One very important technique in the creation of airbrush painting is the use of stencils or masks. These can vary from simple flame cut-outs and various other effects, to more complex pictures like skulls, wings and figures etc. Often seen on motorcycles, cars, helmets even t-shirts.
Pre-cut stencils are available available from a number of outlets and the range in complexity and styles are quite extensive. Prices vary according to complexity and can range from $ 10 up to a couple of hundred. The stencils are generally made of semi-rigid plastic which can be either held by hand or secured with sticky tape.
Other types can be bought which are adhesive backed – this might be in the form of a Logo or design for your Guitar or other personal item. Once sprayed, the stencil is removed which generally destroys it. So unlike the semi-rigid types, these can only be used once.
Home made Stencils
Making your own stencils can be achieved by the use of different techniques and materials, so let's have a look at a few of each: –
Paper or Card
A very easy medium to use, although can easily damaged when removing from the work surface. As an example let's look at a Skull – very popular with Airbrush Artists. Draw the outline of the skull on the card, including other features like eye sockets and nose holes and cut out with a sharp knife. You now have a positive (the skull) and a negative of your picture.
Using the positive stencil, (the skull itself), spray around the outline and then spray the eyes sockets and nose – with else another color. When you remove the stencil, your work surface color forms the outline of the skull. Alternatively, spray inside the negative of the stencil so that the paint color forms the skull outline. Place the skull over next, and spray the eye sockets etc. In both cases, finally remove the stencil and finish off the fine details of the skull – teeth outline, shadowing etc – by spraying free hand with your airbrush.
Cover the work surface with adhesive plastic tape – Frisket tape is ideal as it is not too sticky and will not pull the paint off the surface. Fix a copy of the negative of the picture you want to create. Using a sharp knife cut out the key features of the picture and remove the tape to reveal the work surface below.
If using a dark background, start with removing the outlines of bright colors from your design, and then spray. Carry on to the next bright color, and so on. If your background is bright the opposite applies, and do not forget that the background color is also forming part of your design.
I am not very keen on this method as no matter how careful you are with the knife, it is fairly likely that you may damage the work surface.
Use of this material is ideal as the resulting stencil is more durable and quite complex designs can be achieved with them. Place the picture you wish to create on a solid flat surface – wood or pin board eg – then fix the plastic sheet over the top. Use a sharp knife to cut out the key features of the picture. Alternately, you can use an Electric Hot Iron with a fine point to cut out the parts. The heat of the iron easily melts away the plastic as you follow the contours of your design. These irons are readily available for this purpose.
Once the features are cut out the inserts can be discarded and the created stencil removed for use with your project work surface.
Pre-cut or Home Made?
Well, it seems both have their advantages.
For the beginner, pre-cut is probably the best way forward but not practical if you are on a very low budget. Plus some great effects and designs can be achieved with just a very basic design cut from cardboard.
For the more Experienced Airbrush Artist, the use of pre-cut stencils can possibly stifle your creativity. To achieve a design unique to yourself means creating your own Stencils. Plus, if you want to recreate a design that you really like – sometimes from the internet – then creating your own stencil is the only way to go.
You should not dismiss the use of pre-cut stencils as there are many great designs available to the Airbrush Artist, which will be beneficial to the artist learning and gaining experience in Airbrush Techniques. Also these are great if you feel that you are not up to creating your own designs.
However, I would like to reiterate the cost factor of pre-cut. Whereas, for the small price of some basic stencil materials and the free time which costs you nothing, then nothing compares to the satisfaction of creating your design.
So for me, home made is king. Of course, you may disagree.