Stenciling with Shiva Paintstiks

Side panel with stenciled peacock feathers

It’s hardly a secret. I love painting fabric. But when I wanted to paint large detailed designs that didn’t end up feeling crunchy once dry, I needed a new solution. When a good friend told me about Shiva Paintstiks, I think I lost my mind.

Shiva Paintstiks are pigments mixed with linseed oil and wax, molded into a giant crayon. They come in all sorts of colors, including metallic pearl sticks. And unlike a lot of paints, they don’t dry up. They have a self-sealing property that forms a skin around the crayon when exposed to air for a while.

This paint sticks to everything, and I mean nearly every kind of fabric that isn’t mark or stain-resistant. This includes you, so when working with the Paintstiks, make sure not to rub your hands on your pants. I have not tried this with sheers, though according to their tech specs, it will stick to this too. My current project had me painting both quilting cotton and synthetic silks, and the Paintstiks stuck to both of them.

A collection of iridescent Paintstiks
Several Paintstiks, including a well-loved white stick.

Despite the name (and that I call it painting), stenciling with Paintstiks is actually closer to dyeing with fabric dye than painting with fabric paint. You can layer and gradate the colors, and it won’t feel crunchy or stiff once you’re done. The fabric grain will show as if you naturally dyed the fabric. Paintstiks become permanent once set with heat, and the fabric is washable in your machine. Just don’t dry clean your Paintstiks. The process messes with the oils and destroys your work.

There are three methods of painting with a Paintstik.

  • Coloring on the fabric like a crayon
  • Rubbing on a raised plate (like making those charcoal rubbings on placards you did as a kid)
  • Using stencils and a stencil brush

This tutorial covers the last one! You can get stencils pretty much anywhere. Amazon, eBay, craft stores, Etsy. You can even cut your own out of mylar using a vinyl cutter or a shop knife.

This is not the fastest method in applying paint. Paintstiks require time for the linseed oil to dry and soak into the fabric. So if you have time and need some paint that is flexible, not crunchy, and washable, this method may be a good one for you. I recommend trying this out on some scrap fabric first before applying it to your cosplay.

Skill level: beginner-friendly

Cost: somewhat budget-friendly. Depending on the cost of stencils

Stencil brushes, packaged up
Stencil brushes before I cut them down

Supplies:

  • Shiva Paintstiks (I get mine here at Dharma Trading)
  • Premade stencils or mylar to make your own
  • Fabric to be painted
  • A small dish, abandoned lid, or something similarly shallow that won’t be used for food
  • Painter’s tape
  • Stencil brushes
  • Soap and water, paint solvent, or a citrus-based cleaner
  • Iron and ironing board / surface
  • Parchment paper, paper towels, or muslin

Stencil brushes are a type of stiff-bristled, flat-headed brush used for stenciling. The stiffer they are the better. Honestly, I went budget with mine and cut the base of the brushes off until it was close to a nub. This nub worked great in properly rubbing the Painstiks into the fabric, and you will need to rub and apply pressure. So the stiffer the better.

Prepping the Paintstiks

Before you get to stenciling, you’ll need to do a bit of prep work with the sticks.

Abandoned takeout lid taped up and ready to become a paint transfer surface
An abandoned lid transformed into a transfer surface

First is to make a transfer surface. Because you cannot rub the Paintstiks on your stencil brush and get paint on it, you’ll need a transfer surface to serve as an intermediary. And the best thing to use is a shallow dish. I found an abandoned takeout lid in the recycle box and stole it for my Paintstiks.

Paintstiks aren’t exactly particular about what they will and will not stick to, but when making a transfer surface, you want something that you can also grab paint from and can easily change when you change which Paintstik color you use. This also makes cleanup very simple.

To make a good transfer surface, cover your lid or dish with strips of painter’s tape. Make sure not to leave any gaps between the strips so you can always grab the paint off the transfer surface.

Rubbing the outer layer of the Paintstik on the taped transfer surface
Outer layer vs the paint. Note how crunchy the outer layer looks as the film is rubbed off.

Next, you’ll need to prep the Paintstik itself. By design, the sticks will form a thin protective layer around the actual paint to keep it from drying out. However, trying to paint with this protective layer will lead to pills and oil stains, so you’ll need to rub it off to get to the paint underneath.

Using a paper towel, you can rub off the outer layer. Additionally, you can also rub it against the painter’s tape to get it off. It takes a little bit of work, but it will start coming off and you’ll see the rich color of paint on your rubbing surface.

Prepping the fabric

Next is to prepare your fabric and stencil surface. To transfer the Paintstiks paint to the surface of your fabric, you’ll need to heavily rub the fabric with your brush. And during this process, the worst thing that could happen is for the fabric or the stencil to move and ruin your entire design.

Feasibly you could use a non-slip surface under your fabric, but I found just taping it down to your work surface is super easy. You don’t need to tape all edges in all sections. Just a few pieces in each cardinal direction is enough to keep the fabric from moving when you work.

Masking, or sectioning off, parts of the stencil that will not be used
I wanted just the peacock’s tail feathers, so I’ve made a masked border

With the fabric secure, it’s time to prep the stencil. Using a stencil brush is a pretty messy process, and if you want to use only part of your stencil, you’ll need to mask the stencil.

Masking is a pretty common practice in painting. It involves covering sections of a surface where you don’t want the paint to go using either masking or painter’s tape.

When masking, you only need to make a border. You don’t need to mask the entire stencil. Place some tape around nearby openings in the stencil that might catch some paint while you work. This ensures you won’t paint stencil shapes you want to leave unpainted.

Once your stencil is masked, position the stencil on the fabric then tape it down so it doesn’t move while you work.

It’s finally time to paint

It’s painting time! That’s what we’re here for, right?

