My daughter's high school has an auction every fall to help raise money for the school. Part of the auction is a raffle for a new home. It is a major event to put it mildly. The items that are auctioned are often donated, but some are made by volunteers, like my lovely wife Kathy.
This year Kathy and another woman ran the craft part of the auction. They made all sorts of items like birdhouses that looked like Santa Claus, special holiday aprons and other things that had stencil patterns on them. After several projects, Kathy got really good at the stencil part. It was amazing to watch her use these stubby stencil paint brushes and the small bottles of squeeze paint.
Perhaps the most interesting thing was watching the transformation. In the early stages, as the first colors are being applied, the pattern looks ho-hum. But once you stand back and add the highlight colors, it looks awesome!
Different Types of Stencils
Craft stencils can be simple or complex. If you visit a craft store that sells stencils, you will see this fairly quickly. The simplest stencils are one part and are just a cutout of the shape of the object. Examples of these are sea shells, rabbits, carrots, fruit, flowers, etc.
The more complex stencils create a realistic look or often a 3-D appearance. For example, our neighbor has a multiple overlay stencil of flowers on her kitchen wall. Different flowers overlap and block the colors of flowers farther back in the pattern - just like in a real garden.
You can get ivy overlay stencils that have the ivy wrapping around a trellis. The overlay stencils are easy to work with and create very nice patterns. They simply take a little more time to work with as you need to let the paint dry from overlay #1 before you proceed to overlay #2. An impatient artist or crafter can create smears!
When you start to practice stenciling, you will probably make the mistake I made. I put on too much paint. By applying paint in different quantities on different parts of the stencil, you actually create shadowing just like in a real scene or photo. Think of it, there are always light and dark areas on a painting or photo. You do the same thing by dabbing paint on a little lighter or heavier depending upon where you are in the pattern.
Most of the stencil guides come with instructions that give you some hints. The trick is to load just a little paint on the stencil brushes and tap the brush lightly and rapidly onto the surface that is being stenciled. You don't paint back and forth like you do woodwork. You tap the brush straight down onto the wood or paper. It is really easy once you get the hang of it.
If you are going to stencil your countertops, I want you to practice first. Visit a local kitchen or bath shop and find out where they buy their plastic laminate tops. You can also look in the Yellow Pages under "Countertops - Fabricators". You want to visit the fabricator and ask for some sink cutouts or other scrap pieces. Practice your painting and stenciling techniques on numerous pieces of scrap before you tackle the actual countertop.
Continue the Design
Do you really want your kitchen or bathroom to look custom? Consider extending the stencil pattern up a wall or onto the backsplash between the countertop and wall cabinets. If the walls are painted and you don't like the look, simply cover up the stencil attempt with a fresh coat of paint. These types of bold decorating ideas are what separate the humdrum kitchens from those that make it into the magazines!
Protecting the Artwork
No matter what you end up stenciling, you need to protect it so it is easy to clean. Clear urethanes work best. If you have stenciled a wall, then use satin urethane. Countertops require high gloss urethane. Multiple coats protect your investment of time and effort. Put a minimum of 3 coats on countertops and 2 on walls.