Paper Stencil Theory: low waste screen printing

Pouch featuring my Strelitzia themed paper stencil screen print design.

In this post I’ll take you through a DIY screen printing method that requires minimal expensive consumables and generates very little waste. In the past I’ve used adhesive plastic contact to create screen print stencils, the downside of this method is you have to throw out lots of bits of plastic at the end. Because I’m always trying to reduce the amount of waste in my processes I experimented this time with using only paper for the stencils. So how did I make it durable enough to endure the creation of roughly 2 metres of printed design? The answer is PVA glue! I coated both sides of my paper with a generous layer, let it dry then proceeded to cut my stencil into the strengthened paper.

Hand cut paper stencil for screen printing
You can see here the sheen of the dried PVA coating on my strengthened stencil paper

Next I tackled the issue of attaching my stencil securely to the screen. Because I wanted to be able to remove the stencil when done I used water soluble rice paste glue – I dabbed it onto the stencil making sure to coat delicate areas well. Next I laid the screen on top of the glue coated stencil and rubbed it gently from the inside to make sure it adhered. I’ve found it is the paint itself that further sticks the stencil in place as you work.

Generally used for sticking down Chine-collé elements in traditional print making rice paste glue provides enough water soluble sticking power to hold delicate parts of the stencil in place on the screen.
Rice paste glue (in the green tube) is traditionally used for sticking down Chine-collé (collage elements) in various forms of print making. Note: I have two stencils set up on this screen…well, don’t do that, I’ll explain why further on!

Because I use a modified acrylic paint with textile medium added I find my screen can start to block up with paint as I work. The PVA glue coating on the stencils grants a degree of temporary waterproofing, which is enough to allow for gentle removal of paint build up. I found the best way to clear a blocked screen was to use two dampened rags and dab firmly but gently from both sides simultaneously, this is enough to open up the screen again. Rinsing the rags frequently and rotating them as you dab helps remove maximum paint. Check your screen is clear by holding it up to the light.

A person cleans a home made DIY screen printing screen with rags and water
The “double dab rag method”

I’m pleased to say that the stencils held up well with only minimal loss of very fine parts – these can pull off onto the fabric after a pass with the squeegee, but I find that happens with adhesive plastic contact too. It’s just a matter of cutting a bit of masking tape to the right shape and attaching to the screen to replace the lost part of the design. Like every step of the process all that is required is patience and an acceptance of the loveable imperfection of DIY projects! You’ll never achieve the crispness of a cricut stencil or photo emulsion screen by using paper stencils. But, on the flip side you don’t have to invest in costly equipment and consumables nor generate the waste involved in those processes.

Hand made screen printed textile featuring a design of Strelitzia plants
I added some spontaneous brush marks alongside the printed elements. In this shot you can see the thread knots I use for alignment while printing – I like to leave them in which adds a quirky tactile quality to the finished print.

Working on top of an abstract yellow shape I built my design up in three layers of varying greens to create a semi-abstract tonal rendition of  Strelitzia foliage found in my backyard. The design began as a basic sketch from life with tonal notes recorded in each section of the drawing.

Sketch and tonal plan for a 3 colour screen print design
Sketch and tonal plan

This was transferred into Photoshop where I coloured it to see how the 3 stage tone would look. I liked it so proceeded to photocopy the line drawing thrice, one sheet each for light, mid and dark green. The areas to be cut were shaded in on each print-out and registration marks were added by punching all three sheets at once with a standard hole punch. Using a computer is by no means necessary, in the past I’ve just used water colour paint to fill the design in tonally then using my window as a light box I trace out the required layers onto separate sheets and proceed to cut the stencil (see Nasturtium Screen Printed Culottes and It Started as a Still Life for examples.)

Hand cut paper stencil for screen printing
Cutting away the shaded areas to create the mid tone for my print.

