Stenciling is a decorative painting technique that is fun and quite easy to learn. As a designer and decorative painter of children’s furniture, I have used various decorative painting techniques and stenciling is one of my favorites. I often combine stenciling with other techniques. It adds a great deal of versatility to the designs that you create. Even though stenciling is most often used on walls, for the purpose of this article, I am going to explain how I use stenciling when creating a unique and colorful piece of hand painted furniture.
The first step is to prepare the furniture through sanding and base coating the wood with a good primer. The example I’m going to use is the step stool I created for a small child which I call “Night Frog”. I decided that this stool should be very colorful and suitable for a boy or girl. I sanded and primed the legs of the stool, but since I planned to stain the top of the stool black, I only sanded the top. Once this initial preparation was finished, I selected the colors for the stool, stained the top black and painted each leg a bright color-lime green, yellow, orange and fuchsia with black accents.
The next step is to select the stencil that works with the colors you’re using and adds the right amount of design or whimsy to your piece of furniture. Stencils come in multiple layers or sometimes in just one layer. If the stencil you’re using is more than one layer, make sure you mark the surface of the wood with the registration marks you find in the corners of the stencil. Each layer has a matching mark and once the marks are lined up, you are assured that each stencil layer is placed correctly. In my example, I selected a red-eyed jungle frog sitting on a leaf. Then I added stars around the frog because the background was black-hence a night frog. But you’re not ready to stencil the frog on the stool until you see what it will look like once you have all the colors together.
The last step of preparation is to paint a piece of cardboard or watercolor paper with the same color as your background. Once that dries, place the stencil on the prepared paper and tape it with painters tape so that it doesn’t move. Don’t forget to match up the registration marks if you’re using a stencil with multiple layers. Select the colors for each part of the stencil and begin. Most instructions will tell you to use a stencil brush in the size that fits what you’re doing but I prefer to use a sponge. I take a piece of sponge about 4″x 4″ and pull the four corners together and secure with a large safety pin. The result is a rounded piece of sponge that fits nicely in your hand. This works well for large areas of color. For smaller areas I use small sponge daubers to apply small amounts of color or to add shading. Just like using a stencil brush, you want only a small amount of paint on the sponge. Once you have dipped your sponge into the paint, wipe it on the sides of the container and dab the sponge on a paper plate or paper towel a couple of times. You don’t want the sponge wet. It will appear dry but still leave color wherever you dab it.
The next step is to apply the color with the sponge. This is a step that needs to be done a few times until you’re comfortable with your technique. I can’t tell you the right way to apply the paint-you’ll find that out for yourself as you do it. That is the main reason you need to do this on a prepared board before starting on your furniture or on a wall. As you dab or pounce the sponge, you’ll develop your own technique.
Once you’ve finished the stencil with the colors you’ve selected, you can see how all the colors go together and how they look on the background color. If you aren’t satisfied with the results, you’ll want to do it again with different colors. Once you are happy with the colors and satisfied with your technique, you’re ready to stencil your own unique piece of decorative hand painted furniture.
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