How to Stencil Perfectly Every Time: an easy DIY tutorial

Last year I revamped three old tray tables that had been collecting dust in our storage closet.  I knew that a fresh coat of paint would brighten them considerably, but the real punch came when I stenciled the tops.  These little tables now get good use around our house, and I'm still delighted with how they turned out.  (Click here to see before-and-after pictures!) 

Lately I've been on a stenciling kick again, and I want to share a quick tutorial on how to stencil perfectly every time.

1) Choose your stencil kit.  I've enjoyed these Martha Stewart patterns, which I bought at Michael's with a 40% off coupon.  So far, I've used three different designs on three separate projects, so I'm getting extensive use from the kit.

2) Prep your surface.  Little work needs to be done during this step if you're stenciling a blank canvas or an already-painted piece of furniture, but if you need to establish a base coat first, paint the surface and allow ample time to dry.

3) Choose your paint.  When stenciling, I like to use wall paint, which is thicker, and therefore less runny, than acrylic paint.  You often can purchase small wall paint samples from home improvement stores (between $1 and $3) or get small bottles of acrylic paint in a multitude of colors (often under $1 at most craft stores.)

Wondering what colors work well together?  Refresh your knowledge of the color wheel (click here for a great HGTV tutorial), and determine whether a monochromatic, analogous, or complimentary approach best suits your design.

4) Adhere your stencil.  I've been on the fence about whether it's necessary to use spray adhesive while stenciling.  After completing projects both with and without adhesive, I've determined that it's not essential to mount the stencil with adhesive for small projects when I can hold the stencil still with one hand while applying paint with the other.  For large-scale projects or pieces I want to get perfect, however, I use adhesive to keep the stencil in place and lines crisp.

When in doubt, err on the side of caution.  Spray adhesive (sold at craft stores) prevents smudges and the need for touch-ups, which ultimately saves time and minimizes frustration.

5) Get to work with spouncers.  These foam applicators (also Martha Stewart, and also bought with a coupon from Michaels) make for an easy and smooth application of paint on whatever surface you're stenciling.  Once your stencil is set, dab the tip of the spouncer into paint and then lightly tap the paint until all exposed surface is covered thoroughly.

Once you're done with a section, lift the stencil carefully and let the area dry thoroughly before continuing the pattern.  (Patience is required here, little grasshopper.)  Repeat as many times as necessary.

6) Clean up.  To keep your stencils in good condition, gently wash off all paint after each use.  I rinse my stencils in the kitchen sink, using a sponge to wipe away any residual paint and then blot them dry.

7) Bask in your creation!  These simple canvases are some of my latest stenciling projects, and I've hung them as decorations in my daughters' bedrooms.  I used a sunburst pattern and alternated colors until the majority of the canvases were filled.

And there you have it: easy tips on how to stencil perfectly every time!  

Be sure to visit tomorrow to see my favorite DIY project of the summer: the restoration of an outdated end table that I snagged for just $5 at a garage sale.  It's a beauty!

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