These holes correspond with knots of thread sewn into my fabric and allow me to make sure the multiple layers of the design line up relatively neatly. Some misalignment draws attention to great alignment in other sections of the design. The inconsistent consistency of a hand made print is what happens when a human tries to be a production robot. The inevitable failure just adds visual richness to the overall design and I think it introduces an aesthetic reminder that mass production is unnatural.

exclamation_markIt’s really important to wash your screen out as soon as you are finished printing. I stupidly let the paint dry overnight in one of my screens before I got around to washing it.

I recommend saturating the screen with water first and let it soak a bit, then with detergent, rags and good old elbow grease you’ll be able to scrape off the stencil and remove the paint. Once again I found scrubbing both sides of the screen at once helps clear stubborn areas of dry paint out of the mesh.

Note: Earlier in this post you saw me working with two stencils on one screen, the reason you shouldn’t do this is that it makes it hard to easily flood your screen with water and start the clean up immediately when you’re done printing the first layer.

DIY screen printing works great in tandem with a zero waste clothing design. In this case I printed just enough fabric to cut the pattern pieces for my very first menswear design.

Commissioned by a friend, these drawstring shorts are a prototype design featuring a detachable “sporan” like pocket-pouch which can also be worn as a bib and brace or turned into a light-weight satchel. I drew inspiration from some of my favourite menswear fashion houses including Walter Van Beirendonck, Thom Browne and Commes Des Garcon as well as general street wear and celeb style.


I’m really lucky to have a client who will indulge my avant-garde sensibilities and the initial fitting was positive with just a few tweaks to the design required.

The garment shown is a wearable prototype for a final piece which will be made from a length of green tartan found at an op-shop.

When I’m happy with the final design I will produce an assembly guide and share this zero waste menswear pattern so check back soon! In the meantime enjoy my selection of free zero waste clothing patterns and check out my Do-it-yourself Fashion Statements section to see more unique screen printed fashion pieces.

*This is a short run, single use screen printing method meaning you can’t reuse the stencils after you’re done.

Conceptual “framework”: bespoke tree stake frames

Bespoke DIY picture frames made from tree stakes
On the left raw tree stakes, on the right samples of the finished bespoke frames.

Framing artworks is a big job! I know because I’ve just finished a whole bunch of them. In my opinion its worth doing it yourself because a frame doesn’t have to be a simple accessory it can add conceptual reinforcement to an artwork in a subtle way.

This month I’ve been busy constructing bespoke picture frames for my upcoming painting exhibition Beebo Blues – opening in early January 2021. My paintings are studies made on location at our family property in Beebo South-West of Brisbane. The place once belonged to my Grandad.  By way of building and farming projects his effects on the landscape are still evident today. He was a hard worker and I remember him perpetually dressed in pale blue overalls. Though gone now, every glimpse I catch of pale blue in the sky, water or structures reminds me of him in his favourite work wear, hence the title Beebo Blues.

A family photo from the 80s
From left: Jean, Me, Grandad, Dad taken on one of my very first visits to the farm in 1988.

After his passing in the mid 2000’s my family created a native hardwood tree plantation in the paddocks he initially formed. I wanted to honour this literal link to the Beebo landscape by framing the paintings using salvaged tree stakes from our plantation. Tree stakes are used in the initial stage of planting they help hold a tree guard in place and can provide support for a young tree as it grows. After the tree has sent down a healthy tap root the stakes are no longer needed and tend to rot away over time. I used a combo of leftover unused stakes and ones reclaimed from our most recent planting site established in 2018.

Tree stakes
Raw tree stakes fresh from the paddock, this is what the material looks like before processing.

As a ready-made item the stakes are 600mm long and 25mm x 25mm deep. They’re manufactured from reclaimed native Australian hardwood which is a by-product of commercial timber production.

Since many of my paintings are larger than 60cm wide/tall it was necessary to join stakes together to create longer lengths. Because I wanted a deeper frame I chose to laminate the stakes together to create a double thickness. These “stake sandwiches” were then clamped, glued and screwed to make a strong laminated composite. Once laminated I marked out where I wanted to join the stake sandwiches in order to make longer spans.

