Having developed a recent fascination with stencils as a form of expression – fed by the works of Banksy and Blek and building on my enchanting experience with Jean-Luc Duez and his “Amour” stencils all over Paris – I thought I’d see if I can achieve the stencil effect in my weapon of choice, Illustrator.
Obviously, Photoshop would be a much better option for this, but hey, I’m a vector kind of girl.
So let’s go, see what we can do with this little project.
What you need
- A reference image (unless you want to draw it from scratch, but let’s keep things simple); I used this one, courtesy of Shutterstock:
- A background image – keeping in mind we won’t cut out this stencil to spray paint in the subway; I used this and this, from Shutterstock.
- A basic understanding of Illustrator and the pen tool
- A bit of patience and some drawing skills
Creating the stencil
- Start by placing the reference image (the girl) in a new Illustrator document. If you want to make it easier for you to draw you can take it to Black & White in Photoshop first, and increase the contrast. You should have something like this:
Using the pen tool, start creating paths following the darker areas of the image. As I said, this tutorial assumes you are familiar with the Pen tool (but if you’re not, scroll to the bottom of this article for a couple of links to excellent Pen tutorials).
You should end up with something like this:
The spray can effect
Probably the more difficult part of this tutorial and the part I was trying to get right: simulating the spray paint effect in Illustrator – on a small scale of course, suitable for a stencil.
First, select all your paths and go to the Pathfinder window; click on the circled symbol and then on the Expand button; you should now have just one shape.
Creating the granularity
With the resulting shape selected, go to Effect – Photoshop Effects – Film Grain; change the Grain to 3, leave the other settings as they are by default.
The outcome should look something like this:
Applying a blur
Closer, but not quite there; stencil images have a soft quality about them, as the spray paint disperses in fine particles a bit outside the drawing line. Let’s apply a Gaussian blur to mimic this effect.
First, select your stencil and copy it. Then select again and go to Effect – Photoshop Effects – Gaussian Blur; select a blur size of 1 pixel. Click ok.
Paste the previous image on top (CTR+F or Apple+F if you’re on a Mac). This will ensure you retain the granularity, as well as the softness. We’re almost done. You should be looking at something that looks like this:
Last thing to do is apply your stencil to a wall – a virtual one in our case. Open your wall photograph in Photoshop or Illustrator and paste your stencil on top of it. Make sure to set the layer transparency to Multiply. You’re done!