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Stenciling Tips and Techniques

If you are a beginning stenciler, it is important to know how to 
choose the proper size and type of stencil for the project you are 
planning.  The two main areas to consider prior to purchase are:
1.  What type of stencil.
2.  What type of paint to use.

Transparent Mylar stencils are the most popular because they are so 
easy to use, flexible and cleanable.  If you want to save time and 
are not experienced, choose a stencil that is pre-cut.  Use a few 
basic stencils before attempting to cut your own for the first time.

With some stencils, all the design elements appear on a single sheet, 
so this involves masking out various areas and using a very small 
brush if multi-colors are used.  For ease and speed in multi-color 
wall applications, choose a stencil with a separate sheet (overlay) 
for each color.  Most multi-overlay stencils have  printed regis-
tration (realignment) markings and  some even have vertical and 
horizontal centering lines to make application easier.

Select a design size that is in balance and relation to the area where
it is to be placed.  For example a 1” border would not be appropriate 
for a frieze in a room.

These paints produce professional results on walls, wood, metal and 
canvas.  Remember to properly prepare your surface for wood and metal.  
The following are my choice of stencil paints:
Water-based acrylic paints,  oil based stencil crayons,  oil based 
dry brush stencil creme. 

Water based fabric paints and all of the above can be used sucessfully
on fabric.  Textile medium would need to be added to acrylic paint
in order to set the design for washability.  For the oil crayons and 
stencil cremes, you need to let them dry then set with a fairly warm 
iron for 20 seconds or so.

1.  It is important to select quality brushes, one for each color.
2.  Match the opening size of the cut-out area on the stencil to the 
size of brush used.  Large openings - large brush for speed and ease.
3.  Proper brush cleaning techniques must be carefully followed in 
order to assure quality work.
4.  Sponges, small rollers, or various fabric wrapped on the index 
finger can also be used as an application tool.  Air brushes and 
aerosol spray paints are used by some custom stencilers.


How to Prepare For Stenciling

Preparation of Wall Surface:
Ensure that the walls are in good condition.  If repainting, latex or 
oil based eggshell or satin finish paint is recommended.  Avoid semi-
gloss or gloss finishes.  The paint simply will not stick.

Where to Stencil:
Stencil all horizontals first (frieze, chairrail, kickplate and above 
windows and doors).  Add vertical sections next and central motifs 
last.  Frieze should be placed approximately 1” below the ceiling line
or crown moulding.  Chairrail stenciling can appear 1/2 to 3/4” above 
or below a chairrail moulding.  It can also be used to create a chair-
rail effect by stenciling 32 - 36” from the floor.

Do the design on paper first to test colors and technique.  Tape this 
proof to the wall in the room and live with it for a few days to 
determine if the style and colors blend with your decor.  This proof 
will also be handy for measuring the design to the wall and fitting it 
to the corners.  You can determine the amount of spacing you want 
between repeats from this as well so do several repeats on your sheet.

Spacing For A Continuous Border:
To determine exact spacing, measure the total width of each wall and 
convert to inches (#1).  Then measure the  width of the stencil plus 
the amount of space you want between repeats if any (#2).  Divide #1 
by #2.  If you come up with some extra inches, you need to adjust the
spacing until this number is even. An alternate method is to allow the 
extra spacing in the corners - if it isn’t alot.  Now, if you are 
stenciling all around the room, and all walls are the same size, you 
can measure the total width of all combined walls and divide by the 
width of the stencil (plus spacing). If the walls are different sizes,
I would recommend you measure each wall separately.

Some Alternate Ways to Stencil:
I don’t like continuous borders, to me they look too much like wall-
paper border.  I like my designs to be kind of off centered and not 
all the same.  I like to stencil designs in each corner of a window or 
over a doorway and flowing down each side.  I try to free-form the 
designs as much as possible to fit the space I’m working in.  Most 
stencils can be added to by using parts of the stencil over again or 
doing just 2 or 3 repeats together.    Sometimes a design of a stencil
makes it hard to free-form design, they are made to be a border and 
that’s that.  Alot of stencil companies now make their designs more 
suited to this style of stenciling as well as doing mural type scenes.
Stencils can be turned over and reversed.  Clean off the front before 
doing this or else use acrylics if you plan to reverse them.  Oils 
will leave smudges if not cleaned first.

What Do I Need to Know?

The Art of Stenciling:
1.  Tape or adhesive?  Low tack masking tape is the best tape to use.  
You can attach several pieces of regular masking tape to your clothing
to remove some of the adhesion.  Some people like the spray adhesive 
but I don’t because it’s horrible to remove.  I also use opaque 3M 
Magic tape - it seems a little less sticky than scotch tape.

2.  Registration marks:  Most stencils have little cutouts if there 
are more than one overlay.  When you place the first overlay on the 
wall, mark these holes with a soft lead pencil.  Each overlay there-
after will match perfectly when you line up the holes.  Erase the 
pencil after.  Another trick is to place a small piece of tape on the 
wall so the pencil goes onto that instead of having to remove the mark
from the wall.

3.  Using Paint Sticks or Crayons:
These are easy to use for a beginner and give a soft shaded look to 
your stenciling.  Each crayon will have a “skin” that needs to be 
removed and disposed of carefully so that it doesn’t come back to 
haunt you in some unfortunate way (like being ground into the carpet).  
These are oil-based so are difficult to remove from hands, clothing or
other undesirable areas.  Rub the crayon onto a plastic or paper plate 
and swirl the desired size of stencil brush into the paint.  Not
necessary to offload the paint as it works nicely into the bristles 
and you won’t have a problem with too much paint on the brush.  You 
can build up depth of color with these, it does take longer but the 
effects are beautiful.  I find that I usually swirl the first paint 
color into the cutout area then for shading deeper colors, I use a 
pouncing motion.

