So you want to make stencils? That's not surprising, considering stencils are one of the most popular techniques of urban artists worldwide. Artists love stencils because they are fast and easy to use, but the process of creating a stencil is neither quick nor simple. There’s several things you need to consider before getting into the process. First, you need to determine the size and the number of colors in your future artwork. Street artworks come in all shapes and sizes and there’s a huge difference between painting small and large surfaces. Size limits the number of details that can be inserted into the pattern before it clutters. Colors on the other hand, determine how many boards you are going to need. And these decisions are only the beginning. A proper stencil creating method includes drawing or retouching an image, choosing the materials, cutting and many other components. So stay tuned for a short tutorial on stencil creation process.
Let’s say you’ve been visited by the muse and have a pretty good idea about the design of your future stencil. The design depends mostly on your skills but it is recommended to cut down details to a minimum and to stick to black and white for better visibility. It’s important to remember that you must have an image that remains in one piece when everything that needs to be removed gets cut out. If you’re using an existing image make sure to first delete the background as it only gets in the way. It’s recommendable to make it black and white and to sharpen the contrast of the image. Obviously, Photoshop is the favorite tool for image editing, but you can use any program that has a Brightness/Contrast tools. The contrast must be set in a way that makes the image recognizable, but with distinctive differences between the colors. It’s all in the details, but make sure to always keep the big picture in mind and try to visualize the final result every step of the way. Much like humans, computers aren’t perfect so make sure to recheck the image after printing and possibly outline the areas in which the contrast remained ill-defined. Many stencil artists skip this step, but all in all it's better to be safe than sorry.
Now you've got your design on regular printing paper. Looks great, but you'll have to cut out the shapes before it can be properly used. In order to do that, first attach the design to a selected material. You can use a tape or spray adhesive to attach the paper on either cardboard, paper, laminate, plastic, clear acetate, etc. The choice is difficult but must be wise. Paper is easy to cut but a paper stencil can be used only once. Stiffer materials are harder to cut but they can be used multiple times before they deteriorate.
While cutting, make sure to start with the most difficult and most detailed parts. They should be made while the blade is the sharpest. X Acto knives are most commonly used for this purpose, but any type of utility knife will do fine as long as it's sharp. Never, never use a dull blade! A blunt knife needs to be pushed through the stencil which will eventually make you slip and cut something you didn't mean to (like your fingers for example). Keep yourself focused and your hands steady and soon you'll have a stencil ready to use. All you have to do now is get your stencil and a can of spray paint and hit the streets.
If you’re in a mood for painting walls, but temporarily out of inspiration, don’t panic! You can always use the all-mighty Internet and find or buy ready-made printable patterns. There are several websites that offer numerous stencil patterns, including StencilRevolution and Spraypaintstencil. It doesn't matter whether you’re a cat lover, basketball fan of just looking for a new letter design, you’ll find all the stencils you need at one of these websites. Spraypaintstencil website offers countless free stencils that users can easily download and work with. Additionally, StencilRevolution contains a series of tutorials on how to use Photoshop or Gimp to create a color stencil. Naturally, you can always turn to your favorite social media such as Pinterest for help. Simply type "printable stencils" and witness the endless possibilities that will appear. If you’re a fan of more traditional teaching tools there’s quite a few stencil books out there, that contain ready-to-use stencils. Website valorebooks for example, offers tons of affordable books about stencils. If you want to decorate walls like a professional get Oliver Walker’s Stencil Republic and Street Art Stencil Book that are the perfect summer reading material for a young street artist. Both books encompass stencils made by 20 acclaimed street artists ready to be cut out and used. There are also short instructions and photographs which explain how to use every individual stencil. If you haven't done many stencils in the past, keep in mind that every beginning is hard. In the end, we just want to point out that some of the best street artworks are done with stencils including works of Blek le Rat and Banksy, so it is definitely worth the effort. Then again, you already knew that, didn't you?
Featured image: Stencil design, Banksy - Sweeping It Under The Carpet and Al Abordaje Stencil, courtesy of santiagostreetart ; All images used for illustrative purposes only