When MidJourney first launched, we immediately wanted to come up with a stencil-friendlier version of Frida Kahlo. Interesting, and we eventually got what we came for. Now we’re back with more practice, and more experience getting a desirable stencil result.
Why not go directly for what you want?
Why beat around the bush if MidJourney has exactly what you need?
"black and white stencil of <subject>"
Let’s see whether the thing that MidJourney generates is bridgeable as a stencil. So we take what we get with MidJourney and run it through the Stencilizer to see where it has to be bridged.
This looks pretty good to me. I would paint this! Maybe I would prefer to paint the black layer onto a white background, and remove the lateral bridges on either side so that they don’t distract from the image.
So, just asking MidJourney to generate a stencil works reasonable well. And making black-and-white stencils by hand (that are recognizable) is really hard. So: WIN.
Basic image features: number of colors, clean lines and shapes
An image that’s going to stencilize well might start as a photorealistic image (especially if it’s professional), but you can put the AI into the right ballpark by calling on it to produce images that are limited in color.
"three-tone" "three-color" "green, purple, red" "vector art" "clean shapes"
You won’t always score with the color prompt, but you will typically get at least in the ballpark. (That’s a common theme of prompt engineering: with a couple of tries you can get ‘in the ballpark’–but recoloring and cropping out unwanted details is often required to get the rest of the way there.)
Isolating a feature on a background
"isolated on a <color> background"
If we want a figure to appear to float on the background of the surface (which is what I want about half the time, these days), then we want the AI to isolate the figure on a flat background. If you don’t tell it to isolate on a specifically flat background, the AI often introduces a gradient background, because that is what might look best on a website or in print. But since we’re making a stencil, we don’t want to stencilize that gradient. After all, if we want to create a gradient in the background we’re going to do that with spray or another technique; we’re not going to paint fifteen stencils of changing colors to get a simple gradient.
The “isolated” part makes sure that the subject does not get cut off by the border of the image.
Using camera angle to fit your subject in frame
"extreme high-angle from above"
You want Charlie Chaplin, and you want to show his cane and shoes and all, but you don’t have a tall space in which to do it. You want to somehow compress Charlie Chaplin into a smaller space. This is called foreshortening. But MidJourney doesn’t understand foreshortening, so you have to give it a camera angle cue instead.
High-angle and low-angle shots help you get tall subjects into less tall spaces. Try these other variations to ‘orient’ your subject in space so that your stencil looks right on location.
"low-angle" "low-angle from below" "side-angle" "closeup" "low-angle extreme closeup"
Aesthetic features that make interesting stencils
“Negative space” is a cue to the AI to give each block of color a double meaning: the inside of the block is a shape that means one thing, and the outside of the block is a shape that represents another thing.
Notice how, even though it didn’t produce a two-tone pattern, it did produce elements of negative space. (Sometimes the darkest elements are petals of flowers, and sometimes they are the space between the flowers.) With some more work we could produce a two-tone pattern.
Read more about the Pop Art movement. For stenciling, it’s going to result in bright, high-contrast images and bold graphics.
The first prompt had a good result; adding ‘pop art’ dialed up the energy level and created something worthy of execution, I’d say.
This is a subtle term for what we’re often looking for in a stencil but don’t know it. We want patterns of dark and light, because those patterns get turned into solid color blocks. The masters developed this technique and the shapes of those color blocks in a great painting are beautiful on their own.
It’s notoriously difficult to get a brown dog with brown eyes on a brown background to stencilize correctly. But with the directive to add patterns of dark/light, you get both the contrast and the appealing variety of shapes typical of the Dutch masters.
Simulate the result you want
Stencil art is usually clean and minimalist, and it shares things in common with other art forms like block prints, woodcuts, ink paintings, lithographs, linocuts. Try using names of the processes that produce stencil-like outputs to tune into those looks.
"block print" "ink painting" "lithograph" "stencil art" "linocut" "risograph" "photogravure" "bromoil" "platinotype"
Note that it didn’t exactly nail the color commands (it’s really white and black on a red background), but the “block print” really gets you in close.
Channel the masters
"in the style of Banksy" "by Shepard Fairey"
I’m not a huge fan of explicitly calling on an AI to impersonate an artist. I hope that we collectively figure out a way to compensate the creative types on whose bounty we are all currently dining.
Other prompts to try
"clean shapes" "by Adobe Illustrator" "minimalist" "half-tone" "portrait" "character art" "graphic art" "--s 1000" "--q 0.5" "--no gradient"
In addition, many of the same prompts that work in DALL-E also work (even better) in MidJourney. We’re having fun using MidJourney to generate stencil ready art. We tried it already to generate repeating wall stencils. Check it out!