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How-Tuesday: Stenciled Handwriting Art

Dec 14, 2010

by Julie Schneider

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

With just a steady hand and a few basic supplies, you can whip up a personalized holiday gift that pays tribute to the handwriting of a favorite friend or family member. Write a love letter to your crush, make a memento for a mom, or create a family keepsake for your grandparents. In this week’s How-Tuesday project, Australian artist Emma, a.k.a. Blue Day Designs, shares her detailed stencil-making expertise.


I’m Emma and I live on a farm a few hours from Melbourne. I love making children’s portraits and stenciled artworks. Getting out into the shed with a can of spray paint is my favourite pastime. (Geeky, but true.)
 
I was inspired to make this project after my aunt showed me a postcard written by my grandfather when he was 5 years old (in 1906!). I loved the old-fashioned writing and thought it would look great as a stenciled artwork. It was great fun to enlarge his writing and then cut it out of paper – it looked really beautiful even as a paper stencil.

This tutorial focuses on making a stenciled artwork featuring children’s handwriting. The handwriting can be yours, your child’s, your grandparents – anyone’s. This is a unique way to preserve a child’s writing, whilst creating an edgy artwork at the same time. A stenciled artwork featuring a child’s handwriting creates the perfect personalized gift. 

Here are some more ideas for making this project your own:
    •    Use a sample of your partner’s 1st Grade writing to make a surprise gift
    •    Do “his” and “hers” handwriting artworks for newly married friends
    •    Recreate your child’s first handwritten message to Grandma
    •    …The possibilities are endless!

 

Materials Needed:

  • An image manipulation program such as Photoshop or GIMP. (Go here to download Gimp for free.)
  • Sample of some handwriting
  • Scanner and printer
  • Cardboard
  • Cutting knife or scalpel
  • Self-healing cutting mat
  • Can of adhesive spray
  • Spray paint
  • Canvas
  • Safety mask

 

Directions:

 

 

 

1. Get a copy of some handwriting. I’m going to use this sample of my grandfather’s writing as a child, taken from the bottom of a postcard. You only need to use a few sentences or a phrase, and it doesn’t matter if the handwriting is messy. (It looks better that way!) 

2. Scan your handwriting and open it in your image program.

First, crop any edges so that you just have your writing. I’ve cut out the picture from the postcard so I just have writing. In Photoshop go to Image>Crop.

 

 

You might then have to clean up the image, getting rid of any marks or writing you don’t want. In Photoshop, select the Pencil Tool, then use the Color Selector to choose a white color.

 

 

 

Then just start erasing unwanted marks or writing. Below, you can see I’ve started to erase some printed text on the post card, and some of the pinkish background.

Now I want to make the writing a little bit darker, and completely get rid of the slight pinkish tone in the background.  In Photoshop, go to Enhance>Adjust Color>Replace Color.
 
The Replace Color box will come up. It looks like this:

Using the little eye droppers you select the color you want to change. I clicked on the pinkish background. Then, go to the “lightness” setting and push it all the way up to the right. This will lighten the pink. Then press OK.
 
To darken the writing, bring up the Replace Color box again and this time use the eye-dropper to select some of the colors of the writing.  Move the “lightness” setting down towards the left, and you’ll see all the writing gradually get darker.

You should end up with something like this.

 

   3. Depending on how you want to lay out your final stencil, you may have to move words around, or put them into different lines.  I want to move my top line a little to the left. In Photoshop do this by selecting the Selection Brush Tool. Use this tool to highlight the text you want to move. I’ve highlighted the top line of text by drawing around it with the Selection Brush Tool.

 

 

Then, select the Move Tool.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And use this tool to move the text to where you’d like it. I’m moving it slightly to the left.

 

 

 

 

 

My design now looks like this.

 

 4. You need all the white parts of the design to be connected so that when you cut your stencil out it all hangs together. This means you now have to get rid of any “white islands” (isolated sections of white).  
 
Here are some white islands in my handwriting sample; the “white islands” are the white circles in the middle of the O and bottom of the Y.

In your design, look for white islands and connect them up to another bit of white by drawing a white line through some black to connect the white sections up. (To draw the white lines in Photoshop select the Pencil Tool, then use the Color Selector to choose a white color and you can start drawing).
 
With the Y I looked for the place where the black was the thinnest and just drew a little white line in. With the O there was no thin place, so I just drew a line where the O connected at the top.

The white lines you draw should be at least .25″ (.5cm) wide. If they are too thin they might break when you cut them out.

