Mid-tone sidewalk chalk stencils

Art students learn the art of ‘dark-light-dark-light’ (chiaroscuro) by drawing with dark and light chalk on mid-tone (typically brown or gray) paper. The mid-tone is the default, and the shadows are dark and the highlights are white.

This technique works as well on concrete or asphalt as it does on brown paper. If we create a three-tone stencil with a mid-tone background, then we can paint white and black layers on the mid-tone: and if we do it right, the mid-tone of the background will find its way into the details of the stencil to give us a really nice effect.

Creating the base image

queller4 created the base image for us in MidJourney. (Thanks!) From there, it was a matter of conditioning the base image to make it into a good stencil.

Conditioning the image for stenciling

Crop and set background

So we crop the image as close as we can, and recolor the background so that it more or less matches the midtone that’s present in the image. (That’s the idea, after all–to have the midtone surface color inside the image, not just on the outside.)

I took an intermediate result and uploaded it to Bay Stencil (remove background unchecked) to check to see how the three-layer stencil presets would treat it. I found to my surprise that I had misjudged the midtone (my background was too light), so I darkened the background and was closer to the effect I wanted.

You can see how I modified the image in the video to adjust the background.

Adding detail and pushing the midtone in

Still, there were some details that I wanted to have present in the stencil, such as:

  • more detail around the eyes and ears
  • more midtone present in the interior of the stencil
  • a little more reflected light on the bottom of the pig (again, bringing in more of the midtone)

Again, check the video above for the sequencing.

flying pig artwork, conditioned to three-tone for stenciling
flying pig artwork, conditioned to three-tone for stenciling

Stencilize the image with Bay Stencil

Uploading to Bay Stencil gives you your color-separated, bridged and registered stencil layers. Bridged is important because you can’t cut and paint a stencil that is in twenty pieces. The pieces have to hold together in a stable configuration so that you can spray or brush the paint on. Registered is important because the white layer and the black layer aren’t typically touching one another. So if you paint, say, the white layer first, then you don’t know where to lay the black layer unless you cut registration marks in both of them to align them properly. (Like I said, Bay Stencil does this for you.)

Cut and Paint

Cut on your craft or laser cutter. (Or have Bay Stencil cut it for you! It’s okay, you’re still doing the design yourself.)

flying pig stencil light and dark layers, reproduced on midtone surface
flying pig stencil light and dark layers, reproduced on midtone surface

We like to use chalk spray to make our street and industrial wall stencils. Chalk spray is cleanable with soap and water and a stiff brush. Plus, it tends to weather off after a year or so even if you don’t clean it. But it’s not a ‘washes off in the first rain’ type of thing. We’ve linked to Montana Cans product because we’ve tested it. In general we don’t love Montana Cans, but like I said in our market it was easiest to get their chalk products; we tested them and they work well.

Different surfaces

Our original concept was to paint the flying pig on neutral construction surfaces (like concrete and asphalt), using these temporary spray chalks. But when we were asked to reproduce the Flying Pig in permanent paint on a promotional display, we chose to use PINK as the base color. We chose a flattish, dull pink because we knew that the white wouldn’t pop against a neon pink. The surface was a large sheet of vinyl (not flat at all), and it was a bit windy, so the stencils didn’t lay flat, but we’re still happy to get the chance to use it in this extended way.

pink flying pig
flying pig tried on pink background

We’d love for you to try your own midtone sidewalk stencil. But if you want, you can just make this one. Click here to get the free Flying Pig SVGs.

More examples of mid-tone success