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Stencil Art: Building Bridges in Positive and Negative Space

Stencils are one of the easiest and fun art projects, and can be used for a huge variety of things. T-shirts, posters, street art, wall art, fine art—stencils can be used for almost anything! Literally! The best stencils are images, words, or a combination of both, created in a clever way.

Stencil Design
Designing your stencil is just the first step. You can create the stencil out of any subject, as long as you follow a few hints. Anything can be a stencil, as long as it can be recreated in black and white, or more accurately, positive and negative space. A good stencil design plays to this "limitation" of using only positive and negative space, and the creative mind can take a subject into an interesting place by thinking about how to use the positive and negative space creatively. Just remember which "space" you intend to cut out of the stencil.

Build Bridges
The main key to creating a good stencil is an artwork that can be cut out without creating "islands". Islands are areas of your work that are completely surrounded by the negative space, and will essentially be cut out of whatever you're using to create your stencil. Islands are commonly circles, like the inside of an "O". A good stencil has "bridges" that connect all of the islands together, so that nothing falls out of the piece unintentionally. Bridges not only make the stencil functional, they make it strong as well, so that you can use it more than once.

Paper Choices
You can cut a stencil out of almost any type of paper or flat medium, depending on your usage. If you're creating street art with spray paint, then you might need to create your stencil from something stronger, like foam board, gator board, or card board.

Stencils for Fabric
If you're creating stencils for use on fabrics, then contact paper or freezer paper are your best options because they will stick to your fabric. If you're using transparency paper, or any plastic paper that does not come with a sticky side, then you will need to use temporary spray adhesive to bond your stencil to the fabric or canvas.

Paint Choices
The most common paint choice for stenciling is spray paint. You can also use fabric paints, acrylic paints, watercolors, and yes, even body paints! Again, the paint choice will depend on the final use of the stencil.

Cutting Tools
There are a plethora of cutting implements out there. But the best for stencil work, we have found, are still a great pair of scissors, especially for detail work, and a set of very sharp X-acto knives.