Stenciling on Canvas

I have a confession, I am not a professional crafter. At least I don’t consider myself one. I started this blog as much for you as I did for me. To motivate myself to try new things and to keep learning more and more about the silk screens we make so that I can answer all your questions. I’m a people pleaser you see, and I want you to succeed in your projects, but that also means that sometimes I don’t make the best judgement calls for myself or the business. So I am just as much on this learning curve as you are and I mess up. Not all the projects I do turn out the way that I had hoped. Like this week’s project for example, where I stenciled onto canvas for the first time. That first print did not go well at all. But that’s why I do this, so I can learn from my mistakes and find out what works and what doesn’t. Then I pass this on to you, because like I said, I’m a people pleaser. But I also stand by our product. Our silkscreens are awesome and so incredibly versatile. It’s just that to succeed you need to know how to use them. So that is the purpose of this blog, for both you AND me to learn how to use them on different surfaces and which techniques work best when applying your paint, ink, paste, or even etching cream. So let’s have a look at this week’s project.

Stenciling on Canvas

This week I attempted to stencil onto canvas. I had bought 3 small cotton canvases, 18 cm by 24 cm (or 7.1” by 9.4”), medium grain 100% cotton. These were to test on before I stenciled the big canvas I got for our daughter’s room. And yes, once again you’ll see that Hufflepuff shield design, this is the last time though, I promise!. But boy am I glad I did some test runs before doing the big one. Why? Medium grain cotton means not exactly smooth. Once again I found myself with a surface that the stencil had a hard time sticking to (remember the cork a couple of weeks back?). So I opted for a Fabric/Wood type of stencil for my first attempt. It stuck somewhat okay, but not nearly as well as it would on say a t-shirt. This issue in combination with the not so smooth surface should have been a red flag to me. So I decided to finger paint instead of using a squeegee to apply the paint.. 

Before I tell you the outcome of that first try, did I mention that my small canvases were the typical ones that are set in a wood frame? Consequently, that means that there’s no solid surface underneath the canvas (except for where it’s attached to the frame). So my not-so-stuck stencil now had to somehow stick to an uneven surface that moves when you apply pressure as you’re applying your paint. Looking back, I should have taken the canvas off the wooden frame so I could place it on the table to provide a solid surface.

Butterfly stencil on canvas

Anyway, needless to say, when I removed my stencil the paint had bled. Not catastrophically, but still I didn’t get the crisp edges I’d like to see.

I washed the stencil and as I waited for it to dry, I had another stencil ready to use on the same canvas (acrylic paint dries faster than a wet stencil). But this stencil was an All Surface type, meaning it was less adhesive than the previous one. This time I opted to use a paintbrush to apply the paint. I used the same “dip-dab-dab” technique to apply the paint as I did when I stenciled the cork coasters. That way I wasn't adding too much paint too fast.


Dip-Dab-Dab explained: "...I grabbed a plate, applied some paint and dipped my thick round brush in it. Then I dabbed the brush several times on a clear part of the plate to take off the excess paint, before applying the leftover paint onto the stencil gently dabbing it on..."

I did a few lifts and peeks to see how well the paint was coming through the stencil before peeling the stencil off completely. That way I could easily dab over a few spots a couple of extra times to get a solid print. As you can see in the video I also did a few brush strokes in an attempt to get the paint to go through the mesh more and I went over it with my finger. However, note that I'm not applying much extra paint in the end, just enough to keep the paint on the stencil moist and to keep it from drying in the screen as I smooth it out.

Here’s a short video showing you the how I stenciled on the butterfly, which is available in our shop, just click this link. Besides the dabbing on the paint, notice how I use the lift and peek trick to to check the print before removing the stencil completely.


Because I had 3 small canvases I made another one using the exact same stencils and paint to see if I could get the same result again. Only this time I wanted a solid print of the quote, but a more grunge textured butterfly. 

Then I wondered if I could get better coverage if I stenciled on painted canvas? Would the stencil stick better to a painted surface? I painted over my smudged first attempt using the same black paint and a brush. The surface still wasn’t smooth, the stenciled on quote stood out ever so slightly and the texture of the canvas was still there. But the stencil did stick a little better. Just a little bit better. I lined it up and dabbed on white acrylic paint, this time I used a sponge. I smoothed out the paint I had dabbed on, applying a little bit of pressure to get it to go through the screen a bit more. Here’s the result.


Finally I was ready to stencil the big canvas! It took quite a while as our kiddo wanted a solid cover, not the worn grunge look like the second butterfly you can see in the video above. There were a lot of lifts and peeks to check and apply more paint where needed. But it all paid off: 

Hufflepuff stencil stenciled on canvas painting   Hufflepuff shield stenciled on canvas

Tips for stenciling on canvas
  • Either be gentle when applying your paint or remove the canvas from the frame so you can place it on a solid surface.
  • Use a thick round brush or a sponge to Dip-Dab-Dab on the paint.
  • Lift and peek to check your print before taking off the stencil completely, so you can easily line up the stencil again and apply more paint where needed.
  • Use the Fabric/Wood type of stencil as it sticks better (you can use the All Surface type, but you’ll have to be more careful when applying the paint).
  • If you’re doing a big stencil, avoid paint drying in the screen by dabbing over it with fresh paint every so often.

That’s it for me this week. I hope you enjoyed the blog. As always, if you have any questions let me know in the comment section below. And if you're interested in learning more about silkscreen stenciling be sure to subscribe to our newsletter for monthly tips, coupons, and inspiration. 

Happy crafting!


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