stencil, cutout device of oiled or shellacked tough and resistant paper, thin metal, or other material used in applying paint, dye, or ink to reproduce its design or lettering upon a surface. Designing an art stencil differs from ordinary drawing, since the design itself must be cut away, and ties must be arranged to hold the background together and to give definition to the pattern, somewhat in the manner of lines in mosaic or leaded glass. In a repeating border or design, registers are cut to coincide with some small detail or dot to enable the user to place the stencil accurately for each repetition. It is held securely upon the surface, while the stencil brush (with square-cut stiff bristles) is manipulated to work the medium over it (in a circular movement for fabrics) until every detail is evenly colored. The technique has been employed since ancient times for the decoration of walls and ceilings, pottery, furniture, textiles, leather, and small objects. It is also used in mimeographing, addressing, and lettering cases or cartons for shipping. The Chinese and Japanese employ a tough mulberry paper, making intricate stencils that are collected for their beauty. The silk-screen stencil, an innovation in silk-screen printing, is used for posters, wallpapers and textiles. In handwork, silk fabric is stretched on a frame and then coated with glue or other impervious material; a stencil paste, rubbed on with a squeegee, passes through the uncoated portions. The method has been adapted by artists to make prints known as serigraphs.
See A. Bishop and C. Lord, The Art of Decorative Stenciling (rev. ed. 1985); L. LeGrice, The Art of Stenciling (1987).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.