Right. So there I was, a black teenager hiding in the bushes at some white suburban park, with David's naked body tucked snuggly into my trendy messenger bag. The red and blue cop lights were digging into my eyes, causing me to lose my 20/20 vision, and making me nearly pee my pants. But apparently everything was cool, because after the police saw my handiwork on that stupid po-mo, ridiculous-looking metal garbage, they let out a hearty, donut filled laugh and then walked away without shinning their bright ass flashlights all over my hiding place.

Luckily they must have shared my sentiment. I live in a nice, homely suburb of Milwaukee that has a nice, quaint "old time" village area that holds a few historical buildings and such. During the summer they used to hold free concerts on Friday nights in a huge, open grass area, and right around post-summer/pre-fall they would hold a festival every year in that same grass space with carnival-esque rides for the kiddies. But in an attempt to get the local economy going (since they blew it on North Avenue by bringing in a bunch of new business, but then forgetting about making room for parking) they decided to destroy all the nice area we had in exchange for a huge parking structure/apartment combo, and a hip Starbucks that kicked out our local coffee seller (even though his coffee sucked). And to commemorate the new, updated version of what we thought was our town they threw in some ridiculous, and hideous, metal crap that was supposed to pass as some sort of art structure or something.

Well, I, for one, was not about to let this corporate/capitalist/opportunist take over happen right in the neck of my woods, and in order to show my dissatisfaction of such actions I would not throw a trash can through the Starbucks and then set it ablaze, or rob the new tenants blind (they're just people trying to live too), but instead I would attack that gaudy art junk that represented the hip, new take over. And since I couldn't figure out how to put a decent bomb together from reading the faulty Anarchists Cookbook, I decide to fight art in true guerrilla style!

The only problem was that I have absolutely no visual artistic talents to speak of. My class time doodles always turn out to be stick men with speech bubbles telling me to get a job, or random squiggles that encompass large spaces with no real shape or form. Admittedly, I could have just splashed a few buckets of random paint all over the stupid statues, but as Conrad and I have already decided, abstract art is shit, but that would have been too easy. So, inspired by the guerrilla art tactics of Banksy, I decided I'd make myself a few stencils. Only problem was, I didn't quite know how to do that yet.

But luckily for you, chum, I figured it out, so you won't have to! So, dig, on:

(how to make a) Stencil

The first thing we need to do, as new students attending Stencil Making 101 is to understand exactly what a stencil is, because all though I'm sure you've seen, and possibly used, stencils before I'm also sure you never really took much time to think about what was really going on. A stencil is basically a piece of something with a bunch of junk cut out of it. For a more poetic definition check out our trusty Webby below, or just forget you read this paragraph at all.

Anyway, the following is going to take the three most essential components of successful stencil making and use and cram them into a tight, compact, hopefully easy to understand tutorial that'll have you out and beautifying your city in no time at all. Those three important things are Image Making, Stencil Cutting, and Stencil Applicationing. Here is a list of things you're going to need in order to follow along:


  • Exacto blade
  • Spray adhesive
  • Cardboard or poster board
  • Photoshop
  • Printer
  • Messenger bag

Image Making

All right, the first thing you are going to do on your journey to the stencil realm is finding the picture that you desire to make into a stencil. Make sure that the picture has a nice amount of light and that everything is very defined, because if it is blurry or too dark/light you won't be able to get the contrast that you desire to make an adequate stencil. The bigger the original picture the better, but if you have a small picture you want to use don't worry about it, as you can always make it larger before you mess with the contrast.

Once you have your desired picture selected go ahead and open up Photoshop, or any similar photo editing software that you may possess. Now open the picture you decided to use in the photo editing program you decided to use and then we'll get down to business.

All right, is the photo open? Seriously? Because if it isn't this isn't going to work. Got it? Good. Now this is going to go by quick, and seem easy, but it'll take a while to master, so pay attention. First thing to do is to desaturate your picture. This is going to render your picture powerless...err, colorless and that'll enable you to get the black/white that you want. If you are already working with a picture that is black and white you obviously can skip over this first step.

Now the next step is the most essential step of making your stencil, because basically it is going to define the outcome of your stencil. Here you want to open up your Brightness/Contrast tool and start to mess around, making the darks more defined and getting rid of anything that isn't really apart of the stencil you make. You're probably going to want to increase both the brightness and contrast, because rarely will you find a picture that needs to be darkened anymore than it already is. Keep in mind while doing this that if you lose some of the picture, and breaks are created, that that is OK. In fact, you partly want that to happen, because the black is what you're going to be cutting out later, and obviously any white "islands", as they're called, are going to be lost if there aren't any "bridges", as they're called.

This can be the extent of the picture manipulation that you need to go through, especially if you're happy with how you're contrast tweaking came out. But if you didn't get it as good as you'd like you can do a quick little trick that'll help you out some. After getting some rough contrast go to Color Range (we're talking Photoshop here) and choose shadows. This is just highlighting all of the black on your picture. Next you'll want to invert the highlighted area, create a new layer, and then using the paint bucket fill in the highlighted area with black paint. Now get rid of the background layer. Ta. Da!

