Painting & Stenciling Tips from the Pros

Hey, friends! As many of you know, I just got back from a trip to Plaid Headquarters where I got to play with all kinds of fun new products, try new techniques, and get training from experts in the crafting business. One of our workshops was focused on tips for painting and stenciling, and I have to be honest, my first thought was, “what are they going to say that I don’t already know?” I mean, I’ve been painting craft projects for as long as I can remember…what could I possibly have not heard by now? Well, guess what? I was absolutely wrong. The tips I learned are amazing life hacks that will change the way I paint. I found myself wondering how I’d gone this long never knowing these simple things, and I think you might feel the same way!

Pro Tips for Painting & Stenciling

Pro Tips for Brush Care

Tip #1: Always wash a new brush before using it.

Why? Well, you know how when you take a new brush out of the package, the ends feel kind of matted together? That’s a residue from the manufacturing process. If you don’t wash it out, your bristles won’t feel or behave the way they’re supposed to and can keep your paint from applying evenly.

Tip #2: Gently pull on the bristles before using a brush.

Particularly if you have a new brush, you’ll want to give a gentle tug in the natural direction of the bristles to remove any loose ones before you paint. We all know how annoying it is to find a bristle on our project!

Pro Tips for Painting & Stenciling

Tip #3: Wash brushes immediately after use by moving them back and forth in water.

The longer you wait to wash your brush, the harder it will be to get all the paint back out. I confess that more than once, I have just thrown a brush away because it was easier than trying to clean off the caked on paint. Simply move the brush back and forth along the bottom of your container of water in the same way you would if you were painting and the residual paint will work its way out.

Tip #4: Dry your brush by pulling it toward yourself from a folded paper towel.

Our instructor, Andy, never paints without a folded paper towel at his work station. Fold it in half lengthwise, then in half again so you have a little square. Then, open it up and place your wet brush inside. Place one hand over the bristles and use the other to pull the brush toward yourself. This removes the water while helping the brush to retain its natural shape.

Pro Tips for Painting & Stenciling

Tip #5: Always store damp brushes horizontally.

While it’s great to store a dry brush with the bristles up and the handle down in a jar, if you do this with a brush that still has water in it, the water will travel down the handle of the brush and cause some problems. First, it can weaken the adhesive that holds the metal barrel in place and cause the barrel to become loose or fall off. In cases where there’s even more water, it can even cause the handle of the brush itself to flake, peel, or rot. After washing your brush, let it lay horizontally until it’s completely dry before returning it to its normal storage.

Pro Tips for Painting & Stenciling

Pro Tips for Base Coating

Tip #1: Place your paint on a palette or paper plate.

I’m definitely guilty of using the paint bottle cap or just dunking my brush into the bottle of paint itself, but this can cause extra mess. Using the cap makes the cap itself a mess, which can get on and in your paint when you screw it back on. Dunking directly into the bottle can get paint all the way up your brush handle, from which it gets all over your project and you!

Tip #2: Create a “nest” for yourself at your worktable with everything you need.

You want a protective surface under your project, your paint and brushes, your folded paper towel, and a container of water. The water should always go on the side of your dominant hand. This keeps you from having to reach across your project to wet/wash your brushes, which can cause you to get drips and splashes on top of your work.

Pro Tips for Painting & Stenciling

Tip #3: Load your brush by placing it in the pool of paint and pulling it toward yourself. Then, flip it over and repeat.

This will evenly coat both sides and fill up the bristles.

Tip #4: Paint from the end to the beginning.

What does that mean? Start at one end and make a short stroke. Next, go over that same area and extend your stroke a bit farther. Continue, always starting in the same spot and extending farther until you have one long, solid brushstroke that covers the entire project. This way, you’re not removing paint you already applied and you have no visible brushstrokes!

Tip #5: Whenever possible, paint with the grain of your wood.

I think most people know this one, but just in case, it bears stating. Unless there’s some kind of special circumstance where you can’t, always paint with the grain.

Tip #6: Sand lightly in between coats.

You’ll want to do this by hand, unless it’s a huge project, and use paper with a grit between 140-220. This will remove any imperfections, buildup, or residue that got trapped in your previous coat.

Tip #7: When it comes to paint, cold = wet.

We can all see when the very top of our project is dry, but how do we know it’s dry all the way down? If you lightly place your hand on the project and it feels cold, there’s still wet paint underneath. If it’s room temperature, you’re good to go on to the next step! I think this was my favorite tip…I had no idea!

