stenciling techniques

Highlights and Shadows on Your Stencil Painting

Here are a few hint and tips to push your stenciling from just a process to hand painted art!

OK – So your stencil is finished, and you sat back and admired it a little while. But you just can’t help thinking that it could use something else. But what?

Well, a stencil is defined as a template that produces an exact image at every use. Of course, in decorative painting, that’s just not going to work. The idea is to end up with an image that looks hand painted. So, I put together a few of the stencil techniques that I use to personalize a painting. Here they are:

Highlighting and Shadowing

Add some highlights where you might see light on your image. This will add some depth and dimension to your painting. Lighten a paint color by adding white paint and use a small bristle brush to run lines where you want highlights. Don’t add to much white because you just want a subtle effect.

Notice the mid sections of the cranes how much lighter they are on one side as opposed to the other.

Don’t forget to blend shadowed areas with the lighter areas together where the lines meet to have a smoother finish. Pour a little of the two paint colors used and just start to work them together on the image. I like to use a small, round, soft bristle brush with the stippling or pouncing technique used to stencil and work along the line of differing colors until I reach the desired amount of blending.

Using Color to Define Areas

Be careful to leave those areas needing the separation with contrast. See the reindeer. Note how the shaded area on each leg has been blended together with the lower, lighter section. But the individual legs are still separated with a crisp definition of color.

I always like to add a white dot in the iris of eyes to bring out a more realistic effect. The nature of painting stencils is to produce an exact image multiple times. But chances are you want each image to have an individual hand painted effect so little tips like this go a long way.

After completing the picture, you can lightly water down some of the paint colors that you have used to run a translucent shadow or top color where you want to add depth or light. Use an artist’s paintbrush to apply these translucent colors and a paper or cloth towel to blot the colors for a blending effect. Be careful because if you make the paint too watery it may take off some of the paint of the image.

Blending Two Colors for Texture

A good way to add texture, variation in depth (like curves) or just some interest is to use two or more colors in one opening (island). Just dab the brush or sponge in the different colors and maybe get the colors to fade from one side of the opening to the other. I recommend doing this while the stencil is still in place to keep a sharp edge. Note the blue background of the Anchor Lines Travel Poster Stencil.

Again, practice and experiment! As you play around with painting stencils, you will discover many techniques for customizing your work.

Stenciling Hints and Tips

If you have a paper stencil (like the free ones that you can print), cover them with a clear coating like clear shelf liner over even strips of packing tape before cutting out the openings. This way you can use your stencil again and again. After each painting just wipe off the excess paint with a damp rag and store in a flat place (I put them in heavy books after they dry - it helps keep them flat).

If you don't have any clear cover, just make sure to let your paper stencil dry thoroughly on a flat surface between uses. After the paint dries you can place the stencils in a heavy book temporarily to flatten out the edges that may have curled.

Invest in good paints. Using inexpensive paints that are thin will require too many coats. This will mean more work and more opportunity for paint smudging under the edges. Watery paints will also do more to weaken a paper stencil.

If you run into a situation where two openings (islands) on a stencil are very close but require different colors use a sheet of paper or thin cardboard to cover one opening while applying paint to the other. This is called a mask.

If your painted stencil is located in a high traffic area, you may wish to apply a protective finish. Allow the stenciled area to dry for approximately 3-5 days. Then apply a water-based acrylic varnish (flat or satin finish).

Well, that’s about it for Stenciling Techniques to Create Your Own Masterpiece. I hope you picked up on some great ideas for your next stenciling project.

If you're looking for ideas, go to Stenciling for a large variety of projects and free stencils too.

If you want to continue your Stencil Education then click here to go back to How To Stencil.

Happy Stenciling!