How To Work With the Surface Color

You may remember that we often want to leave out one of the layers of a stencil in order to let the surface show through and to keep our stencil work from looking like a giant post card. In this post we ask the question, ‘How do you work with the surface you have?’

We’ll use the same stencil of the school bus that we used before, and this time we paint it on an orange surface and a black surface, in addition to having painted all the layers on a light surface before.

Get the school bus stencil.

school bus stenciled on orange wall

Notice how the red lights are not part of the color scheme of the stencil (which is white / yellow / black). Those were added using the yellow stencil layer, without painting the whole stencil. We could have used the yellow stencil to add a little more of the shadow under the bus as well. But for the most part, this painting really works because the yellow background comes into the stencil without the boundaries of the stencil.

In this case, the white layer isn’t used at all. The yellow layer is used just for the red lights and some lighter highlights across the top of the bus. The black layer does all the heavy lifting.

Next, we paint the school bus on a black background. In this case the yellow stencil does all the work. We paint it first, and then use the white stencil to put a few highlights on the bus and to put a ‘halo’ around the outside of the bus (I thought it might make for a nice ‘spacey’ effect, but I didn’t really like it in the end). We also use the black stencil to add the windows and stripes on the interior, but since the stencil is on black already we don’t get shadow effects or anything like that.

orange school bus on black surface
yellow-orange school bus on black: the shadows shouldn’t be orange!

All in all, we discovered how this stencil works by painting it on three different surfaces. Each has things I like, but the one that really pops is the painting on yellow, because the yellow is the signature ‘school bus’ color, and because using a mid-tone surface color is often a winning strategy as well.