From Prehistorical Times to a Nike Store: The art of Stencil

19. 03. 2019

Stencil, by the Oxford English Dictionary: Noun

 -1: A thin sheet of card, plastic, or metal with a pattern or letters cut out of it, used to produce the cut design on the surface below by the application of ink or paint through the holes.

-2: A design produced by a stencil.

Origin of the word: Early 18th century.

If – Indeed - the modern-day word originated circa 1700, from the latin “Scinttila” (Spark), the actual practice of stenciling is ancestral. It is traced back to some 40000 years ago, in both Asia and Europe. The oldest – so far! - artworks known are to be found in a rural area on the Indonesian Island of Sulawesi. Early artists made them by carefully blowing paint around hands that were pressed tightly against the cave walls and ceilings.

For the past 6000 years, stencil technics have been improved to be used on a wide array of materials, from textiles to woodcuts, pottery and paper…

Modern-day era:

In our modern-day era, stenciling was first introduced to commercial publishing in the late 1800s.  Therefore, about a hundred years ago, the most popular types of stencil work were to be found in books. The process could use up to 250 different stencils for a single illustration. Quite complex and very much time consuming! By the end of the Art Nouveau era, photography quickly replaced stenciling as a main illustrative medium.

Stenciling, in the art, went forgotten.

It did however re-invent itself with the emergence of urban art these past 50 years.

And just like our distant ancestors who painted on their walls, today's creators are spraying our everyday life. Graffiti, and therefore stencil graffiti – probably the most efficient way to achieve dramatic results – can be seen all over.

Now how does it end up on a Nike store wall? 

We asked Mike Ward, managing director at Rizlly Retail Studio, for more details on the subject of stencil.

  • First Mike, how did you come to study the subject?

In my college days, I studied the art of sign-writing as a course alongside graphic design. From this I was employed in a large retail signage company working within their graphic studio. The company not only designed but produced all the elements for Petroleum forecourts, interiors for banks and coffee brands in-house. With this production we had a full paint shop, where the we also used paint mask stencils for various application.

  • So, what’s your definition of Stencil painting?

Stencil painting is where you create a form of masking to blank out the areas you wish not to have the application of paint applied. Normally this is cut from a low tack paint mask on a typical plotter machine used for standard vinyl cutting. Sometimes this masking is done by a low tack tape for long line painting, even painting cars ‘pin stripes’ have this type of process in the custom shops. Today many artists use stencil painting, most famous being ‘Banksy’ where the artist would draw out the design and ether cut the mask by hand or machine to create the desired area to be sprayed or hand painted. In general Stencil painting is the quickest way to do paint application on large formats or if you’re up against time on the street! ????

  • And how does it apply to commercial interior?

We use this application for our Nike projects, this can be anything up to a 10-15 meter wall stencil to create Nike’s unique graphic content within the stores. Our team applies the stencil and we paint directly to numerous substrates to create their design. This process also takes quite some preparation before to make sure the correct type of paint is used for the right type of surface. (testing multiple surfaces so the paint holds, and the final execution is to Nike’s expectations)

  • Anything else?

Traditional sign-writing was impacted hard by the introduction of masking stenciling, sign-writing by hand is still preferred for a more traditional look and feel, and indeed is a great skill and still desirable on the market. But in the world of large format and time constrictions, stencil masking is the most cost effective.

Our work at the brand-new Nike Poznan store will be showcased in an upcoming article.

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