Easy Upcycling Ideas: How to Make a Stencil or Mask from Magazines

There are so many beautiful stencils coming onto the market these days, and I want to get my hands on every one of them and play. But often I find that the best stencils are the simplest ones: lines, dots, swirls, and basic outlines. And those you can easily make yourself by upcycling items you have at home.

upcycling junk mail into masks and stencils
I used stencils and a mask to
begin my layering process.

For example, you can make great stencils out of school and office discards like file folders and clear report covers. Just draw your design on top, cut it out with a sharp pair of scissors or a craft knife, and stencil away. (Save the positive images-what falls out of the stencil "hole"-to use as masks.)

The next time you get a package or a new board game (yes, people do still play board games), check to see if there are any pieces of cardboard or plastic with a grid or punch-outs. Those make terrific stencils.

One of my new favorite upcycling ideas for making a stencil or mask from things I have around the house is the magazine or junk mail silhouette. I just learned this trick from Julie Fei-Fan Balzer, who always looks for budget-friendly and upcycled art materials, and I can't believe I never thought of it before.

You'll need:

  • Fashion magazines, catalogues, or junk mail fliers with figures on them
  • Clear packing tape or Con-tact® paper
  • A sharp pair of scissors


1. Find some pages of figures that you think would make a good silhouette. For interest, it's preferable if the figures are gesturing with their arms or have a hand on their hip.

2. Cover the front of the page with clear packing tape (you may need more than one piece) or a sheet of clear Con-tact paper.

3. Turn the page over and cover the back the same way, making sure you include all of the silhouette that's on the front. By covering both sides with the tape/Con-tact paper, you will make the silhouette sturdier and will be able to use it multiple times.

upcycling junk mail into masks and stencils
A stencil and two masks made from
upcycled junk mail.

4. With a sharp pair of scissors, cut out the silhouette. Take the time to cut it out accurately so you will have a smoother, more recognizable image. Tip: To achieve a cleaner cut, Julie says to feed the paper into your scissors rather than moving the scissors around the page.

Note: If you want to have both a stencil and a mask, cover the entire page with tape before cutting, or at least a half-inch beyond the cut-out area.

Now you have a stencil and-or mask you can use over and over again for practically free.

Julie shows how to make stencils out of free or cheap materials and then use them and purchased stencils in layers to create backgrounds for art journals, collage, paintings, and mixed-media art on her new Cloth Paper Scissors Workshop video, Layering with Stencils: Creating Depth and Texture in Mixed-Media Art, now available.

P.S. What do you upcycle into a stencil? Share your ideas!


Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques


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