A stencil is a template used to paint or draw identical patterns, shapes, symbols, letters and number each time it is used. They are formed by removing sections from the original template, creating the form of a text or an image. The template is then used to create impressions of the stenciled image by applying paint or some kind of related material to the template’s surface and through the removed sections. When the stencil is removed, it leaves a reproduction of the underlying surface.
Stencils have a long history. Stencil paintings of hands are seen in many prehistoric cave paintings. They were used to color cloth for many centuries, especially in Japan. Starting in the mid-fifteenth century, stencils were used to color old master prints printed on woodcuts in black and white. Playing cards and mass-produced books, for example, were illustrated in this way.
One of the earliest and most popular commercial uses of stencils was for book illustration. It was most popular in France during the 1920s, when several studios in Paris specialized in the technique. It is a highly labor-intensive process, which was called Pochoir, so low wages made it possible. Pochoir entails first producing a print with the outlines of a design, and then using a series of stencils through which areas of color were applied by hand to a page. This process creates intense colors and is mostly associated with Art Nouveau and Art Deco designs.
Aerosol Stencils are created by producing a template that serves as an outline for an image. They are made from any material that will hold its form—from plain paper, cardboard, plastic sheets, metal and wood. It is used in many settings—industrial, commercial, artistic and recreational—and also by the military. An interesting use of aerosol stenciling is in graffiti, since stencil art using spray-paint can be produced easily and quickly. Political artists also tend to use graffiti stenciling, since it is a simple and inexpensive way to make political statements in public places.
Stencils are a common tradition in home decorating and in the arts & crafts. Home décor stencil templates are prefabricated and sold in hardware stores, arts & crafts stores and on the internet. They are applied with a paint or roller brush along wall borders and trimming, and also applied with a painted sponge, which creates a textured effect. Home stenciling is usually made of flexible plastics like acetate, vinyl and Mylar.
- Smithsonian Institute: Vibrant Visions
- "Street Art: The Graffiti Revolution"; Lewisohn Cedar; 2008
Christine Meyer has been a freelance writer since 2009. She has done academic writing for several services across the Web and specializes in creating online content. She is a licensed professional counselor and has been a sign language interpreter, with fluency in American Sign Language. She holds a Master of Science in counseling from San Francisco State University.