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.)

Ice, sky, water

The ice started to go out of the little lake about a week ago.

Have you ever noticed how the wind etches a large scale water-like pattern on the icy surface of a pond? You can see this when the winter is short on snow, as this one has been.

I’m seeing water everywhere.


For several years now I’ve wanted to make a naturalistic repeating water pattern. I finally got down to it. This will repeat horizontally. It was very tricky to register. I had so much trouble so rather than drive myself crazy I decided to allow the pattern to drift about 1/4″ upwards to the right with each “print,” which will make it look more naturalistic anyway. To accommodate my imprecision, I made sure the shapes at top and bottom of stencil have no straight edges.

Sketches to stencils

I usually start designing a stencil by doing some sketches of my idea. In this piece, I want to combine some pasted background imagery including a moon and some branch and leaf-like forms over the leaf impressions made by the eco-print (see my previous post) Then I’ll add pigments in subtle shades of blue and green, let the piece cure a few days and then rinse out the paste. Over this layer I will paste a single stencil of branches and blackbirds. Here are my initial sketches on newsprint for the final stencil.


Next, I work out a cartoon from my sketches, combining the imagery from the sketches. (I probably have no business making a stencil with this much open area (that is, area to be cut away), but I’m curious and committed to see how my idea works out – or not, as the case may be!) I make design adjustments both after tracing the stencil and while I am cutting it. This one will need lots of bridges to give it stability because of all the open areas. The moon is missing because it will be pasted from a separate Yupo stencil.

A light coat of spray adhesive adheres the cartoon to my stencil paper, which has been cut to allow an ample margin on all sides. My image is larger than my stencil paper so will be spread across two pieces of shibugami.

This week I am pasting and dyeing the under-layers, and hope to share a bit of that work later this week.