I have a red hot hatred for stencils. I know that’s an inflammatory statement, but hear me out. 

Stencils are, or should be dammit, the last port of safety for misguided “artists” like myself. When you’re reduced to stencils you’ve already admitted a couple of things like “I can’t draw,” or “I can’t paint,” and “God help me; this shouldn’t be so hard,” and “I don’t think they make erasers big enough for this current disaster.”

So it makes me especially bitter that when I am finally reduced to the genre of art tailored to meet the needs of paste eaters, well then, I think I have earned the right to nail it. Yet, I still can’t do it. I don’t put enough paint on, or I put too much paint on, or the stencil slips.

There’s a separate section of hell for stencilers like me, though, the ones who think they can “fix” the ruined stencil attempt. I’ll just add a little more paint over here, I think, and then just straighten up this geometry a teensy bit, a little dot over here … Pretty soon my mandala looks like it took a hit of LSD on its way to a Dumpster fire. Yes, that’s my professional stencil skill level. 

It’s infuriating. 

Even more so because I “practiced” stencils. You see, I’m not the overly arrogant type of I’ve-got-this artist. I move in carefully. I choose my tools. I get the lighting down. Okay, none of those things is true. In reality, I throw the stencil down on top of a dusty paver and hit it with the dregs of a mostly used can of spray paint. When that doesn’t work out — shocker! — I think I can improve the outcome by going FASTER, hurrying down a path of stepping stones in quick succession with an increasingly mangled stencil tool and the glue-like remains of paint in the bottom of the can. (Spoiler alert: that 100% doesn’t work. Also, it lasts a long time; those pavers mock me every day.) 

I’ve also tried to slow down the process by taking out a big piece of practice paper, pouring a glass of wine, choosing a round foam-tipped brush, taking a sip, dipping the brush in the paint and gently dabbing the excess paint off on a paper towel, sipping, and then carefully blotting the paint on top of the stencil. That doesn’t work either, but the wine makes it less painful in the short term.

You know those DIY videos? Those cheery little four-minute Facebook episodes of someone turning a basement bargain dresser into a beautifully stenciled masterpiece? Oh, I still watch those but I’m squinting bitterly and making disparaging sounds in my throat. I try to spot the editing — surely there’s a rough cut in there somewhere that represents a three-hour time lapse where the artist is doing magic things off-screen to make the stencil come out properly.  

Honestly, this pretense that I have even one artistic speck in my body has to stop. Which brings me to wall decals. It’s a new low for me, personally. The nice ones cost about 50 bucks and the only skill involved is peeling the designs off the backing and sticking them to the wall. After my latest stencil fiasco, I am cautiously ambivalent about the wall decals. No doubt they require some sorcery as well.

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