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.

Awakening the furniture, carving a stencil

This week I painted a little table that belonged to my grandmother. It had been serving as a neglected yet useful platform for the dog food container in the basement, until it dawned on me that I should paint it. I would guess it’s a 1940’s era piece – drop leaved, long legged and compact. One small drawer put together with a dovetail joint. I painted it an earthy barn red, not wanting to strip and re-varnish it.
This attention to furniture led me to dust the rest of the surfaces in the house – a task that I have always enjoyed. I’m still inching through the book, The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard, I found this poetic (yet very dated) passage:

“Objects that are cherished in this way really are born of an intimate light, and they attain to a higher degree of reality than indifferent objects, or those that are defined by geometric reality … The housewife awakens furniture that was asleep.” And, “A house that shines from the care it receives appears to have been rebuilt from the inside; it is as though it were new inside. In the intimate harmony of walls and furniture, it may be said that we become conscious of a house that is built by women, since men only know how to build a house from the outside, and they know little or nothing of the “wax” of civilization.”

I spent the afternoon completing a stencil that I’ll be using in a wall piece (a variation on a previous piece) about my sister’s house, which interprets a view from the woods above the house. I’ve designed this stencil a repeat on the horizontal dimension.

tree stencil (cut from shibugami ) horizontal repeat, © Kit Eastman
tree stencil © Kit Eastman