Bad Stenciling – And How to Avoid It

handpainted file boxStenciling is my favorite paint technique. My first lesson in painting was in stenciling. Because it was easy to learn and achieve good results, it gave me the courage to venture into more advanced techniques. Now when I was taking my first lesson I didn’t realize that my teacher was one of the best stencil artists in the world (Melanie Royals), so I learned the right way and didn’t have a lot of major mistakes. She’s an excellent teacher, so I got good quickly, but I realize now that I was really lucky to have her as, my first teacher.

14 years later, I still believe stenciling is the best introduction into painting for beginners. So you can understand my horror when I opened a magazine last week to an article on stenciling and saw this:

ImageI actually gasped when I saw this, audibly gasped. Now I have seen bad stenciling, it happens, but I have never seen it published. I am not going to tell you what magazine this is because I don’t want to be mean. The rest of the magazine is really quite lovely and it even has an article on a really talented decorative painter, unfortunately they didn’t consult with her on this article.

ImageThis shot is even worse. I know, it’s horrible. I can’t believe they killed trees to print this page. It’s really shameful.

I read the article which made it really clear what went wrong. They used sponge brushes. I’m sure you’ve seen sponge brushes in stores and maybe you even bought them. Maybe you even used them and as a result you decided you suck and put away the paint and stencils in that box of shame you keep in the back corner of your closet. I’m here to tell you, you don’t suck. Sponge brushes are a cruel invention, produced by sadistic manufacturers to tear down your confidence and trash your dreams of becoming an artist. Throw them away, (yes, even if they’re Martha Stewart sponge brushes. I know they look pretty, but they suck. Throw them out!).

ImageOk, this is the last bad picture I swear.

If you want good results, I recommend using stencil brushes. Stenciling is done with a dry brush. What I mean by that is, you load the tips of the stencil brush with paint, then you swirl it around on a paper towel until it’s nearly dry, then you do the same swirling motion on the stencil, using an even but light pressure, making sure you don’t squish or force paint under the stencil. Some people also try pouncing with brushes, and while there are instances for using a pouncing technique, you are squishing paint and are risking run-unders. There are great tutorials on the Royal Design Studio website.

Sponge brushes are squishy and they hold a lot of paint. I don’t care if you pounce it on paper towels first, the only way to use them is to squish them. Squishing causes paint to run under the stencil and leaves you with the disastrous results I’ve shown you in the three previous photos. You can’t win with sponge brushes, it’s not possible.

stenciled borderStenciling is a great technique, but if you’ve tried and failed before, please go buy some brushes and try again. You will do better than you did with the sponge brushes. I promise.


11 thoughts on “Bad Stenciling – And How to Avoid It

  1. You are, without a doubt, a master stenciler–I love your work–you make it look so easy. Your bedroom is fabulous. Be assured, however, that even if I used professional stencil brushes, I would suck at this. And you know what? Even if that pilliow and that chair had been stenciled correctly, they’d still be ugly as shit. (Can you say “shit” here? Probably not. The internet police will probably come to my house and take away my blog-response priviledges, in which case I will act contrite, cry, and beg for mercy.)

  2. Those stenciling pictures are horrible…and it’s not even a thing I do! You could totally rock some awesome classes on how to do it correctly.

    Wait-I just had a vision of you teaching art-naive people how to stencil. Forget it. After seeing those pictures, I wouldn’t do it. 😛

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