I Made This! (DIY alert)


How to create a unique and personal typographical piece of art.

Recently I noticed that I had successfully transitioned my living space into one neutral and boring place. I needed color NOW! I’d recently developed an obsession with the book ‘Living in a Nutshell’ (by Janet Lee) which is full of fun and colorful/fashion themed ideas and I was dying to change things up. I bought myself a canvas, decided on a color and designed a template based on the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ poster only using Coldplay lyrics. Then the fun began!

I took pictures throughout the progress (except for the first half, typical me) to show my friends how to do this but thought it would make a great tutorial as well.

Just to prepare you, for the most part my projects are not quick and may require many steps. BUT they are designed to make something that doesn’t look handmade. This was a necessity when I made window displays and signage by hand and now I can’t get over it. I figured out this particular way of creating a stencil when I had no visual budget left but had to come up lettered window decals. All the projects I create combine techniques I taught myself with materials I have researched on how to use in many different applications. You may look at these steps and think of shortcuts or other ways to do it, which is awesome! This is just the way I knew I would get the best results with the materials I had on hand at the time.

Materials I Used:

Adhesive Backed Vinyl – I used some from a 18″ wide roll of DC Fix I purchased from Dymalon but regular contact paper will work as well.

3′ x 3′ preprimed canvas, deep frame

Acrylic Paint – white, tangerine

Foam Paint Roller

Blue Painters Tape

Ruler, T-Square

Rubber Cement

Xacto Knife

Butterfly silhouette and text printed actual size onto plain printer paper, thinner paper is best (ie. no need to go for quality here)

Clear varnish – I use Varathane Crystal Coat Polyurethane on everything including jewelry.

Time – yes this takes a bit of time but it’s totally worth it!

1A. If using a copy of my template:

Print out design. Use a copy machine or scanner to enlarge the design enough times to where the largest letter measures 3″ tall. Your design will be on several pages so piece them together using a ruler to line up sections and then tape to hold together.

B. If creating your own phrase or design using Microsoft Word:

I found a font close to the one used for the Keep Calm and Carry On poster online and downloaded it but you can use whichever font you like. Type out phrases where the font size is 3″ tall at the highest, estimated size would be 265 pt. The words when printed to correct size will each be on their own page and not on one line so you will need to recreate the design. Take your letter segments and line them up as each word. Use a ruler to line up the bottom edges of the letters of each word so its all on the same straight line. Eyeball the spacing to match the rest of the letters. Tape it together. Repeat for each broken word.

2. Unroll a 3′ long piece of self-adhesive vinyl. It needs to be large enough for the entire message and butterfly to fit because this is going to be the template. Lay out the design on the self-adhesive vinyl. Center each word making the space in between each word consistent. Using a T-square from the edge of the vinyl helps line up the words so they’ll be perfectly straight. Secure the words to the vinyl by taping along the top edge of each piece. Double check, triple check and then check again to make sure you’re happy with the placement. Spending some time on this detail will yield the biggest payoff.

3. Gently lift each piece (so as not to un-adhere the tape) and coat the back with a layer of rubber cement. Do not use any other type of glue as this has to be removable. Letting the tape work as the guide just let the piece fall back into place and then smooth down and away from the top edge.

4. Using your Xacto knife and a metal ruler carefully cut each letter out of the paper and vinyl combo. I find this is much faster and creates cleaner straight lines than using scissors. Write a notation on the back of any letters that are duplicate showing which word it came from and which place (for example “will” has a right side “L” and a left side “L”).

5. Now you’re ready to paint! Even though the canvas is pre-primed I still like to paint a coat of primer, but that’s me. Once dry follow with two thin coats of bright white acrylic or latex paint. Use a foam paint roller for even coverage and to leave no brush marks. Let that dry completely.

6. Take your now hole-y template and position it centered on the canvas. Measure from top and bottom, side to side for equidistant placement. Triple check this as well! Use pieces of blue painters tape on each edge to firmly  hold the template in place.

7. Find a hardcover book thick enough so that when laid under the canvas it touches the underside of the canvas without raising it. You will use this as a rigid background to burnish your vinyl pieces against when applying the adhesive vinyl to the canvas.

8. You will now stick all letters and the butterfly onto the canvas using the holes in the template to guide the placement. Remove the backing of a letter and then position it into the hole it matches being careful to fit it     inside the opening and to not overlap the template at all. Press down and firmly run your fingers over it using the book underneath as a support. Repeat this for each letter and the butterfly.

9. Carefully remove the template by curling it back making sure not to disturb the letter pieces. Set aside.

10. Next you’ll remove the paper from the letters. This is so all that is left on the canvas is the thin layer of adhesive vinyl which makes for a clean stencil. Using the edge of your Xacto knife carefully flip a corner of the paper up off a letter leaving the vinyl layer intact. Use this as a starter and peel off the paper. Repeat for each letter and the butterfly. Burnish each letter down against the book underneath to ensure all edges are secure especially around any inside curves. Imagine you are going to paint stripes on a wall and don’t want the paint to seep under the tape line. This is how you should burnish these vinyl letters, so no paint will seep under the edge.

11. Cut out 4 straight lengths of the vinyl adhesive measuring 1 1/2″ x 30″. Lay these out to create a 30″ square centered 3″ in from the edge of the canvas. This will be the white border around the overall design. Tape down with the blue painters tape, remove the backing and adhere to the canvas. Remove the painters tape. Burnish as you did with the letters.

12. Grab your white acrylic paint and a paint brush. Apply a light coat of paint around all edges of the vinyl letters. Be sure to brush in all different directions, you are trying to make sure if any paint is going to seep under the letters, it will be this white paint. Let dry.

13. Brush on two coats of the Tangerine acrylic paint to cover the whole canvas including edges allowing to dry between coats. Let dry completely.

14. The unveiling! Start by using your Xacto knife to gently peel up an edge a vinyl letter. Slowly pull the vinyl off to reveal the white paint underneath. Continue to do this to all vinyl pieces until all are removed. If any tangerine paint has seeped through, simply touch up with a small brush and the white acrylic paint. When you are satisfied with the result and have allowed ample time to dry, apply a coat of clear varnish with a foam brush over the entire canvas.

15. Stand back and admire your new work of art!