I am soooo excited about this one. Please do try it, especially you journal artists. It is a lot more fun than you'd think to manipulate images of yourself. Although I make stencils a lot, it had never occurred to me to do a self-portrait until I read Randi Feuerhelm-Watts' brilliant book, Wide Open. If you don't have her book, go get it today. So many inspiring ideas! Okay, let's get to it.
Materials you need:
- Clear photograph of yourself, preferably a self-portrait
- Photoshop, PE (Photoshop Elements), or other photo editing software.
- Exacto knife with new sharp blades (this is essential if you don't want to be cursing yourself through this project.)
- A self-healing mat is nice and makes cutting much easier (you don't have to have a huge one). I've also heard of using a piece of glass to cut on, but I'd cut my finger off for sure. Note: rotary cutting mats are not self-healing. They work okay, but not as nicely as the self-healing mats.
- Cardstock or other material for your template. Cardstock is easy, but a file folder, inkjet transparency (assuming you have an inkjet printer), thin plastic used to make stencils (you can find them with the stencils at craft stores), and really thin chipboard all work well, too. Plain copy paper will work but it won't last as long. You need something thick enough to hold cut details well, but thin enough to run through your printer. I suppose photo paper or smooth watercolor paper would work, too. Note: you can run just about anything that is flat, can be cut down to 8.5 x 11 or smaller, and isn't sticky through your printer, including fabric--trust me, I've tried it all and never had a problem.
- Dye ink pad and cosmetic sponge or acrylic paint with sponge brush.
- Plain paper to test on.
Making the Stencil
- The first thing you need to do is to select a good photograph. Not necessarily "good" as in flattering, but "good" as in the image makes a good stencil. Finding the perfect one takes some time. Be patient and have fun. You may have to digitally manipulate several photos before deciding which one would make the best stencil. You're looking for clear definition and not too many details.
- Once you find the right photograph, you need to simplify and turn it into b&w in Photoshop or PE. Although another program might work, I can only show you how on these. I'm sorry, but I have no pictures for this part. I can't find my original picture. Somehow I must have deleted it or something.)
- Scan or pull up the digital photo in Photoshop. Disclaimer: I am no expert here, I just know what has worked for me not necessarily the only/best way to do it. Everything I know, I've figured out myself.
- Apply the "Note Paper" filter to your photo: Filter/Sketch/Note Paper. Then reduce the Relief by sliding the slider bar to the left all the way to zero. Click Okay.
- Next, change your image to black & white and simplify it a bit: Image/Adjustments/Threshold. (For PE: Filter/Adjustments/Threshold.) This will turn your photo completely white. In the pop up box, slide the bar to the right until you begin to see your image reemerge. Move the slider back and forth until you get a clear image with as few details as possible while still being recognizable.
- Remember: Everything that is Black you will be cutting away. Don't worry about the background b/c we aren't interested in it. And you also don't need to include every detail (clothes, hair, etc.) when you actually cut your stencil.
- Once your image looks kinda like what could be a stencil, and you like it, click Okay.
- At this point, you can use the Eraser Tool to remove some of the background or any details that are distracting to you if you'd like. The simpler for cutting the better.
- Finally, Save your document immediately! And put your cardstock in the printer now.
- Decide approximately how large you want your stencil to be. Too small will be more difficult to cut but it doesn't have to be huge. What about 4x6? 6x8? or 8x10? Fill the whole page?
- Print your stencil: File/Print With Preview. Adjust Height and/or Width. Click Print then Okay.
Cutting the Stencil
- This is the easy and not so easy part. Before making any cuts, look over your image and tell yourself out loud (multiple times if necessary): Everything Black will be cut away. Cut away all of the Black parts only. (You will be cutting away the positive space, but if knowing that just confuses you, forget it now.)
- As you cut, go slow and pay attention to important details like eyes, nose, etc. You want to cut out the basic image not every single detail. It does not have to be perfect to make a great stencil. Go along the basic contour of the image as you cut.
- Once all the black is cut away, you'll need to try out your stencil. On some scrap paper, hold the stencil firmly in place (or use a very low tack--sticky--tape to keep it in place and sponge ink through the openings of the stencil. At this point, make sure all the corners, etc. are filled with ink so you get the most accurate impression. (Later, try out how few areas you need to stencil to get an interesting image.) If you need to make adjustments to the stencil, do it now and then make another print until you get an image you like.
- Ta-da! You did it. Is that not super cool or what?? Next you will want to hunt down photos of all your family members, and your dog, and maybe that cool sign or building you photographed last week....
- Try out all the cool things you can do with your stencils.
Of course, you can make any kind of stencil you want. You can use clipart designs, hand drawn images, or any object to make a stencil, but the purpose of this exercise is to use a picture of yourself. If you don't already use self-portraits in your artwork or journaling, do it, regardless of how you feel about the way you look. Purposefully try out unflattering pictures to show yourself it is okay not to be perfect. How can you be truly real in your journals if you aren't real, or just don't want to document, this?? For more encouragement, read Randi's book (link above). But the thing she wrote that stuck with me the most about self-portraits was this: Don't be afraid of what you see, that is what everyone else sees every day. So, what the heck? Just do it. Seeing pictures of yourself more often will get you used to it and maybe one day, you'll love what you see. (I'm preaching to myself here, too.)
I really hope you try this out, but as a gift of appreciation for all my time and effort (just joking) you have to send me a picture of your stencil or how you used your stenciled image. I would also appreciate feedback on the tutorial itself. Is it clear or confusing? Too much information or too little? Inaccurate? Otherwise helpful or unhelpful? And if you have any questions, just email me or leave it in the comments.
Thanks. This has been fun. ;-)