I should quickly point out that this how-to post contains a fair amount of how-not-to information. That’s what happens when I try something blindly (and even sometimes when I’m prepared).
But I figure that documented teachable moments are often just as helpful (not to mention entertaining) as the Martha Stewart-level perfection you’ll see in other DIY posts/videos.
So let’s get started, shall we? First, you have to pick your theme. Ours, obviously, was graphic novel characters.
Our house’s decor is set up in two very different fashions.
The living room and dining room have more traditional look: framed art posters, wedding photos and nice, grown-up looking furniture.
The hallway and office are a different story. We have framed prints of graphic novel characters down the length of the hall. Once the office is organized, we’ll have four display cases for graphic novel collectibles plus bookcases containing the graphic novels themselves. Not to mention Star Wars and nerdy, pop-culture stuff from Loot Crate/general collecting.
I guess it’s the decor equivalent of a mullet: serious in the front, nerdy in the back.
I like having a more (by the classic definition) grownup front room, but I didn’t like that the themes were quite so starkly divided. So when I was at a loss on how to make the stools “pop” via more traditional means, I figured I’d sneak in a bit of geekiness as a subtle tie-in.
Finding the furniture
You probably already know that you need to religiously haunt thrift store sales, yard sales and thrift stores. But don’t forget about Craigslist and similar marketplaces like the apps OfferUp and LetGo.
Don’t get discouraged if you don’t find something right away. Even with all of those options, it took me three weeks to find affordable, basic wood stools. (Especially since stools come in three heights, so I had to be careful to check measurements for each listing.)
Eventually, my obsessive work paid off and I found a pair of ugly-but-salvageable stools for $15. Here’s a before pic:
Sure, gray tweed isn’t exactly hip right now (thank goodness), but when scouting for furniture, you have to remember to look at the bones rather than the embellishments.
The fabric had been stapled on; so it just took a pair of pliers, 15 minutes’ work and a little swearing to fix the tweed issue:
Here’s a helpful tip: Don’t get furniture with metal rungs. And if you do, paint them last!
I made the mistake of paining the rungs first, taping them up when I was ready to do the rest of the stool. For some reason, the painter’s tape took some of the silver off with it. It might have just been the Arizona summer temps messing with the tape’s sticking power; but just to be safe, paint the rungs last.
But once you are ready to do the metal, it’s a pretty simple job. Sand off any discoloration/rust. Then use a rust-preventing paint on top. I recommend my trusty $3 spray paint that (despite its cap’s color) gives a lovely satin glow.
Now on to the harder stuff!
I’m not a stupid person. In fact, I was an honors student — something I repeat to myself whenever I do something particularly boneheaded (brain fog-induced or otherwise). So I ought to have known better than to make my own stencils.
But I had already decided to do the Green Lantern symbol on one stool and the Red Lantern symbol on the other. Unfortunately, those aren’t sitting around in stores. So I realized I had to DIY — or DIM, technically, which turned out to be an apt acronym for the whole effort.
Which brings me to my first piece of advice in making your own stencils: Don’t do it!
Alas, if you’re reading this then you’re probably dead set on homemade stencils. I fear my warning will do nothing to dissuade you, so you have my sympathies in advance.
But hey, maybe I’m not giving you enough credit. Perhaps you’ll have an easier time than I did. For example, maybe you don’t have a slight tremor in your hands. Or maybe (unlike me) you’re smart enough to use a straight edge and circular objects to help you trace stencils.
If so, feel free to skip to the next section of this post. But if you have doubts, may I suggest decoupage as an alternative?
I normally use it for collages, but it works just as well with a single (or few scattered) images. It’s actually pretty easy:
- Get a copy of the image
- Print it out
- Cut around it
- Slap some Mod Podge on the back
- Affix to surface
- Add two to three coats of Mod Podge over the image and surrounding surface
The result should be as good (or better) since plenty of people out there have steadier hands or good graphics programs.
But if I still haven’t convinced you, then here are the steps to enter your own personal craft hell — er, I mean, how to make your own stencils.
To make the stencil, you’ll need:
- An image
- A printer
- Manila folder(s)
- X-acto pen
If you don’t have an image from a photo or magazine, just do an online search. “You way to add the word “stencil” to the search. I was able to find both Lantern Corps stencils Free Stencil Gallery,. is it must have some a pretty random assortment.
