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Spray it with stencils.

Several years ago I was searching for a simple process for producing interesting background color for my relief prints. None of my initial ideas appealed to me, until I developed the idea of using commercial spray paint. I soon discovered that spray enamels worked well on all types of papers, and that block printing inks were compatible with spray paints. The effects produced were so interesting in themselves, that I abandoned relief printing, and began producing images entirely with spray enamels.

Preparing the Project

Images can be produced as paintings, prints or posters. Should you intend to reproduce your design creating editions of prints, then hinged wooden frames to hold the stencils would be practical. In this case, the mat to which the stencils are attached is stapled to the backside of the frame. Tab-type registration can be used, similar to that used in serigraphy. The entire process is similar to silk-screen printing.

The methods of working that I developed used simple posterboard stencils attached to paper and board with adhesive or pins. For large images, heavy illustration board is recommended. Because stencils are reusable, compositions can be duplicated, or altered in color, contrast or value. Spray effects can be used in conjunction with the stencils or collage materials (torn paper, mesh screen, doilies, leaves, etc.) can be used as stencils, and held to the paper with spray adhesive. Painterly effects can be achieved using rubber-cement resist.

How Many Stencils?

This process involves cutting stencils through which paint is to be sprayed--a process not unlike making a sign by spraying through cut letters. Like serigraphy, you can use a separate stencil for each color, although this is seldom necessary. One of the more difficult aspects of the process is figuring the number of stencils that will be needed. This is why your first design should not be too complex. If you intend to introduce the process to students, the simpler the better. It is a good idea to make preliminary sketches using colored pencils, marking pens or crayons. You can determine the number of stencils you will need from the sketch.

It is not always necessary to cut separate stencils for every design. Straightedge shapes can be masked out with paper and masking tape directly on the painting, but only over a previously painted surface. Removable tape is easy to remove from painted surfaces.

Since you are working from stencils, it is possible to duplicate the same design many times. However, it should be kept in mind that the stencils will build up layers of paint, and only so many duplicates can be made. For larger editions new stencils may have to be cut.

The Process

For your first design I recommend using no more than four colors. Keep the value contrasts fairly strong. If necessary, work up a thumbnail sketch in color. Bear in mind that an enlarged version of the design will be outlined on posterboard.

Cut out the appropriate areas on each sheet of posterboard, making a separate stencil for individual areas of colors at your own discretion. Set the board in an upright position and spray the selected color area. If you are going to do an edition of prints, use a hinged stencil-mat, remove the freshly sprayed paper, replace it with another, and repeat the spraying process. This paper removal and replacement procedure should be repeated for each color applied.

Tips on Application

Be sure to use ozone-safe spray enamel. A wide variety of colors are available, and can be purchased at any large discount store. By shopping around, you should be able to find most of the colors you will need for under two dollars a can. Almost all brands of spray paint are compatible. Colors are quite permanent and do not bleed.

Spraying should be done outdoors in a wind-free area, or in a well-ventilated interior where the fumes or over spray will not cause damage. For occasional spraying, a dust mask can be worn, although a respirator is recommended. It is best to build up the colors with several light coats of spray rather than one heavy one. Colors do not have to be completely dry before a second coat is applied. On warm days, a second coat can be applied after five to ten minutes.

Gray primer can be used over the entire surface of the paper before the other colors are applied. The first few coats of spray will appear mottled and will absorb into the paper. Since colors are applied over one another, it is occasionally necessary to neutralize a dark or bright color with gray primer before another color is applied. Two or more colors can be blended to create a third by using light coats of spray over one another. Gradations of tone can be achieved by using three values of similar colors and applying them in overlapping bands. White can also be used to gradate a color from light to dark.

With a bit of practice you will find that spray paint is a quick, colorful and exciting way to produce flat color, gradated or atmospheric effects. The clarity and neatness of the finished product gives the novice artist a sense of accomplishment. And cleanup is easy--you simply set down your can and walk away.

1 If you want to create an edition of prints, it's helpful to use a hinged stencil mat


2 By outlining the design on posterboard, it's possible to create an enlarged version of your original sketch.


3 Masking areas with removable tape helps you to avoid having to cut a separate stencil for each design


4 You can simply set the board in an upright position and spray the chosen area.


5 By using rubber cement as a resist for certain areas, painterly effects can easily be achieved.


6 Posterboard stencils can be attached to paper with pins.


7 Another method for attaching posterboard to paper is by using adhesive spray. Follow safety directions on the can.


8 Because of the versatility of stencils. it's possible to duplicate the same design many times.


9 Rubber cement used for resist can easily be removed with masking tape.


David L. Oravez is Associate Professor of Art, Art Department, Boise State University, Boise, Idaho.
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Title Annotation:includes instructions
Author:Oravez, David L.
Publication:School Arts
Date:Sep 1, 1992
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