5. Now all you have to do is decide what size you’d like your stenciled artwork to be. To make cutting out the stencil easier, it is best if the letters are at least 4″ (10cm) high. Use Photoshop or GIMP to resize your design to whatever size you’d like it to be. (In Photoshop go to Image>Resize>Image Size then select your dimensions).
 
6. Print your design. Depending on what size your stencil design is, you might need to go to a professional printer to get it printed out. Ask for it to be printed on ordinary 80gsm thickness paper (printer paper, not card stock).
 
7. Buy some cardstock (around 250gsm) at a size a bit bigger than your stencil design. (You can buy two bits and tape them together if your design is very big).

Step 8. Trace your stencil design onto the cardstock. It will probably be too hard to do this on a table, because the cardstock is normally too thick to see through. So, you can tape your stencil design to a window, then tape the cardboard in front of it.

Using a sharp pencil, trace your design onto the cardstock.

9. Once you’ve traced all the letters it’s time to cut out your stencil. This is probably the most time-consuming part of the process. Put the cardstock onto the self-healing mat and start cutting around your design with a cutting knife.

You should end up with something like this.

10. Choose your canvas. You can spray onto flat canvas, which you buy off the roll and then have to get framed or stretched. Another option is to buy a canvas board, which is like a tile. You stencil onto this hard surface, then buy a stretched canvas the same size as the canvas board and glue the board onto the front of it — and, voila…you have a stretched canvas artwork!

11. Choose your spray paint. You can use specialized street art spray-paint, like Montana Gold, but ordinary spray-paint from a hardware store will be okay too. For this artwork I’m using Montana Gold in turquoise.

12. Set-up your spraying area. Find a work-bench or flat surface to work on and work in a warm, well-ventilated room or shed.

 

13.  Put your cardboard stencil cut-out onto some old newspapers or cardboard. Turn it over, and spray adhesive spray onto the back of it. You just want a fine, even coat — not great globs of spray. Do this with your safety mask on because the adhesive spray produces a fine mist of glue, which your little lungs will not thank you for!

 

14. Now, put the stencil design, right side up (glue side down) on your canvas, and start pressing it down with your fingers.

It will probably take about 15 minutes to get that sucker really pressed down. You need to run your fingers along every part of the design.

15. Tape paper or newspaper over any parts of the canvas that are exposed, which you do not want spray paint getting onto.
 
16. Shake your paint-can for about 10 minutes.

 

 

17. Start spraying! You just need a good coat of paint over all of your letters. As you’re spraying, look at your stencil from a few different angles, so you can see if all the white parts are covered.


18. When you’ve finished spraying wait about two minutes, then carefully lift up your stencil.

And, there you go! You have a unique, stenciled artwork which is ready to be stretched or framed. You are a legend. (Yes, really, you are!)

 If you make this project, please share a photo with us in the How-Tuesday Flickr group!

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103 comments

  • TwinkleStarCrafts

    TwinkleStarCrafts said 6 years ago

    Great tutorial. Thank you!

  • OtherEarthly

    OtherEarthly said 6 years ago

    How awesome!

  • DevineCollectible

    DevineCollectible said 6 years ago

    Like that, "toddlers first scrawl"... real nice, peace out, DevineCollectible

  • soule

    soule said 6 years ago

    Cute! way to go on the clear tutorial! I <3 Stencils too! I love the feeling you get when you first spray your image and see the way it turned out!

  • constantgatherer

    constantgatherer said 6 years ago

    this is really sweet! i did something like this in my artwork with a somewhat simpler method. project the writing using a tracing or overhead projector (craft stores or borrow!) onto your canvas/wood/paper taped to the wall-and trace the lettering with a pencil- then fill in with whatever paint or ink you like! xo

  • curlygirlglass

    curlygirlglass said 6 years ago

    thank you for sharing the info!

  • carlossantiago

    carlossantiago said 6 years ago

    really cool! i love it! what a great idea!

  • AshenDrift

    AshenDrift said 6 years ago

    Ideas abound! Merci:)

  • stonesoupjewelry

    stonesoupjewelry said 6 years ago

    Thanks for the detailed and fabulous tutorial! My kids may want to try this as a last minute holiday gift for grandparents. :)

  • BlueDayDesigns

    BlueDayDesigns said 6 years ago

    Hi there - thanks for your comments! Using a projector is a great idea, I've seen quite a few artists working that way with very large artworks.

