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Definition: stencil from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

In art, a thin plate of metal or other material out of which patterns have been cut for painting through the spaces on to a surface. A regular design can then be applied to the surface to be decorated. Stencils are commonly used on walls, fabric, and paper items.


Summary Article: stencil
from The Columbia Encyclopedia

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; C. Lord, The Art of Decorative Stenciling (rev. ed. 1985);.
  • LeGrice, L. , The Art of Stenciling (1987).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2018

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