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Stencils ReVisited

   A Word (or more) About Stencils
Originally published in PASTICCIO QUARTZ Issue 7
copyright Sarah Fishburn

When I first started playing with stencils and stenciling techniques in some of my mixed-media pieces way back in 2002, information on "how to do it" was not readily available. Neither were cool ready-made art stencils. I learned everything I know by asking street artists and then experimenting myself. I wasn't yet cutting any of my own stencils. Those intended for interior decorating were (in general) "cuter" than I wanted, and there weren't really any other options, so I collected an array of odds and ends to use in lieu of actual stencils. Plastic placemats, lace doilies, sign painter's alphabets from office supply stores. No one was selling masks either, so I  found myself spraying over leaves, flowers, buttons, etc. - naturally graphic shapes and designs are abundant inside and out. I messed around with spraying onto newspaper, vintage wallpaper, mail-order catalogue pages.
   Stenciling has all become rather mainstream now; good because it's so accessible and yields truly gorgeous effects. Not so good because absolutely everyone is doing it, and it becomes trickier to find new ways to make it one's own. Art paper designers (many for the scrapbooking industry) have come up with some lovely papers and lazer-cut stencils for those who want a shortcut to the look. Realistically, using those papers is less of a health hazard than creating from scratch with spray paint, even when wearing a mask. Not that spray paint is the only option when employing stencils; I simply prefer the results I achieve using it to options like painted through acrylics, inks, dyes, and daubs.
   Because articles on the art and technique of stenciling are currently proliferating everywhere, in books and magazines, on the internet and at workshops, I want to pass along some useful info specific to paint that has not been covered as extensively and give you a few sites to explore, a few resources to investigate. 
   A lot of graffiti and street artists prefer Ironlak (Australian, rich colors, and cheaper) and Montana paints, "when they can afford them." There are actually two Montana manufacturers. The original, Spanish Montana (the company was founded in the early 90's) was marketed as "the first spray paint brand made by graffiti writers for graffiti writers". All 3 companies sell an absolutely incredible array of colors and shades, and the Montanas come in several sizes and can frequently be found in artist-designed cans, which, while not necessary for MY creative purposes, is undeniably cool. What else makes these paints so desirable for both artists on canvas and on the streets? They have a line of interchangeable "custom"  caps that that "allow artists to customize spray width on the same spray can to achieve different effects for different projects". The sizes include a tiny "calligraphy" (~1/2"), an "extra fat" (~8"), and a dozen or so more. Not all caps work with every paint from each manufacturer, largely do to the viscosity of the particular paint, so do your research before you spring for them! Both Spanish and German Montanas and Ironlak can be purchased from art and graffiti supply shops and online. 
   As much as I personally disagree with their anti-graffiti stance, I really like Krylon X Metals spray paint. They come in 6 basic colors: Anodized Blue, Green, Orange, Purple, Red, Yellow, and a "basecoat". They look sweet sprayed onto paper and canvas even though they're marketed "for painting chipped or painted chrome or metal surfaces on scooters, bikes, skateboards and more". I don't always use a basecoat (recommended when painting non-metallic surfaces), yet I feel like they still provide a hint of metallic sheen. Some of the Montana caps can also be used on Krylon cans; again do your research. Krylon paint can be purchased online, or at home improvement or hardware stores like Ace.
   A final note: it really does seem like a good time to investigate ways to take "stenciling" a step further, to explore new applications. I've been experimenting with spraying onto fabric intended for wearables (if you don't like the slightly washed-out look of spray paint on fabric, try using watered-down acrylics or Jacquard brand fabric paints) and with using stencils to cut designs from paper to use directly as elements on my mixed-media canvases. I won't stop playing with my stencils just because they've gone mainstream; I will keeping looking for ways to use them that return them to their CUTTING EDGE roots!


A Gilded Cage is Still A Cage

Paint: Krylon X Metals
Stencils: Dard Hunter, rug hooking canvas, plastic placemat
Mask: Heidi Swapp (used as a "sticker")


I Want to Find Myself, Too

Paint: Ace

Stencils: Dard Hunter, punchinella, a plastic alphabet stencil from the kid's art section of a local grocer
so much more than water

So Much More Than Water

Paints: Krylon X Metals, Iridescent Bright Gold (fine) Golden Fluid Acrylic 
Stencils: Dard Hunter, punchinella

The following sites are a few of my personal recommendations for excellent online sources if you're interested in further exploring the fine art of stenciling. A note of caution: While all of these sites either sell fabulous pre-cut stencils, showcase some truly wonderful art, and/or provide great tips and techniques, some of them have a definite political bent, so be forewarned! 
spraypaintstencils.com - free stencils to download!