There is your future stencil outline. The most important, and I cannot stress this enough, thing in this stage of production is making sure you do not have any white islands, because not only will it be a hassle in the next stages if you forget, but it's also going to ruin your stencil.

Stencil Cutting

Cool, now we're on to the actual making of the stencil stage. Aren't you getting excited? Cool. You're going to have to go get those items listed in the ingredients list and then we can get down to business. Got 'em? Sweet! This is going to go fast too.

Right now you should have a heavy piece of something in front of you, weather it's cardboard or poster board is up to you, because anything will work. In fact, if you just want to skip the whole durability thing you can just use the piece of paper you've printed out of your newly contrasted picture, and then after cutting it out you can go ]laminate\ it and then cut it again. But forget that, that's for wussies, so you're going to need either cardboard or poster board. Personally I've gotten into the habit of using poster board simply because I found some lying around my house when I decided to do this. Feel free to use that pizza box you've got sitting on your kitchen table, you lazy bum.

Now then, grab your spray adhesive and spray up your hard surface of choice. You don't need to go overboard with the spraying, because soggy paper is hard to cut through, so just get enough on it that it'll hold the paper you're about to throw on it. Okay. Now throw that paper on it! Press it down and make sure it's held firmly in place, because sliding will not be tolerated.

Next pick up your exacto blade. Once again you can use any sharp object you can think of, but for me I like the exacto blade because it was the first thing I saw and it also has a nice flexibility to it to get round edges perfectly. When cutting out your black areas (and remember, for the love of God, you're cutting out the black areas!) remember that you need to cut in deep enough to go all the way through your harder surface. This might get annoying while getting into the nooks of your stencil, but if you keep your cool you'll do just fine.

Hopefully by now you have your stencil completed, and ready to go. It's time for the final step.

Stencil Applicationing

Now that you have your stencil all finished it's time to put it to good use. Before you take it to the streets you're going to need to get some good practice in, so find a wall that you can try it out first on before you get down to real business. If you can't find a junk wall you can always tape up some cardboard on the wall and then test it out on that.

When using your stencil get used to going real fast, because you're not going to want to diddle-daddle around while you're out on the streets hitting up some prime location. However, while you need to be quick you need not be sloppy, because anyone who sees a half-assed execution of a stencil is going to automatically dismiss is at petty nonsense. You need to watch your over spray, because if there's a black, boxed outline around your image it's just going to look silly.

Another thing to watch out for is your fingers. When you're in a rush the best thing to do is to hold the stencil up with your hands, but if you have the time you can, in theory, use your spray adhesive to hold it up for you. This works, but then you're going to be spraying spray paint over spray adhesive and it won't be a long lasting that way.

This is also where your hip messenger bag can come in handy. Not only will it make you look cool as heaven, but it'll also make for easy access to your stencils and spray paints. Now take to the streets, fool.

Right. So there I was, searching the internet for the most famous naked man ever in history, and it twas not Ron Jeremy, but instead it was David, the famous statue done by Michelangelo in the 1501, before he had gotten that ooze all over him and turned into a pizza-eating, teenage samurai in turtle form. After I had found a suitable David picture, and Photoshoped him out with the perfect contrast for my stencil, I decided he needed a partner in crime, and preferably someone who would make equal amounts of sense. Well, who in the history of art has made as much sense, and had as recognizable of a face, than Salvador Dalí? All facial antennae pointed to him as being my man, and his face was soon Photoshopped, and printed out, and there he sat next to David.

I then took the operation out to the garage, as such subversive actions as public vandalism must be treated with the utmost secrecy. With exacto blade, spray adhesive, and poster board in hand I began to make my very first stencils. Naturally I messed up several times, forgetting to connect islands and the like, so a few more copies had to be printed out, but eventually I got it down and had two prime time stencils on my hands.

For the finishing touches I needed to make it funny. Sure, a huge naked man and a weirdo with antennas to heaven is funny, but I had to take it that step or two further that would make a point, of sorts, and not make my efforts seem the work of teenage art hooligans. After some deliberation I made up speech bubbles for each of them...

What happened to my town!? This isn't my town!

Nor is it art, my good man!

Sten"cil (?), n. [Probably from OF. estincelle spangle, spark, F. 'etincelle spark, L. scintilla. See Scintillate, and cf. Tinsel.]

A thin plate of metal, leather, or other material, used in painting, marking, etc. The pattern is cut out of the plate, which is then laid flat on the surface to be marked, and the color brushed over it. Called also stencil plate.


© Webster 1913.

Sten"cil, v. t. [imp. & p. p. Stenciled (?) or Stencilled; p. pr. & vb. n. Stenciling or Stencilling.]

To mark, paint, or color in figures with stencils; to form or print by means of a stencil.


© Webster 1913.

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