Creating a Unique Stencil Inspired by Weeds?

Weeds from the Garden Inspire a New Stencil

It all started one Sunday morning a few weeks ago when I was watering the garden, relaxing and just feeling great... until I noticed the weeds.
It's amazing how these things come up, even in the middle of winter! Damn!

So I started pulling them out with a vengeance. The war on weeds is never ending in the sub-tropics, especially if you're like me and don't want to use toxic sprays.
It didn't take to long before I was finished and ready for breakfast. I walked my bundle of weeds to the bin for composting when I noticed one of them, the way it hung down by itself, was beautiful...

Now I'm generally not too forgiving on weeds, but this one I felt needed to stay with me for a bit longer. So I draped it over the table while I was having my breakfast, looking at it and rearranging it to show different profiles of the leaves and before long I started to fall in love with the possibilities.
Let me tell you that no dishes got done.

Weeds are inspiration for Stencil design

I got my phone out and started taking photos of the different angles I'd been looking at, trying to get the shapes I wanted, and strong silhouettes that could translate into a stencil design.

You see when it's winter here in Australia that means I'm enamelling! And at that time I was having fun with patterns and stencils and was up to my ears preparing my new tutorial on Stencil enamelling. Those of you who know me also know that I prefer to design my own patterns. So the opportunity to draw out these weeds and to see if I could turn them into a design I'd be able to use time and time again was irresistible.

Designing stencil patterns

A lot of effort goes into designing Stencils and silhouettes, and getting them just the way you want them. But it is time well spent I think; one good pattern will give you so much mileage over the years!

You can use them for all kinds of things, not only enamelling. Etching and roller printing are some of the other things I love doing and I always need a pattern or a motif quickly.

Versatile designs

You can scale your drawings to make a small intricate design, or blow them up and use only part of the pattern, oversized, on a brooch or a bracelet.

Enamelled bangle using my weeds stencil

I this case I decided to use it on a bangle I had half finished on the workbench. It was originally going to be used for something completely different but I did a quick U turn and decided it wanted to be enamelled instead!

Here's how to do it

Step 1
Start by taking some photos of something that you like the shape of, I look for high contrast opportunities whenever I'm out.
Shadows or leaves agains a wall, or silhouetted agains a clear sky.
Skylines of buildings make great subjects too, as do kids playing etc. there are hundreds of opportunities once you start looking for them!

I do this automatically when I'm out and about so when I need a design there's always lots of photos to choose from. In the case of my weeds I laid them on a light coloured background and arranged them to show off the leaves in a few profiles, try not to have all of them 'looking in the same direction'.

Expose for maximum contrast

Expose for the background, this will trick the light meter in the phone or camera to throw the leaves in a darker contrast which is perfect for what we want. Take as many shots as you like, you can always delete them later. No editing at this stage. Take some from a normal distance, others zoomed-in shots of extra details you notice.

Keep going until you feel you've got enough:) I usually take between 30-40 then delete the ones that are of no use or double up. It's important to do this straight away after a session otherwise your phone will be full in no time! Send them to your computer for the next stage.

Step 2.
Print out several copies of your favourite shots, scaled up and down to give you a few sizes of each leaf. You can do this from your own computer or use a photocopier. I print mine in black & white, colour just confuses things at this stage.

Step 3.
Roughly cut up the printouts of leaves and stalks and any other elements you want to include in your final design, you could even use elements from different photos and combine them if you felt like it.
This is Play time, don't restrict your options yet!

Step 4.
Start arranging your shapes on a blank piece of card, use a little ball of BluTack on the back of each leaf and position them where you want them. I usually have some scrapbookers card-stock on hand, not only is it a little easier to move things around but you can pin it up on the wall when you're done and see what needs changing.

Overlap them a little or a lot to create a natural flow looking at the negative spaces and edges that the shapes make. Also look at your spacings, don't make everything to homogenous. Have some leaves bigger, or side on, or leave more space between elements will create a more interesting design

Keep everything connected

Another thing to keep in mind that a stencil needs to have all its elements connected to each other, you can't have something floating by itself in the middle!
This is where the stalks come in handy, they will connect things in a natural way.

  • When you're happy with your layout add a border to hold it all together.
  • Take a photocopy or scan in your design and print it out on normal copy paper.
  • Glue the paper to a piece of thin card, or whatever you want to use for your final stencil
  • Cut it out with a sharp kraft knife. Or....
Pattern cut from light card to make a stencil

If you own a Silhouette Cameo (or Portrait) like I do, you can import your B&W design straight into the Studio software and scale and cut it there! It saves an unbelievable amount of time.
I typically scale my drawing in 2-3 different sizes so I can use for other things as they come up.

To get more use out of your stencil you could spray it with some gloss or matte spray from the art store. A couple of coats will seal the card reasonably well.

Use shellac to protect the card stencil

For better sealing I like to use shellac, it makes for a very durable stencil.
So that's all there is to it! How easy is that? 

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