Stenciling is defined, according to servicemagic.com, as "the method of applying a design by brushing or sponging paint through a cutout overlay placed on the surface." The history of stenciling is an old one, dating back, it could be argued, from the time that our ancestors left the outdoors for the relative comfort of caves. When faced with bare walls, our ancestors sought to record their lives for themselves and their children. The designs became more sophisticated as time went on, and the art of stenciling developed as well. Stenciling is still popular today, with new and old designs flourishing apace.
Examples of the first stencils still survive in caves in Fiji, dating back from 30,000 to 9,000 B.C. These Paleolithic stencils were created by cutting holes in banana and bamboo leaves and forcing vegetable dye through the holes. It is believed that the Baffin Islands Eskimos did something similar with dried sealskin, but none of these early examples have survived.
The Egyptians used stencils to adorn tombs. The method of creating these stencils was elaborate. First, an artist would draw hieroglyphs and designs on the tomb. Then a second artist would cut into the design of the first artist with a chisel. Finally, a third artist would fill the depression with stucco, then paint it with bright, primary colors.
Greeks and Romans
The Greeks and Romans used stencils as well, though, perhaps in the Romans' case, more prosaically. The Greeks made use of stencils to outline mosaic designs, according to Free Stenciling Patterns. The Romans made use of stencils to create signs, while both the Romans and Greeks used stencils to create mosaics.
China and Japan
At first, stencils were used in Japan and China to decorate cloth, then from A.D. 500 to 600, stencils were used to "mass produce" images of Buddha. Katazome, a form of reverse stenciling, was perfected by the Japanese and used to decorate silk. The Japanese also perfected a method of cutting multiple stencils at one time by stacking pieces of mulberry bark and carving them with a sharp knife. The Chinese developed paper stencils, due to the invention of paper in A.D. 200, and used these stencils to create embroidery patterns or to decorate material as well as porcelain. The Japanese used stenciling to create items that resembled silk screening.
Middle East and Europe
The art of stenciling traveled to the Middle East and Turkey along trade routes from Asia. This art spread still further into Europe during the Middle Ages, thanks to the Crusades, where it began to make its appearance on the walls of churches and cathedrals and in illuminated manuscripts.
Stenciling grew popular in France during the 17th century, where it was used to decorate cards. The use of stencils to create wallpaper followed, but because the wallpaper was produced by making squares that were pieced together, the designs were not always even.
When the first colonists traveled to America, they brought the art of stenciling with them. Stencils took the place of wallpaper, since the colonists were not able to afford wallpaper. They used stencils to not only decorate their walls, but floors and furniture as well. Stencils experienced a revival in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, during the Arts and Crafts Movement.