THE HISTORY OF STENCIL ART
BY ARSALAN AHMED
Stenciling is a form of art that uses a sheet of cardboard or paper to print out a desired pattern by spraying ink onto the predesigned sheet with holes depicting letters, symbols,
or figures. This art form dates back to over 35 to 37 thousand years, although modern stenciling is very advanced and employs modern techniques based on technology.
The earliest evidence of stenciling is found in the Neanderthal caves of Spain. Paintings in the caves are mostly outlines of hands. It is believed that Neanderthals would have placed their hands against the walls and blew natural pigments onto them. Moreover, cave art also depicts nature and other life forms, hunting, and religio-cultural practices.
The ancient world is full of stencils spread throughout the world. Egyptians used stenciling to reproduce images with the same accuracy. These intricate forms of art can be seen along the walls of tombs in Egypt or Pompeii. Stenciling was a simple method of reproducing images; first, hieroglyphs were drawn on walls. Secondly, the images were chiseled and finally filled with stucco and paint. The Greeks and Romans also used stenciling to design mosaics, signs, and symbols.
Chinese developed the first paper-based stencil around 105 AD and used it for the printing of Buddha sculptures. Around 500 to 600 AD, stencils were used in China and Japan to design clothes. Moreover, the Japanese used it for silk screening and developed methods to produce multiple stencils at one time. The method of dyeing fabrics by stenciling was known as Katazome, and it was based on sticky flour-based pastes used to fill in the stencils. Consequently, the part of the fabric that has adsorbed paste resisted pigment absorption.
Europe and the Middle East became accustomed to stenciling owing to trade routes in Asia, such as the silk route. Stenciling became popular among Christians; it was used to paint the walls of churches and cathedrals. Moreover, it was also used for writing manuscripts, illustrations, coloring fabric, and wallpapers. Similarly, the Arabs and Turks also used it for the same ends.
The art of stenciling traveled to America from Europe during the time of British colonization. Stenciling had become very popular in France, due to its widespread use in play cards and wallpapers as early as the 17th century, but most importantly, it gave it a route to the New World. In America, stenciling became popular as a tool used by architects and artists to design homes, furniture, and artworks, as it was handy for decoration. These artists and architects from this era developed new techniques for the mass production of designs. Stenciling styles of this time can be seen in public buildings, homes, and churches throughout America.
Modern forms of stenciling are fairly easy to produce due to the extensive
use of computational models and instrumentation. Lasers are used to
cut the items into desirable designs. Subsequently, the patterns are
transferred to fabric by airbrushes. Moreover, stencils are also used
for mapping fabric for sewing.