4.  Dry Brush Stencil Creme:
These are oil-based and similar to crayons only they come in little 
plastic pots.  Great for beginners as run-unders are virtually nil and
you can achieve soft shading with little effort.  There is a skin or 
covering which needs to be removed like the crayons (note my remarks 
there).  Dab the brush into the pot and swirl onto a plastic plate to 
work it into the bristles.  Blending and mixing of colors are easy 
with these.   Again, I usually swirl the first color into the cutout 
area then pounce the darker shading colors on top to create depth.  
These take about 2 days to dry, so caution should be used when 
stenciling so that you don’t smudge.

5.  Acrylic Paints:
These provide great results but require alot of practice and exper-
ience before you will feel comfortable using them.  You can layer more
colors with acrylics than oils because they dry extremely fast.  Use 
the craft paints that come in little plastic containers, also purchase
the extender.  Shake well and pour about  a quarter size onto your 
plastic plate and thin with abit of extender just till consistency of 
cream.  Evenly load just the tip of the brush and offload most of
the paint onto a few layers of paper toweling by swirling it around a 
few times.  Begin applying the paint to the cutout area by swirling 
the color building up more around the edges.  You can alternatively 
pounce the brush if that feels better to you.  I do both.  Start with
a light touch and build up shading by adding more color to the outside
edges.  You can’t take color away with acrylics, but you can add more 
so keep a light touch.  Very easy to get run-unders if you have too 
much paint on your brush so make sure you offload enough.  There 
hardly needs to be any paint left on the brush and you will still be 
able to give nice coloring to the project.

6.  What else will I need?
You will need lots of paper toweling for offloading acrylic paint and 
cleanup.   A chalk pencil or soft lead pencil for the registration 
marks.  A kneaded eraser for getting rid of pencil marks and smudges.
Low tack tape.  Q-tips moistened with thinner for oil smudges, and 
rubbing alcohol for acrylic glitches and smudges.  Popsicle sticks for 
mixing acrylics.  Small plastic plates or paper plates.  Measuring 
tape and a bubble level for marking horizontal lines.  An old cookie
sheet for keeping everything on.  Place several paper towels, paint 
medium, brushes and extra Q-tips on it and secure it to the paint tray
of a ladder with a c-clamp or masking tape.   A work apron is valuable 
as well to hold several brushes or extra tape.   Paint thinner for oil
and rubbing alcohol for acrylic clean-ups.  A plastic stencil bristle 
cleaner is invaluable for cleaning the brushes when you are done.

Some Additional Hints:
1.  Flowers:  Choose several variations of a color to get proper 
shading.  A flower could have 3-4 shades from white to crimson 
combined for each blossom.   For a large flower, try to make the
center either darker or lighter than the outside petals.  This will 
give your design some depth rather than one flat color.

2.  Leaves:  Try to make some look like the sun is shining on them and 
others are in shadow.  Use darker green on the edge of a leaf which is
coming from behind another flower or leaf.  Keep the center lighter to
give it roundness and look like light is shining on it.  Not all 
leaves are exactly the same color or green, some could have abit of 
yellow or red shading or maybe the tip is gone brown.  This adds alot 
of dimension and they will be more interesting.

3.  Stems:  Some are green and some are brown and some have other 
variations of color.  Look to nature and see what color stems are for 
particular flowers.  I will quite often dip my brush in a couple of 
greens and then brown as well  so that the stems appear mottled.  The 
more variation the more interesting they will be.


For Oil-Based Paints:  
Brushes:   If you aren’t finished, you can wrap the brushes in plastic 
and freeze until you need them again.  For final cleaning, immerse in 
enough paint thinner to wet the bristles.  Use an old coffee container 
and work out the paint on the side until most is removed.  Then use 
Murphy’s oil soap  slightly thinned with water and a stencil bristle 
cleaner and clean the remaining paint from the brushes.  There are 
several brush cleaners on the market that work very well but are more
expensive.  Rinse well and allow to dry by laying flat on a towel.

Stencils:   Carefully remove all masking or other tape.  On a flat 
surface protected with newspaper or paper towels, wipe the stencil 
clean with a soft rag or toweling dipped in paint thinner.  Clean 
slowly and carefully.  Then place in a large sink full of  warm water 
and a squirt Murphy’s Oil soap.  Swish around for abit then rinse well 
and hang to dry or place on a large towel to dry.

For Acrylics:
Brushes:   If washing immediately after stenciling, you can sit in 
warm soapy water and work out most of the paint.  Then using the 
plastic bristle cleaner, use Murphy’s oil soap or a stencil brush 
cleaner and water to get the remainder out.  Rinse well and allow to 
dry by laying flat.  The pigment will be hard to get completely out of 
the brushes and won’t harm the next time you use it.  If the acrylics 
have been allowed to dry, let them sit in a jar with rubbing alcohol 
in for abit then proceed as above.  Don't allow bristle brushes to sit
in any liquid for extended periods of time or you will ruin them.

Stencils:    Carefully remove all masking tape from the stencils.  
Pour a sink full of soapy warm water and allow the stencils to sit 
in that for a few minutes.   The acrylic paint should lift right off
the stencil without too much trouble.  Rinse well and lay flat to dry 
or hang them to dry.  If the paint is stubborn use some rubbing 
alcohol on a paper towel and carefully rub the paint to remove. Then 
wash in soapy water and rinse and dry.


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