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Stencils in art, from screen-printing to graffiti

Stencils in art, from screen-printing to graffiti

A stencil is a template used to draw or paint identical things like letters, numbers, symbols, shapes, or patterns every time it is used. You may have also heard of it called pochoir the term used in visual art. Stencils are formed by removing sections from template material in the shape of an image. This creates a physical negative to work from. The template can then be used to create impressions of the stencilled image, by applying pigment in the form of ink or paint etc onto the surface of the template and through the removed sections, this then leaves a reproduction of the stencil on the underlying surface.

Sometimes you need to add ‘islands’ which are idle pieces like the hole in the letters O and P or number 8 for instance. Sometimes islands can be connected to other parts of the template with bridges, or additional sections of narrow template material which are not removed, but it looks much better if they are applied separately each time.

A related technique (which has found applicability in some surrealist compositions) is aerographic, in which spray-painting is done around a three-dimensional object. This technique is comparable to the paintings in caves dating over +10,000BC, where hands were used to create hand print outlines amongst other artwork, such as paintings of animals. The artist would spray pigment around his hand with his mouth. A hollow bone or reed may have also been employed to direct the stream of pigment.

Screen printing is a form of stencilling in that it also uses a stencil process. Stencils can be made with one or many colour layers using different techniques, with most stencils designed to be applied as solid colours. During screen printing the images for stencilling are broken down into colour layers. Multiple layers of stencils are used on the same surface to produce multi-coloured images. Its becoming more and more popular for artists to do screen-prints at present. They take much more work and skill than your typical ‘print’ but can be reproduced over and over again.

Stencils have also become popular for graffiti art, since stencil art using spray-paint can be produced quickly and easily. These stencils are called friskets and are pressed directly onto the artwork. They are used to control the overspray create shapes and keep edges sharp and generally not used ore than once. The extensive lettering possible with stencils makes it especially attractive to political artists. Well known for their use of stencil art are Blek le Rat and Jef aerosol from France, and the popular British artist Banksy, New York artist John Fekner, world travelling artist Above, and Shepard Fairey;s OBEY.

A common use for stencils is in home decorating and arts & crafts. Home decor stencils are an important part of the DIY (Do It Yourself) industry. There are prefabricated stencil templates available for home decoration projects from hardware stores, arts & crafts stores and through the internet check out places like Spotlight in NZ for a good selection. Stencils are usually applied in the home with a paint or roller brush or sponge along wall borders and as a trim.

Here are some tips for making stencilling easier -

1: Tools – Use proper tools like stencilling brushes, sponges or rollers as there is less chance of paint getting under the stencil and ruining the crisp edges.

2: Don't overload your brush, roller or sponge with too much paint as it'll seep under the edges of the stencil.

3: You'll get better results by applying two thin coats rather than one thick one if you require a more dense finish. Wait for the first to dry before applying the second.

4: A stencil, obviously, needs to be flat to be usable. To stop it from buckling, put it between two pieces of card and store it somewhere flat, such as in a book or telephone directory.

5: Paint the edges of the stencil first, working into the centre, rather than from the centre outwards. This helps prevent paint.

6: If you're using more than one stencil on a project, try it out on a piece of paper first. It's far easier to find out that something isn't going to work at this stage and e able to correct it than when you're painting on the final surface.

7: Wash your stencils in warm water during the process If you're doing a repeat design, you will want to keep the edges free of paint. You’re less likely to get a crisp edge to your painted stencil otherwise. Obviously acetate stencils are better for repeat designs. With a paper or card stencil, wipe off the excess paint, then leave the stencil to let the paint on it dry, before using it again.

8: Keep your stencil in place by taping it at the top and bottom with a piece of tape. Low-tack tapes like some masking tapes are best as they’re easier to remove and shouldn't pull any paint off the surface.

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Posted: Tuesday 11 May 2010

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