Friday, June 26, 2020

Slippery When Wet: Exploring Stenciled Watercolor

Slippery When Wet:
Exploring Stenciled Watercolor

The pandemic hit and I took that “in captivity” studio time to return to a medium that I love and, at times, hate—watercolor. I returned with a vengeance determined to bring my bag of tricks from the other fluid mediums I split my time between.  Truth be told, when everyone was at the grocery as everything was shutting down, I was at Dick Blick making sure I had ample supplies for new adventures.  My watercolor work uses good brushes, high quality mainstream and artisan paint, and mid-range watercolor paper that works well for exploring.  I made an exception and wanted to try out a new-to-me dimensional ground so this first project is done on deep cradle canvas.  I gessoed one coat and put two coats of dimensional ground (QoR Watercolor) and was pleased with the absorbency and movement of the paint. I mixed colors and soon the first layers were finished after a little fussing.  You’ll see what I mean in the video.  The real fun begins when I begin to variegate the final layer with StencilGirl® stencils, fingers, credit cards, and sometimes even scratch tools or something near my hand.

Could I do this with a brush?  Yes, I could, but I find the randomness of the stencils keep my final product more organic.  I work fast without too much thought except to build up shadow and interest areas.  With a brush I am more apt to overthink.  I put together a video to show you what I mean.  I videoed this fun final layer, but included still pictures showing the first steps. Detail shots give you a close up of all the visual texture and showcase the mark making possibilities. The pièce de résistance is the final beauty shot that shows you how all the madness came together. Watercolor is some knowledge and a lot of hope mixed with happenstance, and I feel that these random marks go hand in hand with that aesthetic. You can view this 3 ½ minute video here. The following stencils were used: 

I had so much fun with the painting that I left my pile of curated stencils out and spent some time painting small pieces with stencils. My process has been to tape the sides of a piece of watercolor paper down and spray with water before placing the stencil.  Then I take one or more colors and push them through the stencil with a brush in what’s called a wet in wet application.  The paper is wet and the watercolors are a bit diluted so the paint moves around the paper under the stencil yet leaves the pattern or partial pattern.  I leave it a few minutes to let the paint soak in and then use a heat tool to speed drying. I actually recommend air drying, but I don’t always do what I recommend. This will leave a mid-toned background.  I place the stencil back in to bring out more detail.  For this layer, I use a cosmetic sponge or go in with a just barely wet brush and spot color areas using one color or a limited palette.  This is less of a commitment than doing a full on painting, yet you really get a painterly effect with the layering of loose to defined.  In this piece I used white gouache as a final layer to bring out the pattern.  The pictures below show the single color process. The stencil used in this piece is from the 6/2019 Stencil Club (a great monthly subscription value) set by June Pfaff Daley.
The same process can be done in multicolor with amazing results.  In this piece I used Mary Beth Shaw and Seth Apter’s Club stencil from January 2019.  (You must be part of Stencil Club to buy this stencil I used, but that’s easy to take care of on their site.) This piece was made during the horrible rioting and this collage that spoke to the idea of inclusion literally fell out of me. When chaos is surrounding me, I often use art as my voice.  I used a limited palette of Quinacridone Gold Deep, Cobalt Green Dark and Payne’s Gray. Places that needed more contrast were spot colored a second time with a sponge.  All the pieces were cut into house shapes to resemble a street where the homes were all different, yet unified since they all shared the same three colors.  I arranged and then mounted them on a piece of black watercolor paper for even more drama and wrote the quote by hand.  The foreground was just a piece of watercolor paper colored in the same palette. It was a big release for me once it was finished.  Art does heal. 
This process also lends itself to abstracts.  Below are samples of pieces I did with single stencils.  The first piece is one that I wanted the colors to move the eye around so it stayed soothing and analogous.  I used one of Mary Beth Shaw’s awesome abstract pattern stencils that she did for January 2016 Stencil Club.  That particular piece just had one layer.  I loved the ethereal mood that layer created and didn’t want to mess with it. 

The next three pieces use stencils all by Traci Bautista.  I never get tired of them because there are so many places of interest.  With the first one I paired her Soulful Scribbles Let Go stencil with some of my favorite pearlescent colors by FineTec.  They certainly pack a punch.  I plan to cut that piece up and use it in a symmetrical multi-tiered square collage. The last two are done with a dry surface and very wet brush.  If you want to retain a white background as I did in the third piece, then paint the watercolor onto the stencil and do not spray the paper with water.  You will get a bolder print that stays fairly sedentary on the paper.  I sometimes use a brayer and roll it over the stencil, but often use just a brush. The stencil is divine and is called Tropical Floral. If I am doing a larger piece, I pick the stencil corner up along the way and if I am careful I can add extra paint without moving the stencil if my coverage was off.  I’m a word person and Traci’s playful font spoke to me when I did this one.  On the last piece, I used her Circles Circles stencil again to make this tiny, but mighty, sunset colored piece of art. No water was used on the paper, but there was a good solid pigment load on the brush that really helped with the saturation.  I used Jacquard’s Piñata Real Gold Ink on the dry watercolor and then cut my original sheet into three smaller pieces for framing.

As you can see, your choices are only limited by your imagination.  You can soften the effects of the stencils by keeping to a wet process or go for a more saturated and usually sharper final product by using less water.  You don’t need expensive materials, but I will say that you will have better outcomes leaving the cheaper student paint behind.  WN’s Cotman paints are readily available and the best student grade paints I’ve heard of and Strathmore 300 is a good starter watercolor paper.  I use it for my swatching.  Experiment and see what look is pleasing to you.  As always, I appreciate my time on the blog and love to share what I’m doing.  To see more of my pursuits, follow me on Instagram and Facebook at Nancy Curry Art.  For my class schedule, blog, and full galleries, hop over to Nancy Curry Art.


  1. Thank you for sharing your processes and these beautiful work of art. You just have to love StencilClub and StencilGirl Products!

  2. Beautiful Piece! Thank you for all the details in your process, really helps get my arms around the "start to finish" as I don't work much in watercolor

  3. VERY interesting techniques with beautiful results. I'm especially impressed with your "dotty" use of the stencils for details, and of your taped fingers. I assume that's to keep your fingertips at a certain distance. The first 45 or so seconds of the video were illegible on my computer, but once that cleared up, watching you work was inspiring. Thank you!

  4. Watched the video again and all was clear - must have been a glitch with my computer the first time!


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