Print Friendly and PDF

How to stencil on walls

Stencils are perfect for DIY decor: easy, economical and fun! You can stencil with a roller or a stencil brush.


Stencilling with stencil brushes is somewhat slower than with a roller, but you can get really artsy with them and have more control. For detailed, multicoloured or shaded look it’s best to use stencil brushes. I personally just love stencil brushes, that is where you get creative and experiment with colour blending and shadowing. For allover stencil patterns, such as damasks, I recommend using a stencil roller.

Some folks use stencil brushes for allovers, but those people must have infinite amount of time and patience… This brush stenciling technique is surprisingly easy and takes very little time to learn. I’ve talked about properly loading your stencil brush with paint in my previous post. Bottom line: use less paint and rub off most of it on a folded paper towel.

First, secure the stencil on your wall or other surface either with pieces of masking tape or with spray adhesive.  I like having all my acrylic colours on one foam plate.   I squeeze a dollop of each acrylic colour I am going to use around the perimeter of the plate leaving the middle empty for mixing colours. I also like to tape my folded paper towel right to the wall next my stencilling, it’s a very handy trick that often saves you trips up and down the ladder.

There are few ways in which you can apply paint with a stencil brush. The simplest is dabbing or pouncing motion. Start dabbing with your loaded (and then off-loaded on a paper towel)  stencil brush over the stencil design using a light touch. You can also try a light sweeping or circular motion, this way you can achieve a very delicate, almost an air-brushed look. Try to vary the force with which you dab or pounce, since it gives you different results and different paint coverage. The lighter you do it, the more light and translucent the coverage will be.

If you need to add another colour, take a second stencil brush, load it with your new colour and dab it over the parts of the stencil design that need that colour. Here for Wisteria Border leaves, I am adding some olive green acrylic colour. Don’t forget to always wipe the excess paint on the paper towel after each time you re-load your brush.

The design gets quickly covered with paint. Lift a corner, take a peek, if you like the way its going -put the corner back and keep stenciling until all of the stencil design gets a desired paint coverage and shading.

For each colour take a separate stencil brush… Yep, you’ll need a separate brush for each colour, although I always cheat and recycle the same brush by wiping it nicely on paper towels and then using it with a similar colour. Do not recycle dark colour brush for a light colour, it’s going to look dirty no matter how nicely you wiped it. I don’t recommend washing the brush in the middle of the project because it will be too wet to use even if you dry it.

Now that the main colours are applied, it would be great to add some shading for some dimension. Shading is done by pouncing a dark colour at the edges of stencil openings. This very simple touch gives you amazing depth and dimension.

Stencilling Tips:
Do not use black colour for shading. Actually, there are no black shadows in nature, they all seem to have some colour in them, thus shading in black will give you a stark, unnatural result. Much better to use Raw umber, or neutral dark brown colour. Put a little bit of Raw Umber acrylics on your stencil brush and lightly dab the edges of stencil openings.

Don’t just shade all edges around each stencil opening, unless you’re going for that “inflated balloon” look.  Shadows in nature happen on some sides of objects  while other sides stay light. They call it a light source. Simply decide which side of each element will stay light (that’s where the light is hitting it) and shade only the opposite side of each element.

For the foliage I  use simple rule: shade all leaf tips and all leaf bottoms. This gives a very realistic look and you don't have to think about a light source! Remove the stencil…


back to top