Cleaning my stencils

I love my extensive collection of stencils but they’re just tools. I don’t fuss, wiping them with a baby wipe each time I use them, etc as some artists do. I use them, let the paint dry on them, and put them back into their ring binders. When I’m on a creative roll I couldn’t care less about cleaning up as I go.

Of course, there’s a but. Over time my favourite stencils get layers of paint built up on them, so they don’t achieve fine detail any more. They need to be cleaned. Ugh.

The easiest method I’ve found is one the lovely artist Pam Carriker recommends here. I buy the Eco band of dishwasher gel and soak then for 24 hours, then use a Scotchbrite to rub the paint off. You do have to be careful not to pull up any edges and damage the stencil. Some brands of stencil clean up easier than others; Tim Holtz stencils are *the* best, you can basically rinse the paint off under the tap without any scrubbing. Others are hard to clean or remain very stained. Either way, once they’ve been cleaned it’s a huge improvement.

So, I’m on my annual stencil-cleaning binge. Wish me luck… I’ve included before and after photos so you can see the difference it makes.

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My hands are tools as I paint

Some people could eat a 4 course meal with only a fork, and not have a drop of food on them. Or cook Christmas dinner for 10 and emerge from the kitchen looking pristine. Me? I can’t eat, or cook, without spilling, dripping or slopping. It’s not that I’m clumsy as such, just – I don’t know – a bit uncoordinated I guess.

And when I paint? Yes, the same thing applies really. They say a picture paints a thousand words; in which case my clothes, and hands, tell quite a long story. I have tools – brushes, scrapers, knives – and paper towels, rags, wet wipes etc. Yet, somehow, I always end up with paint on my clothes and on my hands. The food mess may well be lack of coordination, but (forgetting the clothes for a moment) I think the paint on my hands is really about something else.

I am one of those people who likes to touch things. I’m a librarian by day; I touch the books, I touch my customers – sometimes I hug them if they need it – I touch my scrapbook pages, my pets, my mother, flowers, the hand of people who serve me in shops.

And I like to touch what I paint. I pick the small canvas up and hold them in my hand as I paint. I pick up the tubes and bottles of paint and feel the weight of them and, of course, I touch the wet paint! Not deliberately, but then again, perhaps really it *is* deliberate? Perhaps for me part of the process of painting is feeling my way through the layers of paint and glazes and marks. Feeling what is right, what needs changing…

I think that for me painting is not just about the image, the colours, the texture – it’s about the feel of the process, and the feel of the finished work. And that’s why my hands tell a story – because for me painting is as much a tactile pursuit as a visual one. How about you?