Bees, Bears, and Blossoms – Part 1

Bears are related to seals, dogs, and raccoons. They are known to be protective mothers and have a keener sense of smell than sight.

This design was living in my imagination about 3 years before I began to work on it. I felt really stuck for a long time, just generally, which of course was reflected in my not doing much in the studio. About 9 months ago, I signed up for “Illustration Nation” at Sketchbook Skool, which offers terrific online courses for people who want to learn to sketch, or to begin sketching and drawing again. This is one of many courses they offer, all of them inspiring.

Because of the planning and design involved, creating a katazome stencil somewhat like illustration. I felt the workshop would help me bring this idea to life.

To become familiar with my subject, I began sketching bears from photos.

 various sketches of bears
various sketches of bears

Fun fact: according the Wikipedia, bears are in the family Ursidae (think Big Dipper—Ursa Major). They are “doglike” carnivores, and their closest living relatives are the pinnipeds (such as seals), canids (dog is one example), and musteloids (such as raccoons and weasels).

The next step was to try a few variations for the composition.

Garden Imagery, Stencil Design

My new katazome stencil was inspired by the Robins I wrote about in my last post and by the late spring/early summer garden. I started with sketches on newsprint of plants and a nest, and then chose the shapes I liked best. For the plants, I settled on Hosta from the garden and Wood Anemone, a native wildflower that I discovered growing just down the street in a city park. I worked out the composition by drawing shapes on black paper, cutting them out and arranging them on a white background. I then transferred this design to the back of the stencil paper (shibugami). I found these really great white opaque ink pens called Uniball Signo, which show up very well on the dark brown stencil paper. The nearly-final stencil in the bottom image still has a few narrow bridges that will be cut away during the next step of the process, which is to reinforce the stencil with silk netting, or “sha.”

Thinking through a stencil design

There are generally four ways to approach the design of katazome stencil – negative (dyed background), positive (dyed foreground), outline (resist lines on a dyed background) and string (dyed lines on a resisted background).  Here’s a simple design illustrating these four approaches. I’ve added bridges where necessary so the structure of the stencil holds together.



Oftentimes a single stencil will contain more than one of these approaches.


I am working on a stencil I call  “Spring” – some trees with branches and buds. I want to shift the shapes from negative on the bottom to positive on the top. The problem is how to navigate this transition gradually – I don’t want an abrupt break. I added a area of grass-like lines in the middle area of the composition. After attaching my cartoon to the surface of the shibugami (stencil paper), I sketched in some lines to clarify where I want to make my cuts. I made black marker lines to represent the positive leaves of grass – these I cut between –  and red marker lines to represent the negative leaves of grass. These I cut away.

Here’s the middle section after cutting.


It’s now ready to reinforce. (See the two “V” bridges at the top edge – these will be cut away.)