Something There Is That Loves A Pre-cut Stencil-decorated Wall

Ellicott City Women Make A Business Of Wall Designs

April 21, 1991|By Dolly Merritt | Dolly Merritt,Contributing writer

Staring at four walls can get boring -- especially when they are non-descript.

That's why, one day in 1986, Jessie Sessions of Ellicott City decided to perk up her kitchen. With a little help from her friend, Lois Morrill -- a former free lance graphic artist who lives inColumbia -- the two women used pre-cut stencils to create a border of pineapples around the ceiling.

"We felt it still needed something," Sessions said. Aided by her artistic expertise, Morrill re-designed the stencil, enlarging the pineapples. Pleased with the results and that they had enjoyed the work, the two women decided to start a stenciling business.

"Our children were grown; it was something we could set up on our own," said Sessions.

As a result of "lots of practice" and diligent research onstarting a business, the twosome initiated "Stencil Touches."

Today, five years later, the women are up to their elbows in decorating jobs, with requests to stencil the walls of private residences, commercial interiors and five decorator show houses. Such show houses -- usually money-raisers for charities -- allow the public to tour a homethat's been decorated completely by specially selected designers.

The entrepreneurs divide the work. Sessions, who handles the finances of the business, blends the paints. Morrill designs the patterns and makes the stencils. Both women do the stencil painting.

Jobs consist of details like coordinating designs on walls and furnishings with patterns in sheets and towels, wallpaper and draperies. "We becomedecorators ourselves," Sessions said.

The women admit they are "always gung-ho" when a new job materializes and Sessions especially likes a challenge, such as the cathedral ceiling they stenciled that was "24 feet up."

Anyone can learn to stencil, and you don't have tobe a Michelangelo mastering tall ladders. Jessie Sessions and Lois Morrill offer these suggestions to beginners:

Select a small project, perhaps a stenciled motif on the back of a chair or on the side ofa mailbox. Pre-cut stencils can be purchased at craft stores or hardware stores. They also are available in kits that include instructions, stencils and, sometimes, paints.

The women recommend water-based paints because they are quick-drying. Novices should begin with no more than three colors. In fact, one color can achieve an interestingeffect, such as a white design painted on a Williamsburg blue background, or vice-versa. A flat latex or flat oil-base paint is a good background for wall stenciling.

If you are mixing colors, small margarine tubs make good mixing bowls, and the lids will keep leftover paints fresh in the refrigerator. Sessions and Morrill also use plasticfoam meat trays as pallettes to hold small amounts of paints.

Practice first. A sheet of blank newsprint is a good background on whichto experiment. A common error is using too much paint. The brush should be almost dry. After dipping the brush into the paint, dab it onto several layers of paper towels to remove the excess.

Sessions and Morrill use a "stippling" method, a dabbing motion applied to the stencil with a flat-edged stencil brush. Another method is to apply the paint in a clockwise and counterclockwise motion along the outer edges of the design -- working the brush toward the middle as you increase the intensity of the color.

"Think about the corners," Morrilladvised. Rather than beginning with the most dominant corner, as some instructions in stenciling kits suggest, Morrill begins in "the least observed corner." That way the artist becomes accustomed to the flow of the design and any irregularities are less obvious. "If you areright-handed, work to the right," she said.

Sometimes a portion of the design winds up in the center of a corner. One technique for going around angles is to think ahead and stretch or squeeze 1/2-inch or 1/4-inch of space per repeat of the pattern during the final one-third of the wall.

The women also suggest lining up the stencils properly by measuring. Usually, guide lines are indicated on many stencils, especially those in kits. Be sure to line up marks indicated onstencils to guide proper placement of successive painted designs.

As work progresses, stencils should be cleaned. Dip a raw cotton ball in rubbing alcohol and wipe across the stencil to remove paint. This should be done every two or four repeats of the pattern or wheneverthere is a heavy accumulation of paint.

Brushes also may need to be cleaned periodically while working. A small amount of alcohol poured onto several layers of paper towel will rejuvenate the brush when it is wiped across the towel. Do not saturate the bristles.

Now you are ready to begin.

SUPPLIES -- Acrylic stencil paint; stencil brushes in various sizes (one for each color); paper towels; masking tape; isopropyl alcohol; blank newsprint (available in craft stores); plastic foam meat trays; margarine tubs; ladder, if necessary.

STEPS -- 1. Attach stencil with masking tape to previously measured area.

2. Stir paint thoroughly; pour one or two tablespoons onto meat tray.

3. Keep stack of paper towels nearby to absorb excess paint.

4. Dip tip of brush lightly into paint; do NOT immerse bristles.

5. Dab brush onto towels until almost dry.

6. Dab onto design.

7. Allow about 30 seconds to dry.

8. Remove stencil and continue pattern until area is complete.

9. Apply overlay, lining up guide lines with painted area and continue as before.

10. Enjoy the fruits of your labor and get ready for your next project.

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