Like many of you, I’ve been spending a lot of time at home since March 16th. To combat the impending doom of boredom, one thing that has been highly motivating and relaxing for me is creating art. The process of giving life and color to an idea in my head is truly fulfilling. Sometimes it takes multiple attempts and variations to be content with my creation, but that’s part of the beauty of making art, isn’t it? So, in this article, I want to share with you some insight and instructions on a fairly simple art craft that you can try at home too.
A Bit of Historical Context
Stencils have been used for painting for hundreds, maybe even thousands, of years. In this blog, we’ll focus on stencils used in graffiti culture and the street art scene. Spray painted stencils were initially used in protest art as early as the 1960s. French artist Ernest Pignon-Ernest is credited as one of the pioneers who adapted this technique for street art during the 1970s. Pignon-Ernest used simple monochromatic spray-painted stencils to depict the harsh realities of war and shed light on important social issues. Although he never gained global recognition, his impact on Europe’s art scene was undeniable.
Fast forward another decade, and another French artist, Blek le Rat, emerged as a prominent figure in stencil street art. Blek’s art, like his predecessor, focused on political and social commentary, often featuring his signature motif, the rat, along with other imagery. During this time, graffiti and street art became a global movement, flourishing from Paris to New York, Los Angeles, and even the streets of Bristol, England.
Artists such as Shepard Fairey, Nick Walker, FAILE, and Vhils incorporated stencils into their street art during the 1990s and 2000s. But none have become as notable as Banksy, the anonymous artist who rose to fame in Bristol in the early 1990s. Banksy’s stencil street art is renowned for its politically-charged visuals and social commentary. From hosting unauthorized residencies in New York City to creating his own functioning theme park, Banksy has become a household name and possibly the most prolific street artist of our generation. It all started with an idea and a self-cut stencil.
How to Create Stencil Spray Paint Art
Now, it’s your turn! Here’s a simple step-by-step guide on making stencils at home. Whether you want to spray paint something on your skateboard or engage in a fun family activity, let’s get creative.
Supplies You’ll Need
Before we start, gather these essential supplies:
- A can of spray paint
- An X-Acto knife
- Card stock paper or any thick paper
- Scotch tape
- A self-healing cutting mat or thick cardboard
- Your design
Optional but helpful items include disposable gloves, a garbage bag to protect your work area, and painter’s tape.
- Find your stencil design. You can use Google to search for “____ stencil” and find something suitable. Letter stencils are great, or you can search for specific images like a fist stencil, for example.
Print the design and use small pieces of scotch tape to secure it to the center of your card stock paper or chosen stencil material.
With the self-healing cutting mat or thick cardboard underneath, carefully trace around the black areas of the design using the X-Acto knife.
Peel off the loose pieces as you go to keep track of what you’ve already cut. Remember, you want plenty of negative space when cutting out stencils.
Don’t worry about being overly precise with your cutting. Mistakes can be fixed by using scotch tape to reconnect any disconnected parts. You can also customize the design by omitting certain elements, making it unique to your style.
- Once you finish cutting, carefully remove the scotch tape from your stencil, and voila! You now have a freshly cut stencil ready to use.
- Before spraying your stencil, choose a suitable location and consider taping a garbage bag underneath to prevent paint from getting everywhere. If you have painter’s tape, use it to secure the stencil on the object you’re spray painting, ensuring it doesn’t move around. Additionally, wearing disposable gloves can keep paint off your hands.
- When using spray paint, aim the can at a slight angle, approximately 6 inches away from the stencil. Keep your hand in motion while spraying to distribute the paint evenly. Be cautious not to oversaturate one area, as excessive spraying can diminish the level of detail.
- Always spray paint outdoors.
- Allow the paint to dry for a minute before carefully removing the stencil.
- Depending on the thickness of your stencil material, you can use it multiple times until it becomes too wet from the spray paint and starts to deteriorate.
- Above all, remember that we are all artists, and there are no limitations when it comes to creative expression.
Want to Dive Deeper?
If you’re eager to explore more about stencil street art, here are some books and movies you can check out:
- Stencil Nation
- Stencil Graffiti
- Wall and Piece
- You Are An Acceptable Level of Threat and If You Weren’t You Would Know About It
- Banksy Does New York
- Exit Through the Gift Shop
What would you create a stencil of? Let us know in the comments below!