Basic Stencil Techniques

Stencil Practice and Proofing

I can't stress enough the importance and value of practice. One of the most rewarding aspects of stenciling is that even though you can achieve great results quickly, you will constantly refine and develop your skills as you learn new techniques. As I look back over examples of stenciling that I have done over the last 18 years, I can easily see a continual evolution of design tastes, color choices, and most importantly, technical skill. I can see a marked improvement in my own work today over stenciling that I did just a year or two ago.
You can learn and understand new techniques through classes, books and videos, but individual skill is developed through repetition, experimentation, and experience. Whether you are a novice stenciler or a skilled professional, it is very important to practice and proof out new techniques and designs before you begin painting on your's or your clients walls.
One way to continually practice and experiment is to always create stenciled proofs of stencil designs BEFORE you commit any paint to walls, furniture, fabric, and floor surfaces.

Proofing new designs

When first confronting a new (to you) stencil design, I highly recommend that you take the time to create some practice samples. These are particularly useful when you are working with multi-overlay designs. Use the opportunity to familiarize yourself with the design, experiment with color variations, and work out the shading details that are so important for creating a visual separation of the edges between the design elements.
One of the features of our stencil packaging that our customers really appreciate is the inclusion of a color laser print of the finished design, which you can use as a visual reference. In most cases, the print shows the design in its original size, so that you can actually lay the various overlays of the stencil over it to see how the colors and shading were used to complete the design.
Because you must carefully study and evaluate the various elements of the design and how they relate to each other in order to shade and color them correctly, it usually takes two to three times as long to stencil out a print the first time you work with an unfamiliar design. Once you become comfortable with the pattern, your painting time for each repeat of the design will decrease considerably.

Planning your layout with proofs

You can use your stencil proofs to get a good visual reference on how the scale of the design works in the proposed area, and aid in placement and repeat registration. You can see if you want to expand or decrease the space between repeats and elements and determine at what height the design looks best on the wall.
Sometimes you will want to alter stencil designs to make them fit together differently. For instance, when I create the ceiling medallion out of the Palazzo Centerpiece, I first stenciled out 4 quick repeats of the design on large sheets of newsprint. Then I taped the sheets of paper together to see how the repeats would work in a circular pattern. I found that the most pleasing design resulted when I stenciled the full design on two opposite sides of center. The designs that fell in between had to be altered by eliminated elements of the design to make them fit. This was a simple process, and much easier to figure out on paper than on the ceiling!

Free Form Stenciling

Proofing a stencil layout
With free form stencil designing, where you are working with small groupings or individual elements, stenciled proofs are invaluable and will allow you to visually place elements to determine placement on the surface and see how they will relate to each other, before you commit anything to paint. I recommend doing proofs on frosted mylar  for free form stenciling. On this translucent material, you can flip the proof over to get the mirror image view, and easily see how and where different design elements will overlay or relate to painted support structures such as branches, vines, trellises, etc.

Creating Random Allover Patterns

Another time that I use proofs quite a bit is when I am laying out random allover patterns by repeating small elements such as the Florentine Scrolls, Renaissance Tiles, and Oriental Brushstroke. For this type of pattern, you will want to scatter your images across the wall in a way that is random, yet balanced. Stencil out the images quickly on scrap paper and run off multiple copies on a copy machine. Tape these images to the wall, arranging and rearranging them at will until you are satisfied with their placement and the overall design. THEN have fun painting!


Katie from Royal Design Studio
Katie from Royal Design Studio

February 05, 2014

Hi Susan!
We love hearing from fans! Glad to hear your past project was amazing! We’d love to see pictures!

To help with your lemon tree, I wonder if you might benefit from our tutorial here:

Also, we have other resources, like our “Painted Illusions” stencil book which demonstrates how to add stunning trompe l’oeil design.

Susan Karakasevic
Susan Karakasevic

January 26, 2014

Help – I am about to paint the lemon tree and the pot with your stencils – but I’m a little baffled how to vary the tones in the pot with only two colors.
Any suggestions? I didn’t see any extra hints that came with the stencil.
I love your entire line – I stenciled a room in Baja that created a miracle! It brought together a tall box of a room. LOVE the stencils.
Onward – but I need some guidance.
Thank you,

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