Practice for stencil printing
Updated: Jul 15
I’ve written a number of blog posts on stencil printing techniques and I’m really happy to see people working with them. As I’m exploring new routes myself I thought this might be a good moment to write about taking the art and skills of fabric printing a step further in practice for stencil printing.
For me developing my skills, but most of all developing my own style, has mostly been a matter of printing and designing every day. I have been so enthusiastic about printing that I’ve never stopped doing it, there was always something that I’ve been inspired by, but after a while I did notice that there were moments where I seemed to plateau and felt that I was starting to repeat myself. Those were moments when I realised that I needed something more, a more structured practice. I am self taught so I’ve been discovering these things as I went over time, while this might be more evident when to anybody who has had a formal art education. For me it has meant a great deal to discover how to give more shape to my practice.
I realised I needed to give myself different kinds of assignments or challenges to dive deeper. Instagram and Skillshare are full of these kinds of challenges that you can take part in, but I wanted it to be suited to my specific technique, so I’ve started to set my own assignments. These kinds of assignments have in common that they are built around restraints, you are leaving things out and the restriction allows you to go deeper and explore more profoundly.
One of the challenges I’ve used has been to take my nature inspiration a step further. The limitations I set myself for this one were to use just one colour and choose a very simple motif. As I immersed myself in doing this I started exploring the possibilities I would have within these limits, how many different prints I’d be able to make using just one stencil with a very simple motif. A lot as it turns out. I called it my library of printed motifs (in time this has become an important part of my first Skillshare class). The practice has stretched my printing skills and helped me develop my style.
Right now I’m exploring the mid century modern design style as a departure to print patterns. A completely different direction with a simplicity of motifs and a lot of colour. I am right in the middle of my explorations and it’s too early to say where they are leading. As I am looking into this ‘design language’ I’m finding that the elements it is made up of are in themselves much older, going back decades to other style periods like Art Deco and often even centuries back. They are variations on a theme that express themselves differently in every time and age and so they will for me as I continue to work within this ‘style language’.
I have been holding back for a long time on taking existing art or design as an inspiration. I initially didn’t feel comfortable doing this. Then a couple of years ago someone recommended the book “Steal like an artist” to me by Austin Kleon. He makes very clear, what I have been rediscovering in my mid century explorations, that nothing is completely original, everything builds on what has been made before. Also artists have always been learning from their heroes, taking their work as an inspiration and then taking it further. I love the idea of themes being repeated and added onto in other times, as a part of other styles and with other techniques. So now I’ve got this out of the way I will certainly continue to use existing art and design as an inspiration. There is so much to learn there and to take me out of my comfort zone onto new roads that I might otherwise not have taken.
If you want to take your fabric printing to a next level it is interesting to set yourself an assignment or challenge along these lines. You can use all kinds of restraints as a starting point, maybe just using geometrical shapes (I had some fun with printing a variety of patterns made of just rectangles a couple of years ago), colour restrictions, a specific style period or whatever takes your fancy. Look for something that appeals to you and have fun playing with it!