  • odiliafu

    odiliafu said 6 years ago

    Love this tutorial!! Thanks for sharing!

  • 5280bliss

    5280bliss said 6 years ago

    i love this! i've done this on a much smaller scale using freezer paper onto onesies and t-shirts. ♥ shirley

  • YacsPocket

    YacsPocket said 6 years ago

    Do you like these kittens? Yes, of course! I like a big stenciled writing, too! What a poetic idea it is! Thank you!

  • Jusadreamin

    Jusadreamin said 6 years ago

    HOPE YOU MUCH SUCESS thanks for sharing

  • cedokter

    cedokter said 6 years ago

    Awesome. I never would have thought about this but it's a lovely idea. Now to go buy a few canvases.

  • MegansMenagerie

    MegansMenagerie said 6 years ago

    This is so cool! Thanks so much for sharing! =)

  • Earleyimages

    Earleyimages said 6 years ago

    Great tutorial

  • lovelygifts

    lovelygifts said 6 years ago

    Awesome!

  • Jusadreamin

    Jusadreamin said 6 years ago

    HOPE YOU MUCH SUCESS thanks for sharing

  • PlumeandPetals

    PlumeandPetals said 6 years ago

    Very cool~! Thanks for sharing =)

  • loveinbloomboutique

    loveinbloomboutique said 6 years ago

    Very cool! I think I may try that...

  • myvintagecrush

    myvintagecrush said 6 years ago

    Legendary! Haha, love it!

  • rozzie

    rozzie said 6 years ago

    oh! interesting idea! I thought maybe the writing was printed onto canvas but cutting out and spraying would be more work but definitely more special with the real media tactfulness.

  • Parachute425

    Parachute425 said 6 years ago

    Thanks for sharing. Great shop.

  • silkiness

    silkiness said 6 years ago

    Thanks for sharing this, I would love to try it when my little ones get a bit older! I will remember this! Thanks a lot!!

  • Asianexpressions

    Asianexpressions said 6 years ago

    Awesome! I'd like to try it.

  • Leocardia

    Leocardia said 6 years ago

    That´s a nice suggestion to follow. The early writings of my daughter are soo funny!

  • anotherdonkeydesign

    anotherdonkeydesign said 6 years ago

    Great tutorial. Thanks so much for sharing. Will keep it in mind for when my little man (1 today) learns to write!

  • lauraprill

    lauraprill said 6 years ago

    Lovely, thanks for sharing this...

  • superlungs

    superlungs said 6 years ago

    Omg brilliant idea & very good tutorial. Thanks for sharing!!

  • JulieMeyer

    JulieMeyer said 6 years ago

    What a lovely idea! Thanks for sharing your very detailed tutorial.

  • vKnit

    vKnit said 6 years ago

    what a lovely idea! my boyfriend whos type and stencil mad will love this *forwards on* thankyou!!! xox

  • persuede

    persuede said 6 years ago

    great tutorial and a good departure point for variation. thanks!

  • livingstonandporter

    livingstonandporter said 6 years ago

    love handwriting....vintage paper... old letters....This is such a perfect post and a lovely idea!

  • heartatart

    heartatart said 6 years ago

    fabulous!

  • blueskyclouds

    blueskyclouds said 6 years ago

    This is FANTASTIC...I've saved so many of my parents' letters, because they had beautiful and distinct handwriting as well as verbage....I plan to do something very interesting with them eventually......

  • daslinoleum

    daslinoleum said 6 years ago

    i love etsy how-tos and i certainly love stencil art (usually seen on the streets so i am glad it has made it into etsy!). this is a great idea for personalized presents and cool art!

  • jjboz10

    jjboz10 said 6 years ago

    Great idea,love this tutorial!!

  • tatimaia

    tatimaia said 6 years ago

    Oh, I love stenciling!!! Thanks for sharing this tutorial!

  • stgilmore

    stgilmore said 6 years ago

    I am going to do this of a love note from my three year old daughter who said she had misbehaved because she was "wore out". Bless her heart. She is 20 now and I think she would like it! Thanks for the tutorial!

  • dasweetzpot

    dasweetzpot said 6 years ago

    this was awesome... I think it is so important to surround ourselves of the things that bring us joy and comfort... I have framed elementary school grade 'special' mother's day artwork from my children... fun to see them draw a picture of mommy and title it 'best mommy in the whole wide world'! will try this project, sounds like fun!

  • Prittyfy

    Prittyfy said 6 years ago

    wonderful! may try some day.

