Saturday, October 31, 2020

Cleaning and Storing Stencils: A Better Way

They're great for making art, but storing and cleaning stencils can be a pain. If you're like me, your stencil collection is (1) very large, (2) consists of stencils in a wide range of sizes and (3) encrusted with multiple layers of dried paint. 

I'm referring here to plastic stencils, although some of what I'm going to share with you can be applied to metal and paper stencils too:

Tip #1:Keep 'em clean. In the past I was so guilty of not doing this. I'd allow layer upon layer of acrylic paint to build up on my stencils until their image quality began to suffer. When that happened, I'd gird my loins, fortify myself with a glass of wine, and conduct a marathon stencil cleaning operation that sometimes lasted a couple of days. I dreaded these sessions (but the wine helped!)

After one especially grueling cleaning session I finally wised up. I began rinsing off my stencils immediately after each use. Under running water the paint slides off the stencils effortlessly. If you don't have running water in your studio, just fill a waterproof pan or bucket with warm water, and add a bit of Murphy Oil Soap or mild detergent.Toss the stencils in as you use them, allowing each to soak 30 minutes or longer. Remove them when the paint slips off easily. Rinse off any remaining cleaner and paint, then press each stencil between layers of paper towel to dry it. Now you're ready to store them. (See #2) 

Tip #2: Store 'em flat. For years I kept most of my midsize-to-small stencils in a cabinet drawer. I'd toss them in on top of one another willy nilly. When it came time to locate a particular stencil, I had to remove a big plastic mess from the drawer and spend a lot of time cautiously teasing each piece out from it. This wasted a lot of time. And it also risked tearing more fragile or detailed stencils.

When I stumbled upon a stack of old, used manila file folders waiting to be sent to the recycling bin, it seemed like a good idea to put them to better use than ending up in a shredder.

 Most of my stencils nowadays are fairly small,  (roughly 6x8 or 6x6), highly detailed and made of very thin plastic. They're quite finely detailed and therefore delicate. 

I found that cutting the old letter size file folders in half vertically created a nice little "home" for each of these smaller stencils. To make locating a particular design easier I used a single color of paint to stencil each design to the outside of its respective folder.

Storing the folders is a cinch. You can pop them into a zip top bag, stash them in a file cabinet, or simply store them in a decorative box, basket or bin in your studio. Your stencils will last longer in their protective folders and you'll find using them to be so much easier and more convenient.

  Shown above: MB Makes Marks Marker Stencil, by Mary Beth Shaw and available from StencilGirl Products, 

Stencil design ©2020 StencilGirl Products 

Text and photo © 2020 Lynn Edwards