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Stencil and Masks - What's The Difference?


To kick off the Class (that's Keep It Simple Sparkly) I thought we would take a quick look at Masks and Stencils and find out what's the difference between the two.  For something that many of us use so often, it can be a little bit challenging to wrap our heads around what is a mask and what is a stencil.



Masks and stencils are amazingly fabulous art tools that help you reproduce a particular pattern, image, design or shape.  They allow an artist to retain proportion and a consistent look and feel, whether applied to just one design or many.  Masks and stencils can be used with a wide variety of products from paint to gel and many are reusable.   They allow you to add interest and complexity to your art and are seriously quite a bit of fun to play with - they are almost like magic, the way that designs can just 'appear' when you use them - no matter what level of skill you have. 

What's a Stencil?

A stencil is a piece of plastic, metal, wood or paper with letters or a design cut out of it.  The stencil is then used to recreate the design (or letters etc) on a surface placed under the stencil, by applying paint, ink etc through the holes in the stencil.  These holes are called 'islands'.  The areas surrounding the holes (and keeping the stencil from falling apart) are called 'bridges', these also prevent paint from reaching the surface underneath.

Islands and Bridges

When you apply paint or ink etc through the holes in a stencil - it creates a pattern or an image on the item beneath it.  Just for fun, here are a few projects where I have used stencils to create either an interesting background or the main image.

Stencil projects 1a

It's kind of interesting that 'the stencil' is both the object used to create the design and the design created!


What's a Mask?

A mask is basically the reverse of a stencil.  Rather than being a piece of paper, plastic or metal with a design cut out of it, a mask is the piece that has been cut out.  Instead of creating a design or pattern it creates a negative image - the reverse of a stencil.  Stencil vs Mask

Let me explain.   When you apply paint or medium using a mask you are NOT applying it through a design, but rather AROUND the Mask.  
I'll show you exactly what this looks like in the clip below.  When you apply paint or ink over a mask - it creates a negative image, by colouring the area AROUND the shape and leaving an empty space - in this case, the empty space is a particular shape or design.  These are a few projects where I have used masks to create a negative image for either a background or the main image.

  Projects with Masks

So What's the Difference?

Essentially the difference between masks and stencils, is a lot like a game of peek-a-boo - one conceals, the other reveals.  
I'll show you the difference and discuss a few practical examples in the clip below.



I hope that this has helped clear up the sometimes confusing world of Masks and Stencils!