Gathering paint on the stencil brush
Gathering paint

Before you gather the paint, try pushing the paintless brush into your table. If it wiggles a lot, you’ll need to cut the bristles down with a sharp pair of scissors. I had to cut mine down to a stump for it to be stiff enough for this process.

With a stiff brush, rub the brush flat side down into the paint on the transfer surface. As you rub, you’ll notice a thin layer of paint starting to gather on the bristles. Make sure to pull off any pilled paint or oil from the brush to ensure your stenciling color is consistent.

With this thin layer of paint, go to your stencil. Because this is a Paintstik and not pastels or charcoal or even acrylics, you can paint in any direction you want. Once it’s on the fabric, it rubs off very little, though you might feel the linseed oil on your hands if you lean on the painted surface.

Rubbing the paint in with a stencil brush
It’s time to paint

Wherever you start, you’ll want to rub that brush into the surface of your fabric. I tend to rub it back and forth over the stencil, pushing the paint into the fabric, but for some sections, I made circles instead. Your brush strokes will not show up during this process. It’s not acrylic paint, so you can rub it in any direction you so desire.

The layer of paint on the stencil brush is fairly thin, so you’ll run out of color pretty quickly. Return to your transfer surface and rub the brush into the paint again.

You’ll also need to refresh your transfer surface every so often. When you are no longer able to pick up paint from the transfer surface, rub the Paintstick on the surface to add more paint, then pick it up with your brush.

Moving the stencil

There’s a good chance your project will need to move the stencil or place another stencil over your previous work. Fortunately, Paintstiks paint tends to not rub off once it’s set into the fabric. You can simply pull the stencil up and tape it down in its new location and continue your work, even if the stencil is sitting on top of your previous work.

Do be careful of your sleeves, however. While the paint tends to not rub off, you can still get some on your sleeves and permanently stain them.

Flipping the stencil over

Stencil flipped over and taped back down on the fabric
Masked stencil, flipped over and overlapping previously painted work

While working, you might want to mirror the stencil at some point. Simply flipping the stencil over as-is means that any paint that is on the stencil itself may rub off onto your fabric surface. So you’ll need to clean it.

Paintstiks come off pretty easily with soap and water. But stencils are a bit delicate, so the easiest way to remove the extra paint is to use a soapy paper towel and gently rub it over the stencil’s surface in the direction of the pattern. This will prevent any pattern thin sections from breaking or bending.

Once the stencil has been cleaned, use a dry paper towel and dry the surface before setting it back down on the fabric.

Clean up

Once you’re done, you’ll want to thoroughly clean your workspace and tools so you can use them again later. Shiva recommends using paint solvent or citrus-based cleaners, but with little effort, you can also use dish soap and water.

Stencil drying on a dish rack.
Signs you live in a cosplay house: stencils drying over the dinner dishes

Cleaning the stencils with soap and water works well enough in the kitchen sink. You probably don’t want oil paints on your dish sponge (I’m honestly not sure you should ingest this stuff), so use soapy paper towels to thoroughly clean your stencil’s surface then dry it with paper towels or leave it on the dish rack to dry.

The brushes take a bit more work with soap and water (and are probably easier with paint solvent or citrus cleaner, but I didn’t have any on hand). Work the soap into the bristles with your hand and gently pull the paint out of the bristles. Rinse the bristles then repeat the process until no paint comes out in your hand when rinsing.

Drying and waiting

Paintstiks are made of linseed oil, and that oil takes time to properly set. Any dye painting will require this waiting period, whether it’s Paintstiks or fiber reactive dyes, and this process is no different.

Sections of a tunic hanging over my dryer on a pants hanger.
Tunic panels, hanging up over my dryer

The linseed oil requires about 3-5 days to properly set. You’ll want to find a place to hang up your work and not have it bump into anything else and stain it. Laundry rooms, free-standing clothes racks, and drying racks are perfect to allow the paint to set.

Humidity may lengthen the drying time, though sometimes it cannot be avoided. The most you’ll likely wait is about 5 days.

During this process, the linseed oil is drying and dissipating. As the oil dries out, it leaves the rich pigments behind and bonds them with the fibers themselves, much like fabric dye bonds with the fibers directly. If you try to heat set the fabric before the oil has fully dried, the heat may pull the dye up before the bonding process is complete and your colors might muddy out. So it is strongly recommended to allow for the full drying time. Just leave the fabric be and go work on other parts of the cosplay.

Heat setting

The last step is to heat set the pigments. This step makes the pigments permanent and the fabric washable. It also removes any linseed oil that may have been left behind. This step is probably the most similar to using fabric paints, as heat setting is often the last step to bond the paint with the fabric.

Setting the Paintstiks with an iron, holding it in place for 15s.
Ironing on some discarded muslin pieces

Cover your ironing board with parchment paper or scrap muslin and place your work face down. Layer on top another sheet of parchment paper or muslin if anything has seeped through the fabric to the other side. This is to protect your iron, but if nothing has come through, you should be fine to work as normal.

Turn your iron to your fabric’s recommended setting. For each painted section, hold the iron steady for about 15s before moving to the next section. You don’t need to apply any pressure, simply hold it in place. Continue this process across all painted sections and you’re done!

I hope you all found this tutorial useful! Fabric painting is pretty fun, and the Paintstiks made it so much easier to make large designs and add lighter colors to darker fabrics. The iridescent Paintstiks also have a nice metallic shiny sheen to them that you can’t quite get with fabric dyes or paints.

There are so many stencils out there to work with, and if you have a vinyl cutter that can handle mylar, then you can also cut your own! The possibilities are endless.

Let me know what you decide to make with Paintstiks! @ me on social media so I can admire your work.

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