  • theroyal

    theroyal said 6 years ago

    great job

  • DinosDiedOfBoredom

    DinosDiedOfBoredom said 6 years ago

    clever!

  • doveandflower

    doveandflower said 6 years ago

    What a terrific tutorial of a super idea. I'm putting my elf hat on and whipping one up for my hubby. A really rocking present. Thanks so much for sharing it!

  • crystalworld

    crystalworld said 6 years ago

    Thanks for the detailed and fabulous tutorial!

  • baconsquarefarm

    baconsquarefarm said 6 years ago

    Hmmm this is interesting the process that is used, thanks for sharing. :)

  • BlueDayDesigns

    BlueDayDesigns said 6 years ago

    thanks for all your awesome comments - this is very exciting! If any of you try this tutorial and have any questions as you go along please feel free to convo me. I love to spread the stenciling joy around! The idea of using the 3 year-olds love letter is just gorgeous.

  • shop1848

    shop1848 said 6 years ago

    Super cool idea!!

  • minakim

    minakim said 6 years ago

    really good!!!

  • SnuggliMumCreations

    SnuggliMumCreations said 6 years ago

    Awesome! Thanks for the idea!

  • hilarysarobot

    hilarysarobot said 6 years ago

    Very cool idea! I may have to try this.

  • HulaGirl1922

    HulaGirl1922 said 6 years ago

    way cooool!!! Cheers :D

  • iheartmy

    iheartmy said 6 years ago

    This is beautiful! I thought about doing this with a picture of my toddler. I see your pictures and now think it will look great!

  • GardenAngels

    GardenAngels said 6 years ago

    Absolutely the best tutorial I've ever seen! Bravo!

  • 3pearls

    3pearls said 6 years ago

    Thanks for the really thorough tutorial. It makes it all seem quite do-able. You covered some things I wouldn't have thought of.

  • AndreaFuentesDesigns

    AndreaFuentesDesigns said 6 years ago

    good stuff! love your work

  • frenchtoastfriday

    frenchtoastfriday said 6 years ago

    Wow what a great idea! Thanks

  • leesmith

    leesmith said 6 years ago

    So Cute! I love the look you get using the handwriting. Great Tutorial :)

  • redemptionart

    redemptionart said 6 years ago

    this is a wonderful idea, i have a weakness for keeping all the notes from my grandchildren, so i have a lot to work with..thanks again!

  • HandmadeHandsome

    HandmadeHandsome said 6 years ago

    I love what you make, especially the portraits. Thanks for sharing this tutorial.

  • LittleWrenPottery

    LittleWrenPottery said 6 years ago

    Lovely work, I think this would be fabulous with an old fashioned love note.

  • WiltsieBridgeCS

    WiltsieBridgeCS said 6 years ago

    Great idea! I have a bunch of digital French feedsack images I purchased from Oliverue, might just make this project! I also have a large chalk board sign mounted near the road outside my shop. I can make up "chalkboard art" to catch peoples eye on dry weather days.

  • WiltsieBridgeCS

    WiltsieBridgeCS said 6 years ago

    This project is useful for shops with storefront windows as well, just wanted to point that out!

  • Colecciones

    Colecciones said 6 years ago

    Yes...The handwriting look is FAB!!! Timely article for me, as stencil art is a new obsession...¡¡¡Muchisimas gracias!!!

  • rockandpurl

    rockandpurl said 6 years ago

    Love this project!!! Love it! :) Great idea for stencilling my studio walls...

  • MissHildebrandt

    MissHildebrandt said 6 years ago

    One of the best 'how tuesday' ever. Ah to ride the coast of someone's written word...deep! Oh the process is what seems the most interesting.

  • jewellerytreasures

    jewellerytreasures said 6 years ago

    would love to try this with my daughters writing

  • opendoorstudio

    opendoorstudio said 6 years ago

    I love this. what a fun way to bring back family memories long past! capturing a moment in time! I hope to try this soon! thank you so much for sharing!

  • TatterBeans

    TatterBeans said 6 years ago

    This would be lovely to do with your children s handwriting to capture as a memory...this is a must do ..and on my list

  • SMIRNOFFdesignSTUDIO

    SMIRNOFFdesignSTUDIO said 6 years ago

    Great and funny idea! Thanks for sharing :)))))))))))

  • FeltJellyBean

    FeltJellyBean said 6 years ago

    Awww...I really love it, I came with quite a bunch of ideas just by reading it! Many, many thanks :)

  • jessamae22

    jessamae22 said 6 years ago

    oh wow, I love this.....I have the most unsteady hand when writing, though! I would have to have the husband help out:) btw that handwriting is fabulous

  • EnglishShop

    EnglishShop said 6 years ago

    Needs to be learned ...

