Two Techniques for Using Stencils in Collage Art

When you’re faced with a blank canvas and want to create a background or you have a collage or painting that needs a focal point, reach for a stencil.

bird stencil for collage linda blinn
Stencil art for collage and more by Linda Blinn.

Stencils are easy to make yourself, reasonably priced, and, depending on what they are made of, you can use them over and over again.

Here are two ways to use stencils in collage art.

The first is a technique by artist Linda Blinn, who teaches the Cloth Paper Scissors Workshop Make it Graphic: Stencils, Silhouettes, & More.

Linda says that “One of the advantages of cutting your own stencils is that you not only get the stencil but a mask–the piece that ‘falls out’ after the stencil is cut. And both the mask and the stencil can be used as a pattern.”


  • Stencils (hand-cut and purchased)
  • Fabric and/or fabric paper
  • Acrylic paint, spray paint, and “mists”
  • Spray gesso or clear acrylic for use as a resist

1. Place a bird stencil in the center of a fabric square and apply 2-3 colors of paint.

2. When dry, remove the stencil and place the mask of the bird on top of the painted image.

3. Secure the mask by placing double-sided removable tape on the back of the mask.

4. Place a patterned stencil on top of mask and fabric and spray with gesso or a clear acrylic to create a resist.

5. Leaving the bird mask in place, let the gesso dry and then apply color to the background using spray paints or mists.

collage background with stencils mcknight holbrook
Kari McKnight-Holbrook uses an entire alphabet
stencil as one layer of this background.

Kari McKnight-Holbrook takes a different approach in the second example, layering stencils and masks to make a collage background with lots of depth.


  • Acrylic paints
  • Brayers and natural sponges
  • Stencils and masks (hand-cut and purchased)
  • Large sheet of heavy-duty watercolor paper
  • Found stamps (bubble wrap, flip-flop soles, etc.)

1. Mix up a palette of paint with shades and tints of the same hue.

2. Apply paint with one stamp in a basic design (such as lines) all over the paper.

3. Apply a different stamp or stencil with a slightly different shade of paint over the first pattern.

4. Using a large stencil and a sponge, apply paint in another color over the first two layers. Continue like this for 4-5 layers, or until you are pleased with the background.

how to minimize a dud background
Kari paints over a swirl and butterfly mask to knock
back the design she considers a “dud,” in her
Backgrounds to Bindings
Workshop video.

Tip: If you’re not pleased with your background, Kari has a rescue strategy. Lay a large, open-design mask over the paper and apply paint with a sponge all over the masked page to knock back the background (use light paint over a dark background and vice-versa).

There are so many ways to make and use stencils in mixed-media collage, art journaling, and book making. You can get tons of tips and techniques from Linda and Kari, plus two stencils to use in your art, in our Stenciling Value Pack. This kit is a terrific value and when it arrives you can grab your paints, jump right in, and play.

P.S. Do you make your own stencils for collage and other art applications? If so, what material do you use: Mylar, acetate, paper, or something else? Leave your answer below.


Blog, Collage, Mixed-Media Techniques


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