Stenciling Three Layers is Better Than Five Layers

I love three-tone (light, mid-tone, dark) stencil portraits. They capture light and shadow really well, if the original photograph is good. Most people seem to opt for more layers because the preview looks better. But it’s advisable to tune your upload until the three-layer stencil captures the detail you want, and go with that. This video and the explanation below tells why.

three layers beats five layers in a portrait stencil
editorializing: 3 layers beats 5 layers this time. Right?

Here are the main reasons I feel that three-layer portrait stencils are better than five-layer portrait stencils:

  • Quicker and easier to paint
  • Fewer bridges are visible, typically
  • Registration errors are less frequent
  • Simpler to understand visually (light, shadow, hard shadow)
  • You can ‘interpret’ the stencil more freely because there aren’t so many boundaries (you can create more dramatic gradients with the spray / coverage when there are fewer boundaries)

Caveats: you are forgiven for four and five-layer portrait stencils if:

  • you need to separate more colors in your stencil (for example, you want the three shades of gray but you also want to capture the two-color checkered shirt that the subject is wearing)
  • you are capturing and really using five shades of gray
  • that’s really about it. disagree?

The images here come from a project in which photographs were taken of the same kids 6.5 years apart.

Note: no white (lightest) layers were harmed in the making of this video. Since the surface is white, we didn’t use the white layer for either of them. :-)