Stenciling Sans Stencil… Part 2: Progress report and a Cautionary Tale

Last time, I shared my plans to draw and paint a design onto our loft wall. Let’s take another look at the “before.” Yawn.


I decided on the circles pattern for the wall. It wasn’t exactly a landslide in the poll, but when I realized that I was pulling for circles to win I realized I should just go with my gut and do that one. Here was the inspiration photo, which is from a blog where the woman used a stencil from Royal Designs to paint her wall.



The reason I didn’t just buy the stencil was because… well.. I’m cheap. It was $45 and I would have had to buy adhesive to keep it on the wall, plus some new painting materials to stencil it effectively. Probably a $60 proposition, which I just didn’t want to spend on a little 8×8 wall. Especially because come on, I can do it for free! It’s circles! Just cut out a circle, trace it a bunch of times, and paint them in– easy peasy.

Whyyyyyyy am I stupid? I’ve discussed it before, but I just have a never-ending over-optimism when it comes to overestimating my talents and underestimating the work involved in the DIY I dream up.

So here is what I did. I cut out a circle and a half circle out of cardboard. I just eyeballed how big it seemed like it should be and went with 9.5 inches.

photo 1-3

And then I started in the top corner closest to the stairs, lined the circle up against the top and side of the wall, and started tracing. And tracing. And tracing. It took about 2.5 hours to trace the whole design on with pencils.

photo 2-3

And then I made the smartest choice I made through this entire project— I started painting it in the bottom corner the farthest from the stairs. There is definitely a HUGE learning curve in keeping a steady hand and finding a technique that works, and to be honest painting the circles was a LOT harder than I thought it would be. And very slow going. At the end of my first 1.5 hour painting session, I had this done.

photo 1-2

And then I wanted to cry. But I did not! I persevered and figured out an easier way to make the circles. It worked best if I dipped my 1/4 inch paint brush in the paint and got a good amount on there (but not enough to drip), and then made dots of paint along 1/4 of the circle, and then went back over them to smooth them out along the outline. This worked because the paint brush was so small that if I tried to just paint the circle in a long stroke there was too much paint to start and not enough after just a few inches. Which led to my having to use very little amount of paint about 10 times per circle. Which took forever and made for shaky circles. These are the first few. Rough.

photo 3

Using the new technique is still far from perfect, there are brush strokes and a not-totally-steady hand, but the result is much better.

photo 2

I’m about 6 hours into the painting portion (8.5 hours into the project in total) and I’m about 2/3 done painting the wall. All told, assuming no more major issues, this project will take me about 12 hours. For an 8×8 wall. Ouch. And let’s be honest here, my circles are far from perfect even with my better technique. I do think as more and more gets done you really don’t see the flaws at all unless you look for them, and I’m hoping when you look up close you’ll just find them to be “charming,” but they are far less clean than they’d be if I’d just bought the stencil.

So I guess the moral of my cautionary tale is: Sometimes it is worth it to spend the money.

In the end, I’m going to be glad I did this project (no more wide photos of the wall until it is totally done because I think the full effect is amazzzing). But I wish I had just bought the stencil. I might have saved $60, but using the stencil probably would have only taken me 2-3 hours as opposed to the 12 I’ll end up spending– and time has value. I was thinking about doing a design in the nook of our guest bedroom and I will DEFINITELY be buying a stencil because I don’t think I can go through this again! Which isn’t to say, I suppose, that hand painting your design is a bad choice for everyone. But I think the following lists will lay it out pretty clearly.

Buy the stencil if:

  • You are doing more than one wall
  • It is in your budget to buy the stencil
  • You want your design to look perfect
  • You want the process to be as easy, fast, and painless as possible
  • You are not particularly artistically inclined/don’t have a steady hand

Free-hand it if:

  • You have no budget and it is free-hand or nothing at all
  • You have a lot of patience
  • You have a lot of time
  • You have a steady hand
  • You find imperfection to be charming

Or hey… do whatever you want. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you!


4 thoughts on “Stenciling Sans Stencil… Part 2: Progress report and a Cautionary Tale

  1. Ah! I’m so excited – I was hoping you’d go for the circles. I think it looks fantastic so far, can’t wait to see the whole thing! And yes, speaking from experience using a stencil, it is SO much easier!

  2. I bought the stencil last summer and did 1 wall in our living room. It still took me 4 mornings (about 12 hours total?) to do it! I think you’re turned out amazing! Good job 🙂

  3. I want to see what would happen if you taped the edge of the cardboard circle, added a handle, and painted around the circle instead of tracing around it.

  4. Liz- I think the issue with that is two-fold. First, you’d have to be pretty careful with placement of the circle because if you’re painting around the OUTSIDE of it, then you have to leave room for the outlines between each placement of the circle (unless you wanted your lines to overlap). That seems a little complicated to me. Second, because I used cardboard I think the paint would seep into it and get the edges sort of messy which would be hard if you didn’t put the stencil in the exact right place— I think there would be a lot more touch-ups. So, it might be possible and it might even be faster… but I think it would require a bit more precision and skill than my method 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s