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Stenciled Murals

Stencil expert Jan Dressler demonstrates how to bring the outdoors inside with her "fool the eye" stencils and stenciling techniques.

Before proceeding with the mural stenciling, Dressler shares some advice on preparation, brush loading, clean-up, and background styles. She then creates the tree mural with stencils and friskets, starting with the trunk and working up.

Materials and Tools:
Tree Trunk - #340k, paint kit #PK340
Maple Leaves with Branches - #341, paint kit #PK341
Moon Gate - #392, paint kit #PK392
acrylic paint
sea sponge
small stencil brushes

Figure A


  1. The tree stencil is actually a piece of "stencil" with indents on the edges. One side outlines the roots of the tree and the other outlines the trunk and large branches. With acrylic paint and a sea sponge, place the stencil on the wall to form the structure of the tree (figure A).

Figure B

Once the outline is done, fill in the tree with the sponge (figure B).

Figure C

  • Next, place the stencil for the small branches, stencil, reposition, and stencil again, until desired look is achieved (figure C). Be sure to mark the registration guides. This will help you to place the leaves stencil when done.

  • Take the leaves stencil, and place it over the small branch stencils, lining them up with the registration marks. Stencil, reposition, and stencil again.

  • Position the vein stencil to give definition to the leaves. Stencil, reposition, and stencil again. Use small stencil brushes for any other highlights you desire. (figure D).

  • Figure D

    Preparing to Stencil:
    Determine your area of placement. Measure down from the ceiling to the position of the registration holes, and make a chalk line or pencil point reference marks. The top set of registration holes on the stencil will be lined up with this reference line for an even print. Tape your stencil to the wall, and make a pencil mark through the registration holes. Each time you change overlays, you will line up the holes with the marks on the wall.

    Loading the Brush:
    Using a paper plate as a palette, pour out a puddle, about the size of a 50-cent piece, of each paint color. Be sure that each puddle is larger than the head of your brush. Count off two paper towels, and tear in one piece from the roll. Fold piece along the perforation, then fold again to form a pad of toweling. Place this next to your paper plate. Use only thoroughly dry stencil brushes. Stencil brushes are compact, blunt-ended round brushes, much like a thick shaving brush, only flat on the end. You will need a separate brush for each color of paint. Choose a large brush for large openings. This will help you to avoid a polka-dot effect and will make the job go faster. Use smaller brushes for more delicate shading and smaller openings. Following the color application instructions included with your stencil, dip the entire blunt bristle surface of one brush straight down into the puddle of paint. Then, using your pad of toweling, work the paint into the brush by swirling it firmly on the towel. It may look as if you are wasting paint, but it is the only way to successfully load the brush. Tap the brush on a clean area of toweling to test the imprint. It is properly loaded when there is a uniform, almost powdery imprint on the towel. There should be nothing wet or sloppy because this will run under the stencil and cause a blurred and messy print.

    Cleaning up:

    You may not have to clean your stencil if you are only using it for a few repeats, but as extra paint adheres to the stencil, the design may be compromised by the paint buildup. Great care is needed to clean stencils without damaging the delicate material. Paint is easier to remove when it is fresh. One method is to lay your stencil on layers of newspaper and use a spray bottle of Formula 409 to wet the stencil, then put it back in the bag, and let it soak. It can later be washed off quite easily. You can also use rubbing alcohol and a cosmetic sponge or cotton ball to gently swirl the paint off. Wear rubber gloves and wash the stencil off occasionally.

    Wash brushes in a bucket of water. The liquid can be dumped out and the residue can be collected by paper towels and disposed of. Brushes are easier to clean if the paint is fresh, and a brush scrubber is handy. For acrylic paints and the Easy Blend creams, Murphy's Oil Soap or dish detergent work well. If the acrylic paint has dried or is at all stubborn, use either Formula 409 or regular isopropyl alcohol to remove it. Put your brushes in a press-and-seal sandwich bag, and make sure they stand bristles down. Pour in a bit of the Formula 409 or rubbing alcohol and let them soak for awhile. Then, just rinse them. Be sure to let your brushes dry thoroughly before using them again.

    Constructing Wall Mural Backgrounds:
    A background can be as subtle as a watercolor wash or as bold as brick. Your vision and your budget will determine what you use as your background. You should have some sort of background in order for the mural to be convincing. For example, if you want to stencil a wildflower garden in your powder room, a covering of faint sky blue wash on the walls, deepening the color at the top and ceiling and sponging in faint clouds, would be a very inexpensive way of creating a background. Another relatively inexpensive background could be done using a combination of French wash in cream and terra cotta colors, and the 621 brick stencil done randomly on top of the wash in terra cotta and rust with touches of cream. Just position patches of the bricks so that it looks as if the wall is made up of both plaster and brick. To make the bricks appear as if they are peeking through holes in the plaster, you can make a shield. A shield is used to block out certain areas of the design, preventing paint from covering those areas.

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