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by John Marshall


Stencils are subjected to quite a bit of abuse. To help cut down on this, a silk gauze netting (sha) is attached to the surface. This netting will help to hold delicate or floating areas in place as well as absorb most of the wear and tear generated by the spatula when applying the paste.


The process of applying the paint to the paper is called lacquering. This is a holdover from the time when real lacquer was used. However, it is paint that will be applied in this set of directions.


The net is attached to the paper with a bonding agent. In Japan, this is most often done with a synthetic lacquer, called kashu, which is highly toxic and outlawed in most states in the US for home use. Fortunately, there is a good substitute – water (latex) based paint. Paint designed for floors works best. Select a color that will not be distracting, yet one that contrasts with the cloth to be used and with the stencil paper itself. Black, terracotta, or dark brown are all suitable choices.


The following is a nontraditional method I developed and growing in popularity in Japan, using water based floor latex paint and a foam rubber swab.


▶︎Prepare a pile of newspapers by laying each sheet out flat in a stack on a table. Spray each sheet lightly with a mist of water.


▶︎Prepare a dauber for applying the paint by using a sheet of foam rubber approximately 12" square by 1/2" thick. Wad another piece, approximately 6" square, and place it in the center of the first.  Pull the edges up around the wad to form a ball and tie it off securely with strong string. Wind any excess string around the gathered foam to create a handle.


▶︎Measure and cut your netting to size slightly larger than stencil-with-borders.


▶︎Lay your stencil out on the moistened newspaper, right side up. Smooth the netting out on top of the stencil, lining the weave up with the borders.


▶︎Spray lightly. Allow this to sit for a moment and then blot off any excess water. This will help to keep the netting from meandering during the next step.


▶︎If you are right handed, place your left hand in the upper left corner of the stencil to steady the netting. Working from the center to the right, apply paint with the dauber, sparingly, yet enough to achieve even coverage. Work toward the lower right corner, repositioning your left hand as you proceed to keep the netting from shifting.


▶︎While picking up the newspaper with the stencil on it, turn the stack 180 degrees. The area with the paint applied should now be on your left. Place a moistened sheet of newspaper over the lacquered area to keep paint from soiling on your left hand and repeat the process above.


▶︎Discard the sheet of newsprint on top of the stencil.


▶︎Lay a fresh, moistened sheet over the entire surface of the stencil and blot off any excess paint. Repeat two or three times with fresh newspaper.


▶︎With a fresh layer of paper on top of the stencil, pick up the entire pile and flip it over, face down. Gently remove the paint-soaked paper from the back side of the stencil.


▶︎Change the paper again, this time gently rubbing with the flat of your hand in the direction of the weave. Continue changing the paper in this manner until virtually no paint transfers to the newsprint.


▶︎Sandwich the stencil/net between fresh sheets and place them on a firm, flat surface, such as a table top. Place several more sheets of dry paper above and below. Weight the entire surface evenly. Old telephone books or encyclopedias, placed side by side, work very well as convenient weights.


▶︎Allow the weighted stencil to sit until the paint is almost dry. Uncover the stencil and cut away any unwanted bridges in your design.


▶︎Place the stencil between fresh layers of newspaper and weight again (and wait again).


▶︎Periodically, check to make sure that the stencil is not sticking to the newsprint as the paint continues to dry. Change the newsprint as necessary.


How long this entire process takes depends entirely on the temperature and humidity levels in your area. Although it may take a little longer to complete the entire process, the best time to work is on a cool rainy or foggy day. Otherwise, very early in the morning is better than late in the afternoon.


▶︎A second coat of paint is required. Begin by trimming the edges by approximately 1/16" in from the edge of stencil on all four sides, cutting through the netting and the paper. Double check to make sure all bridges have been removed.


▶︎Apply a second coat of paint with the dauber. Blot once with newspaper, top and bottom. Eliminate all clogged areas of the netting, if any. Place the stencil on fresh newspaper and allow it to sit in open air to dry completely, lacquered side up.


It is best to let the paint cure a couple of days before pressing the stencil into service.

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