Tuesday, April 2, 2013

How to make your walls Pop by stenciling a Shadow Effect

Leila holding her new "Art Deco Fan Flowers" stencil

In this tutorial, our friend Leila will help us demonstrate how to stencil your wall with the "drop shadow" technique using Olive Leaf Stencils "Art Deco Fan Flowers" stencil.  This project is a little more work than a single layer stencil application, but the result is, as you will see, quite stunning.  It will add a wonderful depth to your walls, while creating the illusion of a larger, less confined space.  We hope you enjoy!

*All available at HOME DEPOT (except the stencil)

- 2 small paint trays
Project supplies
- 2 Mini Dense Foam Rollers (4-inch)
- Low-Tack Spray Adhesive (we used 3M)
- blue painter's tape
- paint can opener
- stir sticks
- Q-tips and water (for leaks)
- paper towels
- *Paint for the bottom layer (Shadow)
- *Paint for the top layer
- Drop cloth for the floor
- Pencil and Eraser
- Repeating Pattern Stencil (we suggest using two stencils for the two-color project)

* For the first layer (shadow) wall color, we used BEHR "Coal Mine"(a dark blue/purple/grey).
*For the metallic top layer, we used Martha Stewart Precious Metals metallic paint in "Brown Zircon" (a warm golden).
The background wall color is BEHR "Infamous" (a couple of shades lighter than the "shadow" layer in the blue/purple/grey family).

Leila taping the base board
Preparing your walls for Stenciling

Place blue painter's tape along the edges of your moldings.  This will save you a lot of wasted time worrying about dripping or smearing paint as you work.  The tape is inexpensive and easy to use.  It is easiest to apply if you tear off lengths of tape approximatey 3 feet long, apply, then simply overlap the following pieces until the molding's edge is covered.

Fully prepped wall

We recommend choosing a base color for the wall that is lighter than the "drop shadow" layer will be. This lends to the effect of a floating pattern.

Here you can see our wall is taped, painted, and ready for the stenciling process to begin.

Don't forget to put your drop cloth on the floor!

stenciling supplies
Setting up for Stenciling

We placed a handy little table nearby to reduce the work effort.

You will need your small paint tray with your "drop shadow" color - for the bottom layer, a stack of paper towels, a cup of water and cotton swabs for minor touch-ups, and your mini paint roller.

Marking the registration holes
Applying the Stencil

When using spray adhesive, it is always preferable to spray it outdoors (if you can't, you should place a LARGE drop cloth on the floor when you spray your stencil - otherwise you could end up with a sticky film on the floor).

Spray a light coating of the spray adhesive onto whichever side of your stencil you have chosen to be the backside (in many cases, the stencil will look identical on either side).  Allow the spray adhesive to dry for about 60 seconds before applying the stencil to the wall (this will help it get nice and tacky).

Place the stencil on the wall.  It is a good idea to start in an upper corner and work your way down and across.  Take care to place the stencil level with the ceiling.

For stencils with registration marks:  using a pencil, carefully mark the registration holes on the stencil.  These are small holes in each corner of the stencil which are not part of the design, but used to align the stencil hereafter.

Removing excess paint
Applying Paint

Pour a small amount of the "drop shadow" color into the small paint tray and gather paint onto your roller.

*Avoid getting too much paint on the roller, as this will cause leakage beneath the stencil!

To achieve the proper amount of paint,  run the roller across the paper towels a few times to remove excess.

Gently roll the paint onto the applied stencil.  Take care not to press too firmly, as this can also  cause leakage beneath the stencil.  Try to roll with a light and even pressure for the best results.  If you are concerned about rolling over the edge/border of the stencil, you can (in addition to the spray adhesive) make a painter's tape border around your stencil to ensure you stay inside the lines.

When you're finished painting, you can carefully peel the stencil off the wall.  You can do this while the stencil is still wet.  The design should dry quickly because the layer of paint is not too thick.

Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

Fourth Application
Now it's time to repeat the process.  We suggest stenciling as close to the ceiling as you can get.  Most walls will fit two full-size stencils vertically (they're all about 4 feet long) with some space left at the bottom.  To get a nice clean edge at the bottom, we suggest waiting to paint the bottom row until you are finished stenciling the rest of the wall.  The bottom row technique is shown later in STEP SIX.

If your stencil has lost some tack, simply spray another light coat of adhesive on the back before continuing. As the adhesive builds up, you will need to spray it less often.

Carefully place the stencil on the wall, alongside the design you just painted.  Use the pencil marks you made on the first application to line up your stencil. Don't forget to make new pencil marks with each application!  It is important to be precise in this step.  If the alignment is off on the second application, it will cause each subsequent allignment to become more crooked, so start off on the right foot and align carefully.

