Monthly Archives: July 2013

Project Educate: Artist Toolbox

Street Art : – Stencil tools.

Now primarily stencil artists tools break down into three categories;

Stencil material.

The sky really is the limit here and pretty much ever stencil artist swears by a different medium, I’ve seen stencils made from cereal boxes to metal to material to plastic milk bottles and everything in between. Ultimately it depends on what you want from your stencil; Such things as repetition of use, detail, ease of travel, whether you are stenciling on a horizontal surface or vertical even whether you’d doing it upside down can all be affected by what you cut the stencil from.
The best, and only, way to find what works best for you is to experiment, something that after years of stenciling I still do. So sorry I can’t just tell you the best material to use and you pop off and make amazing stencils straight away. I can however give you a few tips on what to consider and what to look for.
Some things to consider are the thickness of the material, the rigidity, size and how porous the material is. Now obviously the size of the material your using dictates the size of the stencil, however it is possible to increase the size. For example if you require a meter square stencil you can make it up fastening 4 sheets a half meter square together, in this case masking tape is your best friend (duct tape for heavier duty materials).
The thickness and rigidity of the material are both fairly linked and dictate how the stencil is cut and how it is used. For example a stencil made from paper can be cut with even the bluntest of blades but is very flexible and can only really be used horizontally without support/glue. However a stencil made from sheet metal is going to have to cut with specialist tool but can be used practically anywhere even upside down. Many stencil artists however find it a bit cumbersome to hire/buy metal cutting gear and seek a happy compromise somewhere in the middle. Many go for heavy weight papers or cards something over 200gms<sup>2 </sup>, this then provides something that is thin enough to be cut with a sharp craft knife yet rigid enough to hold up against use.
Another group of materials in common use are plastics and here is where the porous nature of the material comes in. The most common type of plastic used for stencils being mylar sheets or OHP sheets taped together. The use of plastics is generally for when a stencil is to be used repetitively as the paint not only does not sink into the stencil, but with careful application of thinners it can also be cleaned to prevent clogs and blockages.

Stencil cutting tool.

This depends entirely on what material you are cutting through. For now I’m going to assume you are cutting by hand through something that doesn’t require superhuman strength or a boron lazer. So knives, there’s lots of different ones out there and they all have their own merits. So lets talk knives (a phrase that often has people around me worried).
The most readily available type of knife would be those used for DIY purposes such as box cutters/Stanley knives. These are often bulky about the size of an average screwdriver with a retractable blade, sometimes the blade is scored with ‘snap points’ to provide a new fresh edge for cutting others replacement blades. Now with a big blade that you get with these you aren’t going to be able to get extreme fine detail, however they are fantastic for use with thick materials and large scale stencils. They also have the advantage of being easy to acquire and usually fairly cheap.
For detailed pieces what you should be looking for is a ‘craft knife’. Now here is where wishes are horses, the market out there is flooded with different types and styles of craft knives. To list them all here would be pointless, tedious and ultimately make for a boring as hell read. So instead some pointers; As much as it pains me to say this… You get what you pay for, dollar/pound store craft knives are a false economy. Yeah they don’t cost much but they blunt awfully quickly and in some case the handle/blade can snap under pressure leaving you with at best an unusable knife, at worst a broken blade buried in part of you (from experience I can tell you a knife blade tip in the eye really HURTS).
Craft knives are made up of two parts a replaceable blade and the handle it sits in. Of course the blade is important, you want something that’s going to be sharp for as long as possible (stainless steel is good, titanium is better but also really expensive). Then again if you’re going for detail you are also going to be cutting for long periods of time and will want something that is a good shape/has a comfortable grip. Again this isn’t something that an article like this can decide for you. I’ve tried over the years dozens of different handle/blade combinations, and I’ve finally settled down on one type of knife for general use. I do however still have a variety of knives for different uses and emergencies, including hand made ones (similar to prison shivs, not very safe do not try at home).


Now for most street art this would be spraypaint and that’s what I’ll be mostly talking about here, however stencils can be painted with all sorts of other paints using sponges/stipple brushes/rollers etc.
Now with spraypaint there are many brands/types out there and it can be a bit confusing to the novice/amateur, they mainly break down to matte/gloss with high/low pressure.
The first are fairly self explanatory in that matte cans will leave a matte finish and gloss ones a gloss finish. I’ve found that for multi-layered stencils matte paint works best as it dries at a faster rate with a nice finish.
The pressure difference is basically how fast the paint comes out, with high pressure cans pushing more paint out in a faster time than low pressure. For fine detailed stencils I’d suggest using a low pressure can with soft broad strokes to ensure coverage and cut down on drips/runs. High pressure cans can be useful however for large scale stencils as a large area can be filled very quickly, especially if a wide nozeled, fat, cap applied to the can.

Other Tools.

There are a few subsidiary tools that whilst not necessary do come in awfully handy.
Tape: Many varieties out there the most common would be masking tape. This can be used for many things such as attaching sheets of paper/card/etc. together to make the stencil. Blocking out areas of and around the stencil to prevent over/underspray making the stencil cleaner and crisper. Finally of course holding the stencil in place, freeing up the hands for more tasks and avoiding paint getting on them.
Cutting mat/boards: Different types here include rubbber/pvc/self healing plastics and toughened glass. Listed here in the order of how good they are in my opinion. Seriously those toughened glass cutting mats are fantastic, they last for ages (until you drop it and break it really) and have a nice smooth surface for cutting on. Pricier but well worth the investment for those plan on doing some long term cutting.

Now go out there and have safe fun with all those knives.
As inspiration here’s some of the wonderful things that can be done with stencils.


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July 28, 2013 · 8:14 am