This is a bit crazy, I’ll admit, but I think it is fun and not too hard to accomplish with the right tools.  The problem is every time I start to create one, with the idea of making it a tutorial, I make different (and not always better) choices.

There is going to be a LOT of trial and error, depending on your photo, I think.  What I can do is try to explain it then you will have to play with the process to see what you can come up with.  I am sorry, but there are just so many variables, I can’t give you precise settings or a proper step-by-step list.

Basically you want to start with a photo.  A good face shot is probably going to be the best choice.  I have an old one (honestly – so old) that I used for this.

1. Open your photo is PSE or the like.  Start by clicking IMAGE > Mode > Grayscale and click OK to Discard the Color Info

All this does is turns your photo B&W – if you prefer to do it another way, do that.

2. Click FILTER > Sketch > Stamp in the drop down menu.  This will turn your photo into something that looks a bit like this:


There will be issues with this – I had on a patterned sweater and that shows as white spots. Some of the lines are too fine to cut well, or show well when stencilled.  You can correct some things by playing with the sliders in the Filter – take the Light/Dark balance UP and nudge the Smoothness up a bit too.

Another trick is to pick areas that are too thin – like the frames of my glasses.  Select them, then click EDIT > Stroke and make the WIDTH maybe 2 -5 pixels and select OUTSIDE.  Make the colour the same (Black, in this case) the OK.  This will effectively thicken the line.  Sometimes you can also select the area then use the Fill bucket.  That will sometimes smooth out the edges a bit too.  No idea why.

One issue with stencils is the need for things to be connected.  See the WHITE areas to the left?  They fall totally INSIDE the black.  When the black gets cut away they will fall out with it.

I found it easiest to use the Magic Wand to select ALL the White and ALL the Black in turns, then put them on a new layer so I could see them easier.

3. Select all the WHITE with the Magic Wand. Easiest to select one area with the Magic Wand then SELECT >Similar to select all that colour.

4. Click New Layer, be active on that layer, then Click EDIT >Fill Selection and pick WHITE.  You will end up with a layer with just the white areas.  Hide the other layer and you can really see any possible issues.


Now, assuming that the WHITE areas are going to be the MASK (ie when you smudge the black ink on it will fill what you see as the transparent grid above) you need to identify the problems and fix them.

I’ve made the part we want to keep, the MASK part, gray so you can see a bit better:


See to the right?  That white bar?  That connects the face part with the outside.  Without it, the face part would just drop away. And the other bits on the left?  Same thing. I handled those issues differently.  Adding the bar (just use the brush to swipe away that area and connect the face-island to the surround) gives me a usable stencil and all I need to do is fill in that area with paint or ink or whatever.

The black areas you see in the green circles SHOULD be white.  But if I tried to connect them somehow it would look rubbish.  You could just delete them, leaving the left of the face a solid black shadow. But that loses some of the detail.  What I did was select just those areas that would drop out, and repeated the New Layer step.  I save that layer, with JUST THE SPOTS on it.  I’ll use that as a top layer over my main stencil.


This is a prime example of where the select and stroke trick will work well.

I had to resize my two images cause it’s easier to import them to SCAL the right size.  But this shot shows you the two layers.


5. Cut. However you do that.  Any electronic machine that has a TRACE function should work, but you can also cut with a craft knife and a really sharp blade, especially if you really smooth out the edges.

When I import the JPG into SCAL it already smooths things out a lot.


You can really see it with the hair.

6. Stencil the black layer.  


Not too bad!  You can see the left is just a big black area, and here is where the 2nd layer comes in to play.

I lined up the second layer stencil


and punched three registration marks thru BOTH layers. You can see the pencil circles on the stenciled image above.


7.  Once your black layer is dry, you can stencil WHITE over top to add a little detail!


I still need to fill in the bar across the hair, but otherwise it’s done.

So, why use a famous face in your art journal or the face from some random commercial stencil when you can use your own?

I hope I have given you enough info and a few tricks that worked for ME, so that you can give it a go.  I am happy to try to answer any questions, but it really is going to be playing around with YOUR photo.

2 thoughts on “Stencil…ME!

  1. That is absolute genius Mary Anne, I am going to set aside some time on my next hole and try this with my family’s faces for a bit of art (or at least fun with our mug shots!). Thanks for showing us.

  2. Wow, This is the COOLEST tutorial you have shared with us! I SO have to try this!! Thank you so much for taking the time to post this for us!

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