Stencils as Garden Art


Seneca has a posse.

I’ve been looking at a lot of garden design books lately. These books always contain a photo illustrating the concept of the focus point, which is inevitably an 18th century marble bust of some ancient deity. Try to source one of those busts from your local big box store or Amazon and you’ll find some really scary stuff.

I can’t afford those 18th century busts, so I decided to try a two dimensional alternative: stencils. Above is my first primitive attempt–Seneca, spray painted on a chunk of concrete and propped up against a palm tree in the parkway.

A blog post over at Green Roof Growers alerted me to the far more impressive stencils of San Francisco street artist Jeremy Novy:

Photo by Dawn Endico

Photo by Dawn Endico.

Green Roof Grower Bruce was inspired by Novy’s work to make his own koi stencils on the sidewalk in front of his house. Now if enough of us adorn these edge spaces (in a neighborly fashion, of course) perhaps we’ll be able to reclaim our streets from the distant bureaucrats who hassle us over our parkway gardens. It’s precisely the kind of intervention on the permacultural “edge” that Mark Lakeman of Portland City Repair talks about.

So let’s make some stencils! Here’s how I do it:

Image processing
First step is to find a suitable image. This tutorial shows you how to use Photoshop to make your stencil.

Materials and tools
I used acetate, but it’s expensive. Bruce used old manilla folders. A cheaper alternative is freezer paper. I cut my stencil using an exacto knife.

First I spray the surface I’m stenciling with some Krylon Easy-Tack. This temporarily holds the stencil down. The rest is easy-peasy and the stencil can be used many times.

My next stencil will be a three color stencil. Here’s a tutorial on how to do this.

Leave a comment


  1. Your first piece is really impressive. I see an income stream here. It is really quite lovely.

    A four-year-old’s chalk drawing on the sidewalk drew the ire of neighbors. I cannot imagine painting on the sidewalk and not drawing the ire of city council for graffiti! Maybe if people promise not to deface the sidewalks, the council will allow food in the parkways.

    That woman in the hands is the most horrid piece of “art” I have seen in ages. It is beyond creepy. Suddenly, I feel the need to get a hammer.

    • Don’t people have better things to do than complain about children’s chalk drawings? Or maybe we should start a complaint Olympics and pass out gold medals for the most tedious complaining.

  2. I absolutely love this idea. I will have to think about it and figure out what I’d like to see stenciled in where my own walkway meets the sidewalk. Something there to greet guests would be so much fun! The koi look great and your Seneca is really nice too. These would probably sell really well on Etsy. Wish I’d thought about it for my garden shop!

    • All day, I have worried about stencils on the sidewalks. They would trip me, make me stumble or startle. The stencils in the grocery store are of cheese and other things. I always walk weird as I try to not stumble on what I perceive as something on the floor that I must avoid so I don’t trip or ram the grocery cart into an obstacle. But, then I do trip and stagger around as I try to avoid it. Don’t laugh.

      Haven’t you ever tried to avoid a stencil on the grocery floor that was not there yesterday? But, I can startle at the same stencil for several months since I never expect it. It would be very distracting to have to decide if the object on the sidewalk were a true obstacle or just a flat stenciled area.

      Yes, I am a klutz. But, it still scares me.

  3. Great stencil Erik!

    Of course if it gets thrown away or trashed you’ll have to just look on with a resigned dignity instead of throwing a fit. Maybe choose a different subject matter to allow our inner self righteousness when our genius is thwarted. Maybe a local politician with broccoli growing out of their ears?

    • Ha! We’ve often joked about herms around here. I think a herm stencil would make a great project . . .

  4. This reminds me of the Chalk It Up Festivals. Optical illusions on the sidewalk. Stencils would be so much easier. I am already planning what I will put down. Thanks for the inspiration.

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