Stencilings Ambitions Go Beyond the Mere Utilitarian

Ever heard someone say, pejoratively, that stenciling is only for those that like to color inside the lines? Or that a true artist does everything free-hand, like the free-spirit he or she should be? Well, such statements crop up so often that they’d hardly register at all if it weren’t for their dogged and steadfast perenniality. Yes, a handicap stencil is more than just a little bit useful to the formalist city-worker divvying up parking lot spaces, but even that blatantly utilitarian stencil can be used in less regulatory fields. It’s up to the individual wielding the stencil and the paint can.

The number stencil, just like the handicap stencil, is also accused of being the epitome of a stencil applicable for undiluted utility only; they say it’s completely incapable of being used for the creation of beauty. But what about that starry-eyed soccer player, the one that fancies her lucky team number so much she decides to take a number seven stencil, in a marvelous font type, and fabric-paint it over the entire surface of her team travel bag. The result: a majestic print à la Louis Vuitton for the athletically committed. Of course, having gone thus far, that same athlete is most likely to grab a letter stencil, or two (say, a V and an I), and create a truer LV semblance on her regular school backpack.

The reason stenciling is sometimes relegated to the category of quasi-artistic activity is that it’s frankly, and quite understandably, regarded as an antiquated mode of printing. There’s some truth to that, but notwithstanding this one use among so many, it’s quite plain to see that stenciling is in and of itself an artistic discipline. Take out any wonderfully ornate brass stencil to see it. On the brass stencil one can admire the beauty of the stencil form and of the shapes it creates on other surfaces through its intricate cut-out windows.

Of course, it’s not just anybody who can create brass stencils at home — metal-cutting is somewhat difficult — but if you create an exceptional stencil design it’s possible to have someone transfer it onto a brass plate or onto one made of another hard material. Nay-sayers or yea-sayers, just do your own thing.

Sam Walters is a writer living in Los Angeles. Her writing appears in print and online.

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