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Adventures in Stenciling

Updated: Dec 15, 2023

By Sheri Hoeger;


Few tools have been as useful and versatile as stencils for decoration throughout the centuries. These sheets full of holes can be used to efficiently achieve a wide variety of decorative effects, from delicate and detailed prints to gilding and raised plaster decorative designs. They are used on almost every surface from cakes to concrete. Stencil designs can be hand cut or by machine in both reusable and adhesive products. Materials for hand cutting can be Mylar or Pellon, using a blade or stencil burner. This project is in my own residence where we moved in 2018. The house was structurally sound but needed updating, and I especially disliked the grey marble tiles used for the fireplace and entry way. They didn’t go with my style or the warm tones in the rest of the tile that is throughout the house. We considered just knocking them out and replacing them with something else, but you know, I always like a challenging project!

After success in painting over the fireplace, and testing the durability of my finish on the hearth and 4 inch entry border for a few months, I decided to tackle the entry floor. I likely wouldn’t have bid this for a client, as I couldn’t guarantee the durability and adherence of the project, but the worst that could happen is that I would go back to knocking this out and replacing it. I was willing to do the work and find out. The tiles were old with a few stains and cracks. That didn’t really bother me. I washed them twice with a vinegar and water solution to make sure they were oil free and so that the vinegar might help give the marble some extra tooth. The design was adapted from an antique kimono stencil known as katagami. I love the leafy feel of it, and how the spirals make me feel like I’m skipping across a pond. It helped me to visualize the scale to print the design on transparency film and view my floor through the image, holding the film further and closer from my eyes. Once I had taken measurements, I did a draft of my layout for Hugh Hoeger, who is a wizard with setting up the technical challenges of making and applying such a large SayWhat? Adhesive Vinyl Stencil. For machine cutting, the design was converted to a vector file, which allows for unlimited resizing without losing line integrity. Hugh sectioned it into three manageable pieces.

In the meantime, I applied two coats of Faux Effects

Prime Etch, a clear primer especially formulated for hard, slick surfaces. I allowed 24 hours between coats and waited another 72 hours before applying the adhesive stencil design, just to be sure.

Floor work is hard on one’s body, so I made it a little easier by putting a heavy oak shelf and a thick outdoor chair cushion on top of a furniture dolly so that I could lay on my stomach and roll myself around.

Once the stencil was adhered, I dry brushed two coats of Modern Masters Metal Effect Primer, again waiting 24 hours between coats, followed by one coat of Modern Masters Oxidizing Copper Metallic paint. It would have gone faster with a marshmallow roller, but dry brushing gave me more control of the paint flow and continually pressed the stencil edges, both of which cut down on paint bleed (the grout transitions were especially vulnerable).

The second coat of the copper reactive paint was the trickiest and the most crucial. I wanted a "rain" effect by drizzling and coarse spraying with the Modern Masters Green Patina Oxidizing Solution, which has to be done while the copper paint is wet. I applied the paint and the oxidizer in sections so that there would be the same degree of moisture for continuity across the whole floor.

Finally, the moment of truth! I always love the unveiling with stenciling, and I have to admit I was a little nervous about this one in case I would have lift of either the primer or the paint at the edges of the windows. I pulled the stencil material when the paint had dried to the touch to minimize that dreaded pull and had minimal problems. There was one area that the primer pulled in a field of just the marble, and I figure it had some old oil in that area. It did not affect the design so I sanded it a little, touched it up and applied 3-4 coats of Benjamin Moore Stays Clear in Satin sheen over all as my final coats.

It’s been about 4 1/2 years of constant traffic, dogs, grandchildren and mud and this floor has held up exceptionally well, and greets visitors with a defining artistic welcome that a new floor couldn’t have achieved. While I recommend testing the process and products on any surface candidates, we have been really pleased with its endurance. Last April, I had the opportunity to exhibit at Salon in San Francisco, and enjoyed showing this technique on travertine tiles, an especially suitable stone for painting because it naturally has some tooth. My test showed that it did not require a primer but the additional steps are the same. It can be used as a backsplash, table top or floor inset. This design was from a book/cd of vector files from Dover, who publishes a lot of public domain and copyright free images. I wasn’t called The Mad Stencilist for all those years for nothing! For more info about custom stencil cutting, see Hugh will take great care with your project.


Sheri Hoeger is an artist living in the woods of the Sierra Nevada foothills. Armed with a high school education, a supportive husband and a childlike sense of wonder, Sheri launched her decorative arts business The Mad Stencilist in 1988.

Sheri went on to become a force in the decorative art world, creating works for hundreds of interiors, appearing on tv, teaching and creating a highly successful line of stencils, with over 200 of her original designs that are still available through Sheri’s work was featured in numerous books and magazines. In 1997, her husband Hugh Hoeger joined her full time and together they launched SayWhat?, the first custom adhesive vinyl stencils available to the decorative painting marketplace. Hugh brought marketing and computer skills to the business and continues to provide great customer service to our clients.


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