Public Art Stencils (tutorial)

By Cate Tinsley and Rebecca Arends in Ann Arbor, MI – November 2016

public art stencilsAfter the sudden rise in hate crimes across the USA in November, 2016, Rebecca and Cate decided to paint one of the Ann Arbor utility boxes (that faces the exit into Ann Arbor off the major highway) with a welcome message.  Cate made a custom design using simple, universal symbols of peace (an olive branch, a dove and the word “welcome” in the top spoken languages).

1.  Rebecca painted the background color in a deep eggplant/indigo.

2.  Cate made three stencils:  the branch, dove and “welcome” words.

3.  They chose paint colors:  Branch – gray/purple for the branch, muted green for the leaves, darkest purple/black for the olives, metallic silver and copper for highlights.  Dove – white and olive branch colors for the piece in its mouth.  Welcome words – metallic silver and copper mixed.




Stenciling the Olive Branch

public art stencils4.  Cate started with the branch.  Stenciling different colors onto a single stencil is easy with stencil brushes.

Tape up the stencil and have all of your paint colors ready with a different stencil brush for each.

Dab in each color and be careful to avoid using too much paint on your brush.  This helps prevent leakage.

This method takes a little longer than using a roller with just one color.  Once you’ve practiced a few times, however, it can go quite quickly.

Stenciling highlights5.  You can add highlights by hand once your basic colors have been applied.

You do not need to be an artist to do this.  All it takes is a little brush stroke.  It adds depth to branches, trees, flowers, fruits, etc.

Choose your highlight color(s) and with a small paintbrush, add a stroke to leaves, fruits or flowers (in this case it was the leaves and olives).

Tip: it helps to choose a direction that your “light” is coming from to create believable highlights.



Stenciling the Dove

6.  The dove was stenciled in white – very simple.Dove stencil

Cate used a brush instead of a roller, even though it was just one color.  The purpose of this was to get as clean a line as possible.

Cate added highlights and cleaned up any leak spots.  With such high contrasting colors, leak spots are more apparent.

Leaks can be fixed easily, however, by using a small paintbrush with your background color.

Normally, a Q-tip in water would clean up leak spots, but this is not the case with exterior paint, which is not water soluble.

Just make sure to keep some leftover background paint color on hand.



Welcome words stencilStenciling Welcome Words

7.  Cate stenciled the “welcome” words in a mix of metallic silver and copper paints.

Cate arranged the words on one stencil and used a roller for this.

She poured the silver and copper paints into a paint tray.  They merged together, but were not mixed.

This helped to create a vibrant multi-tone look.

The words really pop when the sun hits them, but are also elegant in the neutral tones.




public art stencils

public art stencilsThis project only took 2 hours to create!  It not only serves as a warm welcome to visitors, but it is also a successful graffiti prevention tactic (more on this in our Community page).  Also, you can store the stencils and reuse them in case any damage occurs.  If damage does happen, the fix is fast and easy.

Press:  MLIVE – New Painting Welcomes Visitors to Ann Arbor…