I think I can credit Martha Stewart for my initial introduction to stenciling, back in the very early 90’s. Yes, I was one of those who religiously watched her show and subscribed to the magazine. I didn’t give a damn about the food and gardening, but I loved watching her paint things. I vaguely knew you could use stencils on walls, but I had no real imagination with them at that point because the resources were so limited. Then one day, I saw her put stencils that she had cut and designed herself (OK, her team of minions did the grunt work) on fabric and furniture. It was a revelation to me. I could cut my own designs! I could put them anywhere!!!
I cut stencils by hand forever. I nearly lost limbs doing it, but I kept plowing along, applying them to various surfaces. With the advent of search engines on the internet, I finally found sites to purchase stencils from, could custom design and order them if needed, and my fingertips finally had a chance to heal. What didn’t change was my surface of choice for stenciling. FURNITURE! I love love love painting furniture. I especially love stenciling on furniture. I love taking a plain, unadorned piece and transforming it into something unique. The more complicated and involved the pattern, the better. I can get lost in the detailing. But also, just a few simple adornments stenciled on can make the difference between blah and brilliant!
For me, one of the most important parts is to think of the piece as a whole concept. Don’t just slap down a stencil, smoosh on a little paint and call it a day. There is more to look at on a table than just the top, a cabinet is more than just the doors. And don’t stop at a single color. Highlight and shadow. Wet blend colors. Add flourishes. Use unexpected colors and materials. Your stencil is a guide and a reference, not the end all to the design. A painted piece of furniture is a piece of art. The stencil aides in your expression. You don’t have to use a complete set, you can marry up designs from different companies, you can layer one design over another. Each stencil adds a layer on complexity and flavor to your ideas.
A simple plain wood step-stool from IKEA becomes a sturdy and special accent piece. The peacock feather design makes the stark lines of the stool a fun contemporary item that can be a stool, seat, bedside stand or end table.
The same simple stool has a completely different feel when decorated with a more traditional design. The stencil chosen hear make this a better fit for a country home. Your choice of stencil design and application method can customize anything to fit your client’s need.
These nesting tables were formerly dark, dull and boring. The application of stencils combined with water based translucent wax products created different shimmery textures and raised designs.
Don’t forget that something has more than one surface to be stencilled. The legs of all 3 tables had a different stencil applies and each was treated differently. The legs on the left had a simple pattern applied and was then hand painted over it, The legs on the right was a more complex pattern applied with gold shellac. The tiny details make all the difference!
Pay attention to scale at well. A piece that has many small panels works well for small vignette stencils and classic flourishes where something simpler can handle a bolder hand. For example, the featured photo for this article has an antique secretary whose drawers are smooth and flush, so a large design was a great solution. And the vintage nature of the piece make the branch and fruit pattern an appropriate choice. Larger, flatter surfaces can adapt to a variety of pattern scale.
More than anything, have fun. Stencilling on furniture is nothing new, but the designs aren’t limited to traditional application or traditional designs anymore. We are no longer locked into bunnies and duckies on a crib or a mallard duck on a wooden box. The contemporary furniture stencil artist has so many amazing options. With the advent of computer graphics, almost any idea can be translated into a custom stencil in size, pattern, thickness and adhesive quality, to suit whatever kind of furniture you are working on!