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Rethinking Stencils with Anna Wulick

by on Dec 18, 2007

If when you hear the word ‘stencil’, you think of graphic wall designs, you may want to take a look at the artwork of Anna Wulick. Selling on her Etsy shop as forty-two roads, Anna creates stencils rendered from photographs. She then uses the stencils to create portraits in oil or in mixed media collages. Recently, I posed a few questions to Anna so we might all get to know her and her work a little better.

When did your interest in using stencils to produce portraits start? (What was the impetus?)

The original inspiration for these came from a photograph I took of my daughter when she was about a year old sitting still with her eyes closed (that became the picture that’s in my Etsy store). I was so fascinated by the perfect symmetry of her face and it just occurred to me that a great way to capture that specific aspect of the picture would be a stencil – a form that reduces complex structures into their most basic shapes. It would eliminate extraneous detail and distraction, and just force the symmetry issue, as it were. What’s really interesting about stencils is the way they work with our eyes’ and brains’ need to find patterns in the things we look at, to complete incomplete images with our own extrapolation. So we are able to imagine the detail back into stencils which have been made on purpose to take the detail out.

A photograph of a young girl, a black and white stencil, and a more colorful stencil.

What materials do you use to make your stencils? Can you explain the process for those of us who have considered making our own stencils?

I’d rather not totally reveal the process I use; but to give some sense of what I do – initially I use Photoshop to render a stencil from a photograph. The tools for this vary widely from photo to photo, depending on the colors, clarity, depth, and lighting conditions. Suffice it to say that some photos can be rendered in 15 minutes, while others require almost a pixel by pixel approach. Just as an aside, the easiest pictures are those taken without a flash, outside, in indirect light. I then transfer the stencil to freezer paper, and then use oil paints and a palette knife to do the actual painting. It’s pretty painstaking and it helps that I a little OCD 🙂 Stencil art to improve creativity.

You create portraits in oils as well as mixed media collages; do you prefer one technique to the other? How long does it take you to create a portrait?

I don’t know that either one is my favorite. They each pose different challenges both in terms of the logistics of execution and in design and layout. Each portrait takes between 4 and 5 hours, I’d say (though of course the oils actually take about two weeks, since the paint has to dry before they can be mailed). I really love working with oils; there is something about the texture of the paint that is soothing and rich to touch and look at. The collages allow me to work with found papers which I also really love. It’s really fun to work on a small scale and see tiny pieces of paper transform the image dramatically.

What’s on the horizon for you creatively? (Any new projects in the works?)

Good question! I am now thinking of returning to the series of fantastical map/travel paintings that I did and working more with that idea. Here are some of the older ones: The Distance Between Us and Welcome to My Underground Lair. At the same time, since I actually do a lot of very disparate crafting, I am thinking of putting some sewn items into the shop. For now I’m just trying to keep up with a toddler, my dissertation, and these portraits!

A woman holding a young girl and kissing her arm.So there you have it, another talented–and inspiring–Curbly artist. For more information about Anna and her work, visit her blog. And if you are or know an artist, crafter, woodworker or designer who would like to be featured on Curbly, please contact [email protected].  

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