Occasionally, when you remove the stencil, you may find small areas where the paint has bled.  This is very easy to fix if you act while the paint is still wet!  Moisten a Q-tip with water, and carefully use it to wipe away any unwanted spots.

reapplying the stencil
minor touch-ups

loaded stencil
You may find that after several applications, your stencil will become heavily loaded with paint. This is nothing to be overly concerned about, but it may result in fragments of drying paint getting into your roller, or the stencil becoming a bit unruly.
There are three solutions for this: The first is just to simply carry on - it really won't hurt anything.  The second is to order multiple stencils, so that you can simply start using a fresh one whenever you wish.  This is also the best option for speed, since more
stencils mean that more painters can work simultaneously.  When two or more painters are able to stencil at the same time, this process can really be accomplished with surprising speed.  The third option is to wash your stencil.  You can do this with warm soapy water.  If there are tough spots, an old toothbrush will help scrub off the paint.

Nearly done with the first layer

As you can see here, Leila is nearly finished with the "drop-shadow" layer of the stenciling process.  Note the areas along the wall's edge, and along the crown and base moldings, where the design has not been stenciled.  These are the areas we will paint with the TRIMMED stencil. We plan to leave the crown molding the way it is.  It is up to you if you want to fill in the missing segments.  We feel the design should be flush with the corners and the base-board, but we like the look of the crown molding area as it is.

And here it is!  The "drop shadow" layer is finished!  It looks great just the way it is, and you could call it finished...  However, for this post, we are planning on turning this wall into a very bold statement!

Completed "drop shadow".  Great job, Leila!

Now we are ready for...

The Overlay

Top-coat set-up
Wait for the wall to be completely dry before going further. This is a good time to prep the work table for the second phase. Remove the old roller trays and tools, and set back up with the top-coat materials as shown.  When the wall is dry, ERASE all of your pencil registration marks!  This is VERY IMPORTANT because you don't want to get these confused with the new marks you are going to make for the next layer!

Now you can apply spray adhesive to your new stencil.  *If you only have one stencil, make sure all of the previous paint color has been washed off.


Next, apply the stencil to the wall.  Place the stencil carefully so that its position is just a bit above and to the left (or right - your choice) of the first stencil you painted during the first phase.  The greater the distance from the underlying design, the further away the "shadow" will appear to be.  We chose a distance of about half an inch up, and half an inch to the left of the underlying pattern.

First and second coat

Once the stencil is in place, mark the registration holes as before with a pencil, and paint the stencil.  For our top-coat we chose a metallic gold paint.  The metallic paint was less opaque than the underlying paint, as you can see here.  The upper portion has had two coats, and the lower portion only one coat.  You may choose to do only one coat, but we chose to put two coats for more opacity.

First gold layer

Once you have achieved the desired coverage, remove the stencil from the wall.  When the stencil comes off you will see that it looks something like this (left photo).  If you have done two coats of paint, you will have to wait a bit longer for it to dry before reapplying your stencil.

Carry on as before
Continue repeating the process, as with the first layer, being careful to align the registration marks and doing minor touch-ups as you go.


Trim carefully
When you have completed all the areas that you can paint with the whole stencil, it is time to carefully trim the stencil (as you may have done before with the stencil used for the "shadow" color) to allow you to paint the bottom row flush with the base board.

Align your stencil with the registration marks on the bottom row. You can either use a marker to draw the line where it meets the base board, and then cut it, or you can simply cut it against the wall (shown left).

When applying paint, be careful near the bottom not to press too hard.  You don't want the paint to seep under the stencil.  This is why we tape the moldings!  

Remove the painter's tape
Once the painting is finished, it's time to peel off the painter's tape.  DO NOT WAIT for the paint to dry. If you do, the tape could take a lot of your hard work with it! Peel it free as soon as the painting is finished.  This is one of the most fun moments in the whole undertaking - seeing your beautiful wall all clean and finished!

And voila! Stand back and enjoy your new masterpiece!  Notice in the photo below how the metallic paint tends to catch the light and create the illusion of a "hot spot".  This works very well with the drop shadow effect, because the shadow seems to diminish in the "hot spot" and helps to reenforce the illusion that the design is floating away from the wall and casting a shadow.

Ready for decorating!  Thanks, Leila!


  1. THIS TURNED OUT GORGEOUS!!!!!! looks like alot of time and effort, but WOW!! the payoff is totally worth it!! I love the color combo, I probably never would have chosen to combine these colors, but again, WOW! so beautiful!!!!
    thanks for the inspiration!
    julie spear

  2. Oh my goodness, you have a blog too!! Yay! This turned out so beautiful! I can't wait to receive the stencil and start on my patio :o)