The Best Stencil Material Ever

10 LEAD.jpg

The availability of stencils at craft stores continually grows. There’s one for nearly every theme imaginable. That’s the good news for crafters. The bad news is that many of those stencils will only work on smooth, flat surfaces. Are we all painting only smooth flat surfaces?  I don't think so.

Stencils should be fun and easy to use whether you are painting a round jug or a rippled washboard.  When stencils don’t conform to the object you want to paint, the fun goes out of the process.  My solution promises to keep you happy and creative.

Stubborn Stencils
If you have ever tried to apply a stencil to a round or curved object, you know what happens.  The stencil edges or detailed shapes keep popping up and you just don’t have enough hands to hold them down.

Even if you’ve used a good stencil adhesive, when your painting is done, you may find the paint lines aren’t as precise as you had hoped.  Paint inevitably seeps under the stencil and now more work is required to tidy up those lines.  Some surfaces and shapes just defy typical stencils.

Benefits For Every Crafter
So what if I said there’s a stencil that will give you the kind of clean lines you only get with Frog Tape, that you can create your own stencil designs even if you’re not an artist, and you can apply that stencil to a multitude of textured and shaped surfaces without using adhesives? It's possible and it's amazing that one technique can be used to apply color with a soft brush, airbrush, or markers. If you work with etching creme you'll appreciate the substantial barrier it forms so the creme doesn't travel on your surface. My Etched Crystal Teardrop Ornament is an uncomplicated project but a sample of how well my stencil worked.

My Epiphany
In simple terms, what’s needed for any kind of stencils is a completely flexible material that will maintain the design and really stick. That’s what I’ve found. There’s no fancy new tool you have to run out and buy.  The answer is inexpensive, and in fact you might already have it.

I was frustrated recently because I couldn’t get the painted wine glass design idea in my head, onto the wineglass in my hands. The paper stencil I made was unyielding and impossible to work with. While trying to solve my problem I discovered that if I roll out a layer of raw scrap Polymer clay and cut a design into it, I can adhere it smoothly to my surface to be airbrushed. I can even stretch it if necessary or alter the design as I apply the stencil.

The leaf on this wine glass is an excellent example of my technique.  When working on rounded surfaces the clay won’t create folds like other stencil materials or distort the edges allowing paint to seep underneath.  The result is remarkable - very predictable paint lines, especially when spraying the paint onto the surface.

This wine glass project is decorative only because the acrylic paint used has not been approved for baking which would be required for a permanent, washable project. For a more permanent project look for oven approved acrylic paint.


Surfaces and Shapes

Clay stencils are ideal for irregular surfaces. The yellow clay below follows the beveled edges of this wood photo frame and this grooved plastic container with ease, making it easy to apply a sharp line of paint. Conventional stencils won't cling to a Styrofoam ball but clay will!

wood frame

wood frame

plastic container

plastic container

airbrushed Styrofoam

airbrushed Styrofoam

If You're Not Picasso

For crafters who aren’t comfortable with their artistic ability, stencils are an important tool in the creative arsenal. Being able to cut them from polymer clay opens up a world of opportunity for design.

step 6 - Place a craft stick under the straight edges of the clay cone and pinch the edges together.  Blend them using the stick as support.

Ideas For Creating Clay Stencils
To find simple or ornate images online, search Google for the item you have in mind along with the word “Stencil”.  It will result in line drawing type images like the ones I found when I searched for Fleur de Lis stencil. ( The image you choose may be copyright protected. It is your responsibility to determine if it is in public domain and if you can legally use it.)

Google images can be resized, printed onto card stock, and cut out with a craft knife. Trace inside the card stock line with your knife to cut the clay or transfer the card stock image onto the clay by rolling across it. The clay will rise above the card stock. Follow the image outline with a craft knife to cut the clay stencil.

Another way to create clay stencils is with clay cutters.  Intricate patterns can be formed by combining various cutter shapes or using cutting blades and other tools.

Another way to create clay stencils is with clay cutters.  Intricate patterns can be formed by combining various cutter shapes or using cutting blades and other tools.


This topic would not be complete without one more option - cutting clay stencils with a Silhouette Curio machine. If you're lucky enough to own one and haven't tried cutting clay with it, you're missing out on a very special tool. The Curio machine comes with software that allows you to draw any design from scratch. If that seems beyond your abilities, you can grab a ready-made, inexpensive design from the Silhouette library.  There you'll find thousands of images. At this writing the count is 97,382! Images you find elsewhere can also be scanned and traced with the software. There's no shortage of sources for creating stencils with the Curio machine.    

Resist painting is made easy with clay. Roll out thin tubes and drape them into designs. Paint the open areas around the clay then remove the clay. This is a project for sprayed on paint.

step 7 - Cut a piece of wire to measure 3” long.  Make a small loop on one end.  Roll out a clump of clay in your hands into a teardrop shape.  Slip the blunt end of the wire through the center of the clay and coat the top portion of the clay and 1/4” of the wire with Liquid Polymer.  Slide the wire up into the clay cone.
step 8 - Set the clay cone on the paper cone for support.  Bake at 275 degrees for 30 minutes.  Allow to cool completely before handling.

Used Clay Stencils
So what do you do with the clay stencil when you’re done with it and it’s covered in paint? If you plan to use the stencil again wrap the dry clay in deli film and store it in a zip lock bag. If you won’t need the stencil again, the clay can be rolled flat and saved for your next stencil design. When rolled, the acrylic paint actually blends with the clay creating very interesting color patterns.

The idea of marrying paint and clay is something I’ve just discovered. Because the technique is so new, please keep in mind I have not used clay stencils on every possible surface or with every paint application tool. There are a lot of fun experiments and discoveries ahead. It’s all very exciting!

What’s already obvious is that clay stencils are reusable, self-adhering on many surfaces, flexible, customizable and they offer endless options for design. If you are spraying paint onto the stencil and need to mask off surrounding areas, just drape more clay on the edges of the stencil, eliminating the need for masking tape or paper towels.   

To date, I have used clay stencils with acrylic paint and an airbrush on the following:
Paper Mailing Tubes
Styrofoam and other uneven textures.

If you create clay stencils, please share your experience with me. You may be the one to have the next epiphany!

At the right temperature clay will cut, adhere and remove easily. When it’s too soft it will be sticky and might not lift cleanly from surfaces. Use rubbing alcohol for cleanup. If the clay is too soft after rolling it out, put it in the refrigerator for a while and allow it to firm up.

Some clay colors may tint your project surface. Use white or translucent clay to avoid this.

A clay conditioning machine is not an absolute necessity. Clay can be conditioned with a roller. The machine just makes a quicker and easier job of it.

My favorite clay is Premo by Sculpey. I have not done stencil experiments with other brands of clay.

Recommended Books