  • trillity

    trillity said 6 years ago

    AMAZING IDEA!!!

  • AnnTig

    AnnTig said 6 years ago

    Wonderful tutorial! Thank you and Merry Christmas from AnnTig Jewelry!

  • bhangtiez

    bhangtiez said 6 years ago

    what a fun project...& u'r grandfathers is adorable! Thank u for sharing!

  • BlueDayDesigns

    BlueDayDesigns said 6 years ago

    Wow - it sounds like quite a few Estians are going to give this a go. I would LOVE to see what you come up with (feel free to e-mail any photos to me!!) I guess this is the kind of idea that can be taken in different directions - from using love letters to children's scribbles. Thanks to those who commented on how detailed the tutorial was, I really wanted to make it very do-able. (Julie In Charge was very helpful too!)

  • BonTons

    BonTons said 6 years ago

    Great tutorial, thanks for sharing!

  • talktothesun

    talktothesun said 6 years ago

    thank you for the inspiration!! lovely work!!

  • vivikas

    vivikas said 6 years ago

    Cool, thanks for sharing!

  • Snowdon

    Snowdon said 6 years ago

    Fantastic tutorial, I absolutely love handlettering, this is extra special as it's so personal, thank you!

  • FancyCuts

    FancyCuts said 6 years ago

    I'm going to try this with my little grandaughter's notes and messages that she mails to me.... great idea.

  • 2hawks2fishes

    2hawks2fishes said 6 years ago

    Great idea. So sweet.

  • JazzGreen

    JazzGreen said 6 years ago

    what a great tutorial - thank you for the step-by-steps...

  • Simag

    Simag said 6 years ago

    BB E A U T I F U L L L L Love this tutorial!! Thanks for sharing!

  • iMariStol

    iMariStol said 6 years ago

    O my chicken socks! I just learned more from you, about my Photoshop Elements program, than all of the booOoring books that I have tried to learn from. Thank You, Thank You, Thank You! Hugs, Maris Write a book?

  • FrenchGirlOrganics

    FrenchGirlOrganics said 6 years ago

    this is such a lovely way to capture a moment in time -- really appreciate your sharing this with us and we intend to put it to good use -- merci!

  • BlueDayDesigns

    BlueDayDesigns said 6 years ago

    LOL - thanks iMariStol, I never learnt much from those books either. I always felt my eyes starting to droop after a page!

  • thoughtfullyadorned

    thoughtfullyadorned said 6 years ago

    Oh this is such a cool idea! I love the idea of having writing of a special someone stenciled on your wall. Love this tutorial-thanks!

  • henry9905

    henry9905 said 6 years ago

    fabulous, thank you

  • thefamilyjewels3

    thefamilyjewels3 said 6 years ago

    awesome

  • Stellaoils

    Stellaoils said 6 years ago

    Wonderful! I have always thought that handwritting or the effect of, creates a personal effect!

  • FreshyPhotoArts

    FreshyPhotoArts said 6 years ago

    Emma -- I absolutely love this and thanks so much for the tutorial! I love using unique & artistic ways to preserve and showcase my kids' creativity and development.

  • Chopstik

    Chopstik said 6 years ago

    I love this idea! My 5 year old daughter writes us little notes everyday!

  • juliacakevintage

    juliacakevintage said 6 years ago

    So great! I don't yet have PhotoShop (I'll have it soon), so I will have a lot to learn with that program. My mother will absoultely love me when I do this with my late grandfathers letters. Blessings!

  • StudioCherie

    StudioCherie said 6 years ago

    so cute. What a fun idea

  • rule42

    rule42 said 6 years ago

    this is awesome, thanks!

  • Jenniferjoan44

    Jenniferjoan44 said 6 years ago

    Awesome!my best friend is getting marries so I think I'm gonna do this with her wedding vows

  • sissysparrows

    sissysparrows said 6 years ago

    Fabulous Tutorial... thank you for sharing with us all. Can't wait to give it a try!

  • ionesAttic

    ionesAttic said 6 years ago

    clever idea, precise presentation!

  • BasahanAlit

    BasahanAlit said 6 years ago

    Thank your for sharing :)

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