Woodwork using a clamp and chalk to make marks for cutting timber
A clamp and chalk helped me to mark the lines for cutting the v-shape in the end of my “stake sandwich”.

I used the band saw to make v-shaped cut outs in the end of one stake sandwich then inset the ready-made pointed end of another stake sandwich into the cut-out to join the pieces. These were then glued and nailed together to create a long composite section.

Using a band saw to cut detail in wood
Cutting the v-shape on the bandsaw is a high stakes game (get it?) as material was limited I really had to get it right every time hence my super determined facial expression.
Using band saw to cut DIY picture frame detail
Cutting the v-shape on the band saw was a matter of following the pre-chalked lines as best I can.
Here the stakes have been inset into their v-shaped receptacle and are now glued, nailed and drying with clamps on overnight.
Here the pointed stakes have been inset into their corresponding v-shaped receptacles and are now glued, nailed and drying with clamps on overnight.

Once joined into long lengths I ran the “stake sandwiches” through a thicknesser to plane off the degraded surface on the fronts and sides. I left the backs raw because I like the origins of the material to be quietly evident there.

Thicknesser in work shop setting

The thicknesser  shown above is the newest member of our family workshop. It’s an automatic planing machine. Using it meant that I no longer had to manually dress the timber with a handheld electric plane which was time consuming and a source of repetitive strain on my wrists and hands. For a frame or two the manual method is bearable but not for the volume I need to produce for this project which is ongoing.

Thicknesser operating in work shop
Here I’m using the thicknesser in tandem with an extraction vacuum because it creates a lot of chips and dust.

I then attached a plywood “shelf” to my tree stake lengths – this helps me to float the painting inside the frame providing somewhere to attach the painting to. I cut my plywood strips to the desired width on the band saw then attach to the tree stake lengths with glue and nails.

Attaching a plywood shelf to a DIY float frame picture frame
The nail gun makes construction much easier.
Clamping timber pieces together to make bespoke DIY picture frame
The attached plywood shelf is left to dry with clamps on for a few hours.

Once my stake lengths have shelves attached I start the process of cutting down to size to fit my paintings. I like to spread out on the ground for this stage.

Tree stake frame assembly
Laying out the tree stake frames ready to cut them to size.

I tend to do this bit by eye…what? I’m an artist not an engineer! I rest the painting on the shelf of the frame piece then decide where I want my mitre cuts – factoring in a shadow gap. I start with the top, then move to a side, when happy with these I simply copy the pieces to finish the frame. The mitre corners are cut with a drop-saw.

Drop saw in action cutting DIY picture frame corners
My cheap and cheerful Ozito drop-saw does the job and well worth the $80ish investment. I used to saw mitre corners by hand with lets say “varying” results…

When I’m ready to assemble I glue and nail the frames together with the aid of a band clamp that holds the corners tight together. The final step was to paint the inside of the shelf and inner edge a darker umber tone to help the shadow gap effect and then one last sand to neaten everything up.

And here is an example of the finished look – the effect is neat but still has a sense of reclaimed wood texture and charm. I became more aware of positioning the inset v-shaped parts of the stake frames as I worked, in some cases using them to suggest a gentle circuit of flow around the work like in this painting Lilly Dam.

An impressionistic oil painting of the Australian bush
Lilly Dam (2019) oil on salvaged board 47cm W x 41cm H

In other cases like in the painting of Dad’s Truck the arrow seems to allude to movement by counter-balancing the direction of the truck.

An oil painting of an F100 truck in a DIY picture frame
Dad’s Truck (2019) oil on salvaged board 41cm W x 15cm H

Finally in the image of the Workers Cottage the arrows were placed off-centre to support two areas of particular interest in the surface of the painting. All works were painted on salvaged board which imbues them with ready-made texture and lived-in wear and tear as a gesture informed by the idea of imperfect perfection.

