Last weekend I finished the biggest stencilling project I’ve ever attempted, where I added a pattern on all four walls, halfway up, within my office/spare room as part of the current room makeover. As soon as I started the job, I instantly also began questioning my sanity, as it was a big undertaking, but the end results is so stunning and pays for all the hours spent meticulously placing the stencil again and again, crouching in awkward positions, not having enough hands to hold the stencil in those difficult corners, and the tedious touching up. I definitely would do it all over again, because for me, a well designed room which was created with love, and has an element of craftsmanship and artistic flair is priceless.
I first tried my hand at stencilling in my previous home, where I created a Terrazzo backsplash in the new kitchen extension, which will always have a special place in my heart. It was such a great way to add colour and interest to an otherwise neutral space. It blew my mind that a simple repeat pattern, you trace on the wall, can achieve such a great impact. I was hooked.
Then, moving to my new home, the renovation of my current kitchen would not have been complete without a bit of stencilling magic, especially as it was a budget makeover, where I was not able to replace the tiles. This time, I swapped the accents and toned down the colour - and workload - of the stencilling job on the tiles and went for a more monochrome geometric look, while the kitchen cupboards inject the colour. It is a look I also absolutely adore.
When it came to renovating the hallway in the apartment, I craved a fun design to come home to, something that would set the tone for the rest of my home. A good way I could achieve this was with a stencilled mural, consisting of three large geometric shapes, which in turn were made out of a colourful soft geometric stencilled pattern. As any multi coloured stencil art, this one took a little while to complete, but again the impact it creates is just so wonderful to come home to.
And lastly, my latest design, the large scale stencil project in my office, where I certainly knew not to even think about using more than one colour, or I would probably still be stencilling by Christmas next year.
Now, having done so many different stencilling projects, varying in size, colour, and surface, I certainly learned a lot and I thought it may be useful to jot that down in some way. So here are the three most useful learnings I’ve made stencilling.
Use the right tools
The most commonly found stencilling advice, and for a good reason, is working with the right tools for the job; and really isn’t this true for anything we do? Having the most suitable tools, just helps get a job done more efficiently, with less effort, and resulting in a better finish.
When it comes to stencilling, my tool staples are: foam roller, make-up sponge, artist brush, and kitchen towel. A dense 4’’ foam roller is perfect for mono colour, medium to large patterns, where a make-up sponge - or any relatively small dense foam sponge, even the end bit of a foam roller - is the applicator I use for my colour-filled designs. It allows me to concentrate on one pattern piece at a time without smudging the various colours. The downside of the latter is that you will need to work in layers, adding more density to the colour each time a layer dries. An artist brush is very useful to touch up those unavoidable smudges or when a stencil creates uneven seams.
Lastly, kitchen towel, something a stencilling job absolutely relies on, as it helps to get excess paint off the roller or sponge. Simply dipping these into the paint, rolling them on the side of the paint tray, and applying the paint straight to the wall, will create the unwanted bleeding of colour over the edges of the design. Best results are achieved instead by using very little paint only, and in addition to the side of the paint tray, rolling or dabbing the paint tool over a kitchen towel, before applying the paint with little pressure onto the wall.
Don't strive for perfection
Leading on from bleeding paint, I learned that a finished stencilled product will never be perfect. In fact, it’s a work of handmade art, which simply close-up will never have those beautifully crisp lines and perfectly even spacing, a digitally printed design would have for instance. Stencils, despite all the effort, practice, and the best quality tools in the world, will simply sometimes not line up, or the paint will bleed in places. It happens to me on every single project, as walls, window sills, sockets, heaters, etc are not always positioned in a perfect 90° angle.
Having done a few projects, and being very much a perfectionist, I understand now it’s important not to lose sight of the overall finished product, which will look stunning. At the end of the day, who will know that I’ve touched up a corner here and seam there? Or will I even remember where I had to paint over a patch and start again? So yes, the job always looks perfect when we see a time-lapse or fancy transition reel online, but real life is not perfect and anything handmade will have imperfections, which is what makes stencils so fascinating.
Work with your space
I would say this is the most important learning of all I’ve made over the years, and one I don’t think is highlighted enough. No matter which stencil design you choose, the space you stencil will heavily determine the look, so it is best to adapt the stencil to the space, rather than the space to the stencil.
When choosing a design for instance, I always consider all the corners, obstacles, or general shape of the space. All this will determine the intricacy of the design, as well as size of the stencil I am able to use for a specific project. The more obstacles, the simpler the design generally. So for instance in my current kitchen, the geometric pattern worked a treat, as I could easily recreate the design in the really awkward corners without even using the stencil.
Furthermore, during stencilling, adapting the overall design to the space is a trick I fully embraced for the first time during my latest office project. Here, I didn’t stencil up to the edges of obstacles, as it would have simply made the whole job so much more difficult to realise and would not have made the final product look any better. Instead, I left a comfortable gap around obstacles determined either by masking tape, or wherever the stencil would naturally allow me to. You can see examples of this in the corners of the room, or around the windowsill and heater.
If you look very closely, you will also spot the design is not 100% pattern matched from one wall to the next. Something I also tried for the first time in my latest room makeover, and I think it works. I simply restarted the stencil on a new wall, which was perfectly possible thanks to this relatively busy design, of course.
Another advantage of choosing a multi shaped pattern is, it allows you to add or replace the odd shape here and there to create a more cohesive look, like I’ve done in the hallway mural for instance. The shapes at the bottom are not part of the stencil sequence actually, but they were much softer shapes, which I believe finish off this free flowing edge perfectly.
And that's it. I hope the above tips are helpful. These small, but effective adaptations and learnings definitely helped me create much more cohesive designs, with minimum trouble, though I may not be able to always say the same about time.