Studio Saturday: Making Custom Stencils and Masks From Recycled Items

The Fall 2018 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors is all about recycling materials for mixed-media art, which got me thinking about making custom stencils and masks from repurposed items. The great thing about custom stencils is that they can be tailored to your project and your style. Today I’ll show you a few easy ideas for making one-of-a-kind stencils and masks that you can start using right away in your artwork.

making custom stencils and masks using recycled materials
Making custom stencils is so easy, and they can add a distinctive look to your artwork.

Making Custom Stencils with Plastic

We’ll start with one of my favorite materials: plastic. Look around and you’ll discover tons of items made of plastic or rubber that make great stencils: mesh produce bags, sink and tub liners, placemats, and gloves. I found some plastic shelf liner with an open pattern that I thought would be great for stenciling. After prepping an art journal spread with clear gesso and letting it dry, I dabbed some acrylic paint onto a cosmetic wedge and rubbed it over the shelf liner in several spots on the page. It looked so great I did the same with another color.

When that was dry, I cut my own stencil from cardstock, using a craft knife. For more permanent custom stencils, you can use stencil film with a craft knife or a stencil cutter. But I felt like going old school and just cut random shapes with a knife. You can draw a design first, but I felt like just going for it, since the shapes were basic and abstract.

That design was stenciled in several areas on the page, again using two colors. Since some of the acrylic paints I was using were translucent, layering colors gave me some cool effects.

making custom stencils and masks using recycled materials
Items that can be used for making custom stencils and masks are all around. Open your eyes to the possibilities!

I brushed some lime green paint in a few areas and, while it was still wet, placed the cardstock stencil on top and wiped away the paint through the openings. This reverse stencil technique is facilitated by the gesso layer, so don’t skip the gesso!

making custom stencils and masks using recycled materials
If your cardstock stencil starts to get a little wet, allow it to dry before using it again.

When I looked at the page, I realized it needed some darker values, so I spattered some magenta paint with a paintbrush.

making custom stencils and masks using recycled materials
Get tons of use out of your custom stencils by using them with paint, ink, crayons, pencils, and pastels.

Making Custom Stencils from Magazines

Another really fun technique for making custom stencils is cutting out images from magazines and catalogs. These images can be people, animals, flowers and trees, furniture–practically anything that’s recognizable as a silhouette.

When you’re looking for images, focus on the outline and try to discern if it would make a good stencil. For people, I look for arms and legs separated from the body and clothing that isn’t too voluminous. If you’re not sure if an image will make a good stencil, trace the outline and then decide. For this image of a horse, I removed the rider and modified the tail.

making custom stencils and masks using recycled materials
Modify an image suit your needs by adding to it or taking away certain parts.

Copy the image onto cardstock or lighter weight paper (sizing it larger or smaller if necessary), and cut it out with a craft knife.

I used an image from a fashion magazine as a mask, stenciling the design across the page. Using a cosmetic wedge and semi-opaque Payne’s gray acrylic paint, I dabbed the paint just around the outline, so it wouldn’t interfere with subsequent images.

making custom stencils and masks using recycled materials
Magazines, catalogs, and old books are terrific sources for stencil and mask images. By copying them onto cardstock, you never have to touch the original.

After stenciling the horse image across the top several times, I went back in with a paintbrush and more Payne’s gray and covered the areas in between the images.

making custom stencils and masks using recycled materials
How much of the background you want to cover is up to you!

When that was finished, I thought the piece need a little something more. So I drew white dots around some of the stenciled images with a white paint pen, then created little circles in various spots.

making custom stencils and masks using recycled materials
After stenciling, look at your piece and determine what it needs. More details? Some collage?

I love the pop art look of this and the fact that it was done with custom stencils and masks. I have tons of commercial stencils that I love using in my mixed-media art, but it’s fun to create something unique and see how it inspires you.

Two Quick Ideas for Custom Stencils

Use real or faux leaves and flowers as masks. Here, I dry-brushed orange paint onto a tag, then used a silk maple leaf as a mask, dabbing acrylic paint around the outside with a cosmetic wedge.

making custom stencils and masks using recycled materials
Use real or faux leaves and flowers to create one-of-a-kind masks for tags, art journal pages, and collage.

Metal gear embellishments were used as stencils for this tag. Two colors of spray paint were applied over the stencils, and when dry, the gears were removed. Bonus: the gears got a boost from the paint, too!

making custom stencils and masks using recycled materials
See what kind of designs you can make with spray paint and paper clips, rubber bands, or feathers.

Here’s a great tutorial on using stencils with watercolor from artist Danielle Donaldson.

Learn more about making custom stencils and using stencils in your art!


Blog, Mixed-Media Painting Techniques, Mixed-Media Techniques, Printmaking

About Tammy Jones

I'm the online editor of Interweave Jewelry and Cloth Paper Scissors. I love making metal and metal clay jewelry, enameling, mixed media, and collecting and creating with found objects. I also enjoy knitting, paper crafts like card making and scrapbooking, cooking, traveling, beachcombing, and snow!


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