My name is Caitlin Dundon and I am a stencil addict! I’m here on StencilGirl® today to talk about a method of working with the negative areas of a stencil called reverse stenciling. It is one of my favorite techniques that I love to introduce students to because it creates very unique effects, it’s fast and super easy. It also fits in step perfectly with a popular trend in mixed media art – layering.
For this project I started with StencilGirl® Crossed Washers, a 6 inch by 6 inch stencil, then added some other 6 inch by 6 inch StencilGirl® stencils: Diamond Facets 3 Small, the Songbird of Hope, the 9 inch by 12 inch Mad for Plaid and the 4 inch Grove Street.
The terms reverse stenciling or reverse reveal and negative stenciling are often used interchangeably. Sometimes reverse stenciling just refers to using the stencil backwards. I have seen reverse stenciling refer to a method of using the stencil surface like a lino cut or wood block - inking it with a brayer pulling a reverse or negative print from the stencil by applying paper to the stencil.
For this method of reverse stenciling, I use a surface that has dry paint or gesso on it, apply wet paint, drop a stencil on top of it and then remove the paint from inside the cutouts of the stencil. You can work on loose paper, in a journal or on actual canvas or wood panels. For this first example, I primed simple Strathmore Bristol Board primed with white gesso. Let it fully dry or dry it with a heat tool. Have your stencils at the ready, as well as fluid or heavy body acrylic paint, a one inch or three quarter inch brush, some loose paper towel sheets and baby wipes.
Quickly paint a layer of acrylic over an area of your surface that you have already applied white gesso and allowed it to dry.Set down a stencil and hold it carefully in place while you quickly use the dry paper towel to wipe out the negative space of the stencil.
You can clean your stencils using a baby wipe over scrap paper or blank journal pages. You can also run your stencils under water and scrub them with a brush, but be prepared for some paint color to stain them, but as StencilGirl® says, “Dirty stencils are happy stencils.”
If you work slower, or want to use larger stencils, you might want to use a baby wipe. You could also use fluid paints, open paints or paint with slow drying medium. If you apply paint or gesso in a thicker layer you will get more paint pulling – where the paint is literally being pulled by the stencil as you remove it. I think the unique patterns created by this paint pulling are very organic looking and interesting.
For a nice two-tone effect or more of a reveal - work with a base color that is a nice bright color. Let it dry, then apply your second coat of paint in an opposite tone.
If you use heavy body paint and wait too long to lift the stencil off the paper it might be so dry and tacky that it might pull some paper up with it.
Try working with more layers or multi-colored layers underneath and white gesso as your second coat. Gesso also holds a little more texture than heavy body paint so the texture from pulling off the stencil will be more interesting depending on how thick you apply the gesso. Once the gesso dries I like to add color washes to the white gesso areas and you will see how my artwork begins to take shape with many layers, some more revealing than others.
If you try using black gesso as your negative stencil paint, remember that it dries faster than white gesso. Black is also much more indelible so you cannot remove as much of it, creating darker more mysterious patterns with more subtle texture.
I also work directly with painted areas in heavy body paint. In this case a lovely turquoise phthalo with the negative stenciling using StencilGirl® Diamond Facets 3.
Now that you’ve mastered this fun technique, you can mix it with acrylics or gesso applied through the cutouts in the stencil – the regular way - with a makeup wedge or stencil dauber or pouncer. Here I used a 4 inch StencilGirl® Grove Street designed by Nathalie Kalbach and applied white gesso with a makeup wedge.
I like to create patterns with stencils with reverse stenciling and positive stenciling sometimes with white gesso or black gesso and sometimes with acrylic paint. Whenever I work with white gesso, I know that I can always layer some color wash over the top to create a softer look. Revealing the final two projects, you can see how many layers I ended up with – more than a dozen layers of stencils and washes of color too. I hope you enjoy the possibilities using stencils in reverse and combing them with other stencil techniques you learn from StencilGirl® Products!