do you clean your stencils?

To clean or not to clean that is the question!

This may sound weird but, many artists actually don't bother cleaning their stencils. They feel that the paints dry quickly and the dried paint doesn't interfere with future stenciling.

Others would never continue without throwing them into a basin of water to get at least part of the gunk off. Remember though that only the real plastic ones can go directly into a tub of water, the tape and paper ones may get water seeping under.

So its really a personal thing but, I just didn't want you to think that you must clean your stencils as it may prevent you from moving forward with your artmaking if it becomes a pain.​

So that's it...a beginning primer on stencil art in mixed media.

As you get further into it you will see there are so many more ways you can use your stencils to create art. Many artists use their stencils for gelli printing and other gorgeous art making techniques that we will explore in other posts.

In the meantime get your materials together and start experimenting with your own stencil making and art.

Any questions please ask below...and I'd love it if you shared it too 🙂

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