Ask ceramists that work with stencils and the airbrush
why they use stencils, and chances are nine out of
ten they will answer, “Because I’m crazy.”
Stencils aren’t easy to work with in almost any situation.
They are tedious, time consuming, and take some spontaneity
out of the work. When using them on ceramic
pieces one doubles the problems of stencils-because
they are hard to tape, fix or glue in place.
So why would anyone ever be so crazy as to use them?
Because the people that use ceramic stencils with the airbrush
are “crazy like a fox:’ They 1910w that stencils and an
airbrush can create wonders, that they can add to
spontaneity-and really creative stencil airbrush pieces
sell like crazy.
Like the Doughnut and the Doughnut Hole
There are two kinds of stencils, the positive and the
negative stencil. Agood many ceramists are familiar with
the negative stencil. Ceramists from ancient times on have
used hand-held negative stencils, and in recent years the
“dry mount” stencil has been used extensively.
But not that many ceramists are familiar with the positive
stencil (see Illustration 1). It is the reverse of the negative
stencil. The easiest way to describe it is to say it is the
part of the negative stencil you usually throw away.
In some cases, however, it is not made of cardboard. It
can be a piece of cloth cut in the shape of an image or a
leaf or fern, which is then pasted or held onto the surface
Tips on Using Stencils
The negative hand-held stencil is pretty self-explanatory.
It’s the simplest to use, although the least versatile. It
allows for the least amount of spray.
Dry mount negative stencils need to be cut from a stiff,
but not rigid, piece of cardboard (see Illustration 2). Some
ceramists say they like to play around with corrugated
cardboard because it gives some images a ruffled look.
Other ceramists would ask you to leave their premises
(and never return under any circumstances) if you suggested
“ruffling” images. After the negative stencil is cut
out of the cardboard it can be mounted after the fashion of
the illustration below.
Positive stencils can be held down by hand or weighted
in place on the piece to be sprayed.
When the stencils are taped, held or pasted into place,
airbrushing can begin. Broad-tipped, single-action airbrushes
are often perfect for this type of spraying, although
some ceramists prefer finer spray, double-action
airbrushes to give them more control. Of course the finer
the tip on the airbrush, the thinner the glaze material you
Most glazes can be sprayed-including enamels, slips
and oxides. But remember, test each type of glaze before
spraying onto a favorite piece.
People who have been doing airbrush stencil work
point out two things. When using negative dry mount
stencils, use the stencil only as a gUide-don’t let it flatten
images-apply every technique that any airbrush painter
would use to create three-dimensional effects within the
stenciled area. The second thing is, remember that when
using the positive stencil technique it is the stencil, more
than the airbrush, that creates the most magic. So when
cutting positive stencils let your imagination run free to
get the most out of them.
One final note. Remember by spraying a glaze the airbrush
puts some of it into the air as breathable particles.
Avoid inhaling glazes. Spray outdoors if possible. If you
have to spray indoors, have the spraying area well ventilated
and always wear a particulate mask while
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