Pro Tips for Stenciling

It’s so easy to mess up a stenciled image, and the culprit is almost always too much paint! When you over apply, the paint seeps under the stencil and “bleeds,” causing the image to blur. Here are some ways to prevent that from happening.

Tip #1: Completely tape your image in place.

Using painters’ tape or washi tape, make sure to tape all edges of the stencil as well as any areas you don’t want color. The more flush with the surface your stencil is, the better your design will be. Adhesive stencils are the absolute best if you can find them in the shape or pattern you want; they adhere completely and prevent even the small inside pieces of a design from moving around.

Pro Tips for Painting & Stenciling

Tip #2: Use a stencil brush.

It may seem like a silly thing to say, but I admit there were times several years ago when I tried to use the wrong tool for the job. A flat paint brush is not made for stenciling and won’t give you the results you desire. Invest in a brush designed specifically for stenciling. They come in all different sizes, and they’re made to help you get a clean image.

Pro Tips for Painting & Stenciling

Tip #3: Load, then offload your brush.

Unlike when you load a brush for a “normal” coat of paint, to load a stencil brush, you’ll gently tip it into the paint while keeping it completely vertical. Only the very ends of the bristles should contact the paint. Then, before touching it to your project, offload it onto a paper towel. Hold it vertically, with the bristles touching the towel, then make it “hula hoop” by moving it in a clockwise direction. You want to remove any excess paint, leaving your brush almost dry.

Tip #4: Stipple or Swirl

Once your brush is offloaded, carefully apply your paint by tapping it onto the open areas of the stencil. You will have to repeatedly reload your brush with paint, but it’s much better to go back for more than to use too much and ruin your image. The pros actually take this one step further by gently swirling the brush while holding it vertically, instead of tapping it up and down. Go for whichever method is more comfortable for you.

Pro Tips for Painting & Stenciling

Tip #5: Remove the stencil while your paint is still wet.

This seems counterintuitive, but if you allow the paint to dry, the paint on the stencil can bond with the paint on your project. Then, when you try to remove the stencil, some of the paint may peel off with it.

Pro Tips for Painting & Stenciling

Pro Tip for Paint Bottles

This one little tip blew my mind! You know how paint bottles have that annoying little plastic seal around the cap? If you grab the cap securely in your hand and twist it clockwise {the opposite direction you would to open the bottle}, the plastic wrap will start to move and then pop right off! Magic!

Pro Tips for Painting & Stenciling

What do you think?! Which tip do you find most helpful? To learn more and see these tips in action, check out my video on Facebook! Special thanks to Andy and Chris at Plaid Headquarters for all the great insights. I’d love to hear your best painting tips…hop over and share them with us at One Artsy Mama & Friends on Facebook.

Pro Tips for Painting & Stenciling

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  1. LOVED this blog post, Amy! FABULOUS tips! I am so happy that you enjoyed our painting tips and trick session while at Plaid! Next time, we can go over many more painting tips. These are just the basics! Happy Painting and thanks for sharing with your readers!

    1. It was very helpful! I love the way the simplest things can make a big difference in how your project turns out! I look forward to learning even more next time.

  2. Hi!
    I’m so glad some of my “reasons for doing things my way” struck a cord with you!
    So often what everyone thinks is super easy or simple is actually something that requires a good bit of practice and repetition to really learn.
    I’ve been painting and teaching for more than 30 years, so I am so glad that you gained something from my experience!
    Happy painting!!

    1. Hi, Andy!
      Thanks so much for sharing your expertise with us! I really appreciate you taking the time to tell us about the little things that make a big difference.

    2. Andy, this REALLY resonates with me. I’m a cake artist, and the techniques themselves are frequently not difficult… but it’s the PRACTICE and REPETITION that makes artists stand out. What you said is a wonderful explanation for why premium, hand-created artwork costs what it does.

      “So often what everyone thinks is super easy or simple is actually something that requires a good bit of practice and repetition to really learn.”

  3. TY for the tip on gwtting the packaging plastic off the paint! I really love the flip tops, as they are easy to work with while working on a project, and have been since the 1970s!
    Tbose seals for shipping & ensuring you’re getting a new, unopened product have been frustrating for about the same length of time, however
    This tip shpuld be in stores & on packing lists! Awesome tip! (Safer than using a knife too!)

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