Stenciling Walls and Furniture
Time honored decorative technique adds color, texture, and character
(8/05) The art and craft of stenciling has a history almost as old as humankind. As a decorative technique, it's common to many cultures so there is no end to the variety of effects that you can achieve.
Using paper or plastic templates, stencils constrain the application of paint in a pattern. They may be as simple as a plain geometric border or complex with ornate scrollwork and florals, as well as every variation in between. It's easy to do and it's fun. You can stencil borders on walls or use all over designs that can look like wallpaper. You can stencil fabric for upholstery, floor cloths, or apply designs to furniture. Advanced techniques include embossing and faux finishes. You can even combine the use of stencils with
stamps and free-hand painting to make your design truly one of a kind.
There is no limits to how you can decorate the surfaces in your home using stencils.
Planning your stenciling project
Getting started is pretty easy. You probably already know what you want to
stencil. Different surfaces require different preparation. The instructions
below assume that you are stenciling furniture or a wall.
First select a stencil. Stencils are available at craft stores or online. You
may also design and cut your own stencil design. For a first time project, a
simple stencil is probably wise, but you can use as complex a design as pleases
Some stencils are available as a single template which you can color any way
you wish. If you want a multicolored effect, tape over the openings for colors
you aren't applying.
Multilayer stencils with overlays make adding color a lot easier. Tape the base stencil in place and paint the first color. Remove that stencil and place the overlay according to the registration marks on top of the base. Paint with the next color and so on. It goes much faster with fewer mistakes than when using a single stencil design.
If you choose to create your own stencil set, use 3 ml mylar for your stencil templates. You can use clip art, or vintage designs from old books, or design your own from scratch. The artwork can be resized using a copier. Trace over the top with a fine marker and cut with a sharp Exacto knife. Antique Home has a good article on designing stencils.
If you haven't already decided, choose a palette and plan how you'll apply the color. Use crayons or markers using a tracing of your stencil to figure out what colors of paint you'll need as well as how to get the best color effects.
Once you've selected your stencil and color scheme, you can make a list of supplies:
- Stenciling brushes or short paint rollers with foam refills. You'll need a few brushes ranging in size from small to fairly large, depending on open areas (bigger for larger areas and small for smaller areas) and the type of detail in your stencil. Use different brushes for different colors. Rollers can be used for very large areas where uniform color is desired.
- Paint. Small bottles of many colors are available at craft and hobby stores. You can also use latex paint from other paint projects...an especially useful source of paint if you want to tie in a room's color to a stenciling project.
- Painter's tape to hold the stencil in place or stencil spray adhesive for furniture or curved surfaces.
- Craft acrylic paints in as many colors as you need.
- Rags or paper towels
- Small disposable containers or paper plates. If you use containers with lids, they can be sealed overnight so you can continue a large project the next day. Plastic deli containers work well.
Stenciling the surface
The following steps will take you through a simple stencil project.
- Prepare your surface. If you are stenciling furniture, sand surface lightly.
Use a tack cloth to pick up dust. Stenciling takes better on a flat finish;
don't stencil over a gloss finish. If stenciling walls, make sure surface
is clean and dry. (If you are stenciling raw wood, prime first, paint background.
Allow paint to cure, then apply stencil otherwise paint may come off when
you remove the stencil.)
- Calculate where to place the stencil, then mark your registration points
lightly with a pencil. (You can remove the marks later with a gum or plastic
art eraser.) Use a level to keep your pattern straight. Make sure you add
some type of reference point so you can lay the stencil down in the next correct
- For multicolor effects, cover stencil openings with tape that are not the
color you're working with.
- Use the blue painter's tape to the stencil in place.
- Put a small amount of paint in one of the containers. Small amount means
about the size of a quarter.
- Dip the brush tip into the paint. Work it into the brush with by swirling
the brush on the plate or in the container. The brush should feel almost dry
to the touch. If there is too much, paint remove it with a paper towel. (Less
is more with paint—you can always add more.) If you are using a roller, make sure the roller is almost dry.
- With just the tip, apply the paint to the openings in the stencil by lightly
twirling the brush in small circles to create a solid effect. You can also
lightly tap the brush against the paint surface to create a stippled effect. If using a roller, roll smoothly to apply paint.
- Gently remove the tape on one corner, and lift the stencil to check the paint before you remove the stencil completely.
- If you are using a stencil with overlays, remove the completed stencil, place the overlay, and paint. Repeat with as many overlays as your design requires.
- Remove your stencils and admire your handiwork.
The following are a few tips and tricks to ensure the success of your stenciling project:
- Make a few test patterns to make sure the colors and effects come out the way you expect them to. You can paint your test pieces on paper or cardboard, but make sure the background is the same color as the surface you are planning to stencil. Play with twirling and stippling effects to see the variations you can create with your stencil.
- Don't rush. Take the time to align your stencil and tape it securely, then apply the paint carefully. Acrylics dry quickly, but give it a few minutes
to set before removing stencil. This can prevent smearing.
- Don't use too much paint. Start with a little and add more as needed to
create a crisp clean edge. It's easy to add paint, but too much can get under
the stencil and smear.
- When not using them, keep your brushes and stencils clean and dry. Acrylic paints are a wonderful medium, but they dry quickly and once dry they are a nuisance to clean.
- Speaking of cleaning, clean your stencils often during the project to keep paint from building up which can prevent a crisp line.
- If you don't finish, cover your paint dishes with a cover or place in a plastic zipper bag. Wrap your brushes separately in plastic wrap, then freeze. This works fine for short periods, but cleaning them is still the best approach.
If your walls need a paint job before you start your stenciling project, a qualified painter through Contractor Nexus
might be your key to getting started.