An impressionistic oil painting of an old workers cottage in the Australian bush
Workers Cottage (2018-19) oil on salvaged board 70cm W x 50cm H

Frames really do offer an overlooked opportunity for design that can speak to the content of an artwork. And of course its also economical to do it yourself. In this instance I was able to create 10 frames from found materials at very little cost other than electricity and a few consumables. If you’d like to see how I tackled another creative bespoke framing project visit my earlier post The Other Side of Alice to see how I conceptually resolved a mixed-media life drawing on board via the framing process.

Beebo Blues opens at the Orange Wall Gallery at Warwick Art Gallery on January 7th 2021. I’m delighted to be presenting an artist talk at the official opening on January 9th. The show runs till February 13th. Click here for more details.

Exhibition invitation Beebo Blues at Warwick Art Gallery

*UPDATE 19/01/20*
Artist Talk has been postponed until 30th of January due to a sudden Covid-19 lockdown earlier this month. Contact the gallery for event and booking details

Open Air Boot Camp

A home for machines (2020) oil on salvaged boards
A home for machines (2020) oil on salvaged boards

Yesterday I returned from an intensive seven day painting session at our family property in Beebo. Dad and I made the trip out in order to spend some time working on the things we enjoy – I painted en plein air while Dad laid more track for his homemade mini locomotive “Puffa”.

Dad completed the curves leading out of the shed this visit. The sleepers are made from salvaged pallets coated in sump oil for a bit of bug resistance.
Dad completed the curves leading out of the shed this visit. The sleepers are made from salvaged pallets coated in sump oil for a bit of bug resistance.

When we visited last month the go-cart was out of order due to a mystery oil pressure issue. Dad gave it a check-up this time and sorted things out so I was able to enjoy a few farm safari rides in it which I’d missed doing.

Checking on the last group of native trees we planted - they look good!
Checking on the last group of native trees we planted – they look good!

The go-cart also played a starring role in one of my latest en plein air paintings – a panorama view of the back of Grandad’s shed.

Working in my make shift bush studio
Working in my make shift bush studio

I took the opportunity to finish a wide panorama view of the front of the house and “garden” which I started last trip. It’s comprised of three found panels. I intend to preserve the irregular edge by framing around it, respecting the odd shape.

Homestead panorama (2020) oil on salvaged boards
Homestead panorama (2020) oil on salvaged boards

While there I also got three smaller still-life studies done. I focused on objects seen from the front veranda. I needed a break from the sun so working in the shade of the house was a welcome reprieve.

Penny Farthing (2020) oil on board
Penny Farthing (2020) oil on board


Sun lounge (2020) oil on board

I particularly like the way the flaming shopping trolley turned out with a kind of lifelike fidelity of tone at odds with its wonky sketchiness. Most afternoons I like to make a fire in our “brazier” using firewood collected from our block. I can see myself working with the subject of fire more. It’s fleeting temporality and the difficulty of depicting it seems to me like the ultimate impressionist challenge!

Flaming Trolley (2020) oil on salvaged board
Flaming Trolley (2020) oil on salvaged board

This project has been almost three years in the making and I am excited to announce I will be exhibiting works from my ongoing series Beebo Blues in 2021!

I am wrapped to be exhibiting again at the Orange Wall Gallery at the Warwick Art Gallery early next year. Followed by a debut show at the Goondiwindi Regional Civic Centre Gallery in early June. I am grateful to have received so much support from regional gallery staff in the Darling Downs and can’t wait to share my paintings with the community! Furthermore, I am immensely indebted to my parents whose continued moral support and encouragement has enabled me to undertake this project. 

For friends, family and fans in the broader Brisbane area I am in the final stages of securing an exhibition at the Hub space at the Caboolture Regional Art Gallery. While I was away painting I received news that I was accepted into the Moreton Bay Regional Council Uplift 2021 program which supports emerging artists with a connection to the Moreton Bay Region. It’s an opportunity which I am very thankful to receive! 

Stay posted for official 2021 opening dates and details shortly. In the meantime have a look at how the project has developed over time, the links below will take you to relevant posts.

Back to the Bush
Mad Max Dollhouse
Holiday at Westworld
Beebo Blues: Land, Light and Life
Feedlot Next Door
DIY Bush Residency