How to Make Stencils of your Own

Have you been curious about how to make a stencil? Stencils seem to be extremely popular with mixed-media artists lately, and I am no exception to the rule. Many artists use both stencils and stencil making in their work and I love the result. Mary Beth Shaw has her own line of stencils (which are awesome!) and she uses them in her book, Flavor for Mixed Media. Most recently, I’ve been inspired by Traci Bautista’s new book, Doodles Unleashed, and I love that Traci cuts her own stencils. I decided why not try cutting my own stencils? And why not share the experience creating a custom stencil with you, right?

I’ve been experimenting with two ways of cutting stencils: Using a craft knife and also using a wood-burning tool. What I want to share today is the latter. (I’ll save sharing the other stencil in a future post about the making of my own wedding dress! Coming soon . . .) I used my Michael’s coupon and bought a Walnut Hollow Creative Versa-Tool. I also bought some blank stencil sheets. It’s recommended that you use the hot tool to cut stencils working on a piece of glass, but I just worked on a Teflon craft sheet and it seemed to be fine. It’s also recommended that you tape the tool stand down to your work surface and I will say this is a must if you want to use the stand because otherwise, it’s so lightweight that the weight of the cord just pulls the tool and the stand off the table and onto the floor.

Plug the tool in and let it heat up. The Creative Versa-Tool comes with a rheostat (variable temperature control) so you can cut/burn a variety of surfaces. For this thin plastic, I used a medium-high setting. If you are using a template or drawing you created yourself, tape the stencil directly to the pattern.

Now, cutting the stencil takes a wee bit ‘o patience. As you pull/drag the tool through the plastic to cut it, the material that you are melting has a tendency to build up on the tip and if you try to pull/drag too quickly, the excess build up will create a larger cut than you may have intended. The tip needs time to actually burn up the plastic that it comes in contact with, so a slow and steady move worked best for me. The burning is smelly (and, I’m sure a bit toxic), so I recommend working with good ventilation; I had the outside door next to me open and my overhead fan on.

When you’re done cutting all of the lines you wish to make for your stencil, if you’ve cut on a pattern template, you’ll discover the melted plastic sticks a bit to the paper. Rather than risk getting creases or dents in the stencil by pulling it off the paper, flip the stencil over, hold the stencil flat against the table and peel off the paper instead.

Chances are, at this point, you’ll see that many of the negative space pieces—that is the ones which paint is intended to go through—are still in tact with the stencil sheet. I just used a craft knife to coerce out these pieces, which was really easy since they are perforated by the heat tool.

My motivation for this entire project was to make a birthday present for my sister. She really loves Celtic designs and knots, so that is why I created this Celtic knot stencil. I decided to make her a reusable grocery-type tote and found a very easy tutorial by Mary on the Craft Buds site. For my outside fabric I decided to use canvas (of course!) and before I actually did any painting on it, I thought it would be fun to stain it irregularly with a bit of blue Inkodye. In addition to letting the color of this dye develop in the sun, you can also coerce it with a hot iron while the fabric is still wet, so that’s what I did.

When the canvas was dry, I went ahead and cut out my pattern pieces so it would be easier for me to tell where I wanted to place the stencil. When using acrylic paint and a foam roller to stencil (my preferred method), try using two colors on your palette side-by-side as you ink up the roller. The colors blend nicely when you roll the paint onto the fabric and you get a cool watercolor effect.

And who says you have to leave the finished stenciled image as it is? Here I added some details with a liner brush to complete the look of the knot. I also went ahead and added some spatter because . . . well,  I have a hard time not using spatter; it’s just so nifty.

This was only the beginning for me. I intend to create a whole library of my own hand-cut stencils and I hope I’ve inspired you to maybe try making your own stencils, too.


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