After that, you can either print the image directly or copy/paste the information into a Word document to adjust the image’s size.
Once the image is printed, you’ll need to:
- Tape the image to a manila folder (poster board probably works too)
- Take a pen and trace the image with medium pressure
- Do this several times until there are good indents in the folder
- Take the paper off the folder
- Trace the indents with a pen (optional)
- Use an X-acto pen to cut along the lines
Here are the things I did wrong:
- I used cardboard stencils (which dulled my blade and tired my hands faster)
- Cardboard also frays, making it hard to get a clean line
- I didn’t worry about having enough light to see the indents I was making
- I didn’t use a ruler or circular object for clean lines
In the, I made about eight stencils before getting something I was marginally happy with. Learn from my mistakes!
Using the stencil
- Two colors of paint
- Craft adhesive (I used Elmer’s spray)
- Spouncer or brush (unless you’re using spray paint)
Once you’ve cut out the shape, you have two pieces: the image and the cutout. If you can, I strongly suggest using the cutout. Just paint your object its main color, then use the cutout to paint the image on top.
Unfortunately, my symbols didn’t lend themselves to that method, so I had to paint them in relief.
If you have to do this, then you need to:
- Paint a base coat (the color you want the image to be)
- Spray the stencil with craft adhesive
- Wait three minutes before affixing to surface. (This ensures it’s just a temporary bond.)
- Place the stencil down
- Smooth it with your fingers to ensure everything is flush
- Spray paint your main color until the stencil and base color are covered
- Wait at least an hour (longer if you use regular paint)
- Peel off stencil to reveal the image
And it worked! For the Green Lantern symbol anyway…
Pretty darn cool, eh?
Unfortunately, I was less lucky with the Red Lantern one.
I was even pickier about that stencil than the previous one, so I went through around 10 versions before finally admitting that I’d have to choose the least imperfect. I chose the top three and did multiple tests (on a piece of cardboard) to determine which one was best.
So the winning stencil was pretty beaten up by the time it made it to the stool. The poor thing never stood a chance of keeping all of the black out.
I made yet more stencils (testing each only once), chose one and painted the seat red again. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t have enough red for a third try, which made the whole thing nerve-wracking.
And because I was nervous, I was distracted. I put the stencil down immediately after spraying the adhesive, so I was afraid to push too hard because I didn’t want a permanent bond. Which is how black once again got into some of the red lines.
I decided to just do damage control. I took a foam brush and dipped it in a small amount of the red, using the tip to go over the red lines that had black in them. Of course, this led to my widening some of the red lines too much. So I grabbed some black paint (a different color than the spray paint, sigh) and used the foam brush on that.
That, of course, led to overdoing the black in some places. And so on and so forth for another two rounds of red/black. Eventually, I accepted that this was definitely another “good enough” scenario, put down the brush and backed away from the stool top.
If you look too carefully, you’ll see some spots where the blacks don’t match. And I could’ve gone over the red a bit more in some places. But it mainly it looks pretty good.
Few, if any, will scrutinize the seat. They’ll look at it, say cool/ask about it and promptly sit down. And I keep reminding myself that it’s still cooler than all those regular old stools out there!
By the way, it’s important to mention what I should have done to remedy the second results:
- Just bought some more paint and tried again! or…
- Used a small brush rather than a foam one
- Carefully go over the black specks with the small brush
- Touching up black by spraying some paint into a piece of cardboard, using it as an easel
Adding some flair
Another note on stool buying: Get one with straight legs. Nothing with ridges and grooves.
First of all, ridges block some of the spray paint from getting into the grooves. I kept finding bare wood spots, no matter how thorough I thought I was being. I had to put the stool in about five different positions to finally get it all covered.
More importantly, any embellishment in a piece of furniture is a temptation. You find yourself wanting to highlight it somehow, to do something cool. You won’t be able to resist the urge.
Which is how I ended up giving each stool two, 45-minute sessions of highlighting ridges and grooves. It was painstaking work with a small brush. Which also included a lot of swooping in with Q-tips when paint ended up in the wrong place.
The end result was worth it… But only barely.
So there you have it, our superhero stools!
Pretty good, if nowhere near perfect. But that’s sort of the theme of our house. And our life, when you get right down to it. So really, the stools fit in perfectly.
Have you ever tried to make your own stencils? Which of your decor attempts have turned into debacles?