Stenciling Process

How are they made?

People tend to ask the same questions about the stencil spray paint works.

“Don’t you have hundreds of each?” (no, the stencils don’t stand up to that kind of use, and even if they did, that would take many many years.)

“But the black lines are done in ink, right?” (no, it’s all spray painted).

I decided to photograph the process of making my last stencil piece, “Neighbors”, hoping this would clarify how they are made.


1. First I created a drawing. Then recreated an inked version of it, exactly the size I want the painting, and in a way that would hold together if the empty spaces between the lines were cut out of it. (Imagine a paper snowflake.)

Then I got as many photocopies of it that I predicted I would have stencil layers. Then added a few more.

2. I cut a piece of plywood to the size of the painting. Then spray paint that sucker black.

3. Laying the first stencil fixes the location of every stencil that follows. There is very little room for error with layered stencils. I used silhouettes of tops of the rocky sea stacks and houses as my first layer and painted the sky in over it.


4. Then I painted in the dark base coat for the ocean, followedDSC09098DSC09095 by a stencil of the silhouettes of the bases of the rocky sea stacks.






5. Then I added the color stencil for the rocks.



6. The portions that remained covered after this spray remain black. DSC09101This explains the spray painted “black lines” you see in the final piece.





7. I decided to add the foam on the tops of the waves next. This was done in two stencil layers so that I could create some shading between overlapping wave tops.




8. Next, the stencil for the waves was added, fitting between the foamy tops of the waves.DSC09107



9. The remaining stencils were all associated with the trees and buildings. DSC09109







10. I don’t want to bore you with this process. There were a lot of layers associated with the buildings. The final step was adding the yellow glow of the windows.



Here’s a pic of the final product with the stencils I could find in the mayhem.





When I first started making the stencil paintings I imagined myself pounding out a crap-ton of renditions of each… lowbrow surrealist art for the masses, cheap. I made 2 or 3 renditions of the first few paintings, but the materials got more expensive than I had predicted, the stencils get pretty messed up, and, frankly, the more complicated the images got the more impossible it seemed to continue to layer them with the precision needed after the stencils were painted over. The first time you use them you can see a little bit of the composition through them, but after they are used they are totally opaque.

Though totally counterintuitive, and, perhaps, unwise, the vast majority of my stencil spray paintings are, and will remain, single creations.

Giclee prints on fine art paper are available of many of them to keep them as affordable as possible for those not concerned with having an original.

Paintings produced this way have a particular aesthetic. Like silkscreens or block prints, they have a somewhat unavoidable flatness to them. I choose to include a black line surrounding most of the shapes and figures in my compositions. As mentioned earlier, the black lines are what remains from the initial painting of the entire board in black. This approach takes some extra work and precision cutting, but I like the illustrative quality this provides. “Black line” has its roots in traditional Japanese woodblock printing. This tradition carried through into the development of cartooning and comics.