Monday, October 15, 2018

Create Fall Texture with Stencils, Molding Paste, and Acrylic Skins

Is everyone ready to get their texture on? Autumn is my favorite season and I'm excited that it's here again, so this month I'm sharing a few ideas for creating a tree bark effect with stencils and molding paste, as well as using stencils with acrylic skins and a heat gun to make translucent fall leaves. Here's the piece I created with these techniques - "The Dryad's Tree."

I've put together a little tutorial to show you how I made both the leaves and the textured background. Ready to get started?

First I took clear gloss medium (Golden used to call it Polymer medium... Liquitex pouring medium would be about the same) and I poured some on a silicon mat and then spread it with a silicon spatula (this one is a Princeton Catalyst Blade.)

Next I added in a few drops of fluid acrylic paint (in the photo above I used Transparent Red Iron Oxide,) and swirled it into the medium. You can tint the medium before you pour it, but I wanted a more uneven effect that was slightly marbled in appearance. I repeated this with a yellow, gold, and green and then set the whole thing aside to dry.

Once dry, I peeled the skins off the mat and put them between sheets of wax paper until I was ready to use them again. I wanted to create something leaf shaped in multiple sizes, so I pulled out my Ornamental Peacock Feathers stencil and traced just the outside of each shape onto the skin with a Stabilo All pencil. (This will easily write on the acrylic surface, and then you just use a wet brush to wipe off any lines later.)

Once I'd traced lots of leaves in different shapes across the different colored skins, I cut them all out. 

I've been doing a lot of experimenting with acrylic skins lately and something I really wanted to try was to see what would happen if I applied heat... could I shape it and have it stay? Yes! Yes I could. To start, get your heat gun and zap your acrylic skin shape for a few seconds - it will be hot to the touch.

While it's still pretty warm, pick up the skin and start to shape it - the heat makes the acrylic tacky enough that it will stick together where you fold or pinch it to itself (it works best if the glossy side of the skin is the side you're pinching together.) I did one leaf at a time, repeating it until I'd shaped about half of them.

At this point I thought that it was going to be pretty boring if all of the leaves were plain, so I got out some rubber stamps and Staz-On ink and stamped some patterns onto the surface of the skins.

Then I kept going with my heat gun until I'd shaped all of my leaves. I put them back on a sheet of wax paper and set them aside until I was ready to add them to the panel.

Next up, time to work on the background. I pulled out a 10" x 20" x 1-1/2" cradled birch panel and a jar of regular molding paste and started by just spreading some random stripes and ridges of the molding paste with a palette knife all over the surface and sides of the panel, then I let that dry overnight. After that, I took out the 9" x 12" from Seth Apter's Borderlines StencilClub set and used some of the border patterns to create linear texture on the background. I let that dry for about a half hour or so, then used the 9" x 12" stencil from the Cuba Libre! StencilClub set by Jane LaFazio and applied more molding paste. 

From here, I just kept putting down the stencil and applying, moving and adding more texture without waiting for anything to dry. To finish with this step, I went back and took the 6" x 6" stencil from Seth's Borderlines set and added yet another series of layers, again just working wet into wet. Once I had all the texture I wanted, I set it aside to dry overnight yet again and thoroughly cleaned my stencils.

With the texture finished, it was time to start adding paint. I wanted to do something that would mimic the feel of tree bark, so I started with a brown background paint by Matisse (essentially tinted gesso,) and coated the entire panel, scrubbing in with my bristle brush to get the paint into all of the nooks and crannies.

While the brown was still a bit wet, I went in again with the Capitol Sienna color and worked wet into wet, blending a bit around the edges and starting to create some variation in the color. I also added some yellow, then let it dry.

At this point I wanted to bring in more contrast so I took some Transparent Shading Gray High Flow Acrylic (Golden) in a Fineliner bottle and applied it into the openings in the textured areas, then scrubbed that in and started blending it out with a cheap bristle brush, blotting off here and there with a paper towel. I let that layer dry completely before moving on.

Next up I started dry brushing which is why I wanted the background totally dry; dry brushing doesn't work so well if there's any "wet" involved, after all!

I went back with my cheap, dry bristle brushes and started by adding some more of the Capitol Sienna - you just need the barest hint of paint on the brush, dusted it lightly across the tops of the textured areas. This brings in even more color variation and continues to heighten the contrast. I went with a yellow next, using a smaller brush so that I wouldn't be as likely to cover all of the previous layers of color.

Because it's me and I love my metallics, I finished with a light dusting of Iridescent Bronze paint to brighten it up just a bit and add a hint of shimmer.

With both the background and the leaves done, it was time to bring it all together. I grabbed some fabric scraps and collage papers and added some layers in a few places on the edge as well as behind the focal point piece I decided on - a large vintage doorplate with some great aging on it. I inked the papers and fabric, layered it all up, and adhered it. I used matte medium for the collage (including the fabric,) and E-6000 to add the doorplate.

With all of the collage in place, I started positioning and adhering my acrylic skin leaves using PVA glue.

Once the glue was set and the leaves were holding in place, I used a bit more PVA and added some size 6/0 gold seed beads. I liked this as an additional texture element, as well as a way to cover the ends of the leaves.

Once the PVA had dried, I added drops of gloss medium over top - this will slide down the sides and insides of the beads and help to lock them down to the panel and acrylic leaves below.

From here I just kept working, layering and arranging the leaves until I liked the way it looked and it felt complete. While I was assembling all of the pieces I was trying to think of what I could put in the openings of the doorplate and found this image of a Lover's Eye and the idea came to me to not just make this a fall tree, but the home of a dryad. She's peeking out through the peephole of her door, checking to see who's approaching before inviting them in.

Here are a few more closeups of the finished piece so that you can see how the texture, acrylic skin leaves, and collage elements all came together to create the whimsical home of a mythological creature.

I hope you enjoyed this month's project and maybe even picked up a few ideas for working with paint, texture, and stencils in your own work. If you try this at home, I'd love to see it!

Until next time, happy stenciling!


  1. This is awesome Gwen! Lots of great technique ideas too!

  2. Wow! Great techniques Gwen. I love all the texture and color.

    1. Thanks Peg! I had a lot of fun creating texture on this one :)

  3. Wow Gwen! Love those leaves! Cool technique!
    Jackie xo

    1. Thanks Jackie! I wasn't sure those leaves were going to work, but I really like how it came out!

  4. Beautiful piece and excellent tutorial! Love the hardware and eye peeking through

    1. Thanks Linda! That eye in the door plate seemed like it just had to happen :)


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