Whoa! Wait!! It’s THURSDAY already?! Did anyone else just blink and find the week almost gone??? I was meaning to post this on Monday (well, longer than that actually) because this is something kind of BIG!

BHG Royal Design Stencil Cover

A few months ago, we received a request for a bunch of stencils from our Moroccan stencil collection from Better Homes and Gardens for a possible feature in their July issue. They had actually chosen stencils to use from another company already (not sure which one), but when they saw ours they decided to make a switcheroo. They “hinted” at  a possible cover shot, but couldn’t say for sure, and we waiting patiently with fingers drumming….

Wall stencil_Damask_Endless Circle Lattice Stencil

You can imagine how THRILLED we were to see our Small Chez Ali stencil used on multiple pillows on the cover, as well as some great interior shots! You can imagine that we are cutting a LOT of Endless Circle Lattice stencils these days with this beautiful blue wall stencil application to showcase it!

Allover stencil_wall stencils on fabric pillows

There is even more great stenciling shown on another page where they used our Moroccan Inlay stencil on even more stenciled pillows, and the darling Chicken Stitch stencil on some curtains. As you would expect from Better Homes and Gardens, they did a fabulous jot with the styling and photography, and we are so appreciative to see our stencils put to such gorgeous use!

Damask wall stencils_Japapanese stencil_Kyoto

More stencil excitement! Just yesterday, a friend turned my on to this “Decorating Rules You Can Break” feature on the Better Homes and Gardens website that shows our Japanese Kyoto stencil cleverly used as a feature panel between two curtains on a wall. How cool is this! A lot of times you don’t necessarily want to stencil an allover pattern “allover” and the coordinating curtains provide a nice frame. I could totally see this idea working on a bed wall, with the stencil pattern acting as a “headboard” that is softly framed by the fabric!

Damask wall stencil treatment_paisley stencil

But wait! There’s even MORE to this stencil tale!! One of the bloggers featured in the July Better Homes and Gardens article is the talented designer, Lauren Liess of PureStyleHome. While I was enjoying perusing her delightful blog yesterday, I stumbled upon a great stencil project that she did for her nursery.

wall stencil on fabric_paisley stencil as damask pattern

This clever canopy is actually a canvas dropcloth that she stenciled with our Small Indian Paisley stencil motif in a repeat pattern to create a damask effect. Notice how she repeated the same motif on the front drop of the canopy to create a stenciled border. Simply. Brilliant!

Lauren has some other smashing stenciling in her home, via a classic Ralph Lauren stencil pattern.

Isn’t this a great look?? I love the color and, even more, the fact that her sweet husband actually did the stenciling for her. Good man!!

Well, that’ s my big stencil news for this week. Pretty exciting, huh??

July 8th, 2011

Lost Art. Amazing Accent.

In the last post, I shared a beautiful example of a building facade with a sgraffito pattern. If you are familiar with the dimensional or “embossed” stencil method, it appears as if a giant stencil was placed over the side of the building and a layer of thick plaster was troweled through to create a raised image. Sgraffito is actually a process where a wet layer of plaster is placed over a contrasting color of plaster, the design is transferred, and the plaster is carved (or scratched) back to reveal the first layer in the shape of the design. You will find examples of the sgraffito method of decoration used extensively in Italy and other European cities, as well as Morocco. I have posted Italian examples of sgraffito here before, and many beautiful examples from Marrakech as well. I have even tried to reproduce the look of Sgraffito with our Modello patterns.

In Barcelona it was used quite a bit in the older Gothic Quarter.

Alas, this labor intensive means of decoration has become something of a lost art.

The common use of sgraffito may have had its last swan song at the beginning of the 20th century in the Eixample district of Barcelona, as they were constructing the beautifully detailed buildings that grace this area.

According to our guide on a recent tour there, at that time time labor was cheap and highly skilled craftsman were plentiful, so sgraffito was a “cheap” alternative to more expensive stone facades.

We can be thankful for this today, as the Modernisme movement of Catalunya has left us this gift in the city of Barcelona.

Some of the most stunning examples of Sgraffito can be found at Casa Amatllar, on the “Block of Discord”, right next to Gaudi’s Casa Batll√≥. This beautiful space, built by architect Puig i Cadafalch has just recently been opened to the public for tours. The photos above show just the open entrance area that anyone can walk into from the street. I unfortunately MISSED the opening time for the tour, but two of the ladies on our group were lucky enough to join a guided tour of the building and IT IS AMAZING with all the walls and ceilings FULL of decorative sgraffito (they sneaked some pics!). They will be closing it down again in a couple of months for a full renovation, but I can guarantee that this is the first place I will try to visit when I return to Barcelona!

Last image via flickr

July 6th, 2011

Looking Up in Barcelona

On my recent trip to Barcelona, I got up early one day (well, OK, 8am-which IS early when you’ve just flown intercontinental from the West Coast!) to take a nice, leisurely walk around our hotel neighborhood.

We were staying in my favorite area, the Eixample district (roughly promounced EYE-SHAM-PLA)

This well-planned area of Barcelona was constructed in the late 19th-early 20th centuries after they tore down the Roman wall surrounding the old Gothic Quarter of the city to expand westward and connect it to the outlying small towns of Gracia, Sants, and others.

Designed in a strict grid pattern by Ildefons Cerda, the blocks are actually octagonal in shape. The chamfered corners were designed to bring in more sunlight and ventilation. You REALLY notice these as you are walking, because each time you reach a “corner” you have to walk a bit more to get to the place you can actually cross the street.

The Eixample district includes some of the finest examples of Modernista architecture in Barcelona, including the major works of Antoni Gaudi, such as Sagrada Familia, Casa Mila, and Casa Batlló (shown above).

But beyond that, it’s one of the most pleasant city neighborhoods you will find. This is high density living at its finest. I particularly love the rows and stacks of divinely decorative balconies….

…and the special touches and attention to detail on the facades….

…including my favorite design detail, sgraffito. You will see amazing examples of this decorative plaster technique on almost every block. This one above is one of my favorites, but I have more sgraffito to share with you when we continue our walk-in the next post!

July 5th, 2011

Painting at the Monestir

I have been super fortunate to have been given the opportunity to plan and lead painting adventures to many beautiful cities and countries of the world: France and Italy with my friend Gary Lord, and Marrakech with the help of Maryam Montague. These trips have now actually become an integral part of my business AND personal life. I love doing all the research and planning for both painting and enjoying the local culture, and most especially introducing new experiences to the students who sign on to these trips.  With the help of my friend in Barcelona, Paul Deprez, I have just returned from a 2-week stay in Barcelona and the Catalunya region.

This was my fourth visit to Barcelona, and each time my love for this city grows exponentially. So much so that I am already planning a return painting trip for September 2012! But back to THIS trip….I have so much to share, but thought I should start with the primary reason *cough* for the tour-the decorative painting classes.

The trip was planned to include a 6 night stay in the city and 6 nights in a former monestary in the hills nearby.The monestir, Sant Jeroni de la Murtra, was partially burned and sacked in the 19th century during a widespread backlash against the corruption and power of the church. It is now run by a private foundation that maintains it as a place for solitude, silence, and encourages artistic pursuits.

We were able to set up some small, low-ceilinged rooms as studio spaces to work on a range of projects. I wanted to take the opportunity to incorporate some forthcoming stencils from The Hearst Castle Collection, as these were designs created by Julia Morgan to decorate Hearst Castle in a Spanish/Mediterranean Revival style.

The Delphine Panel sample was done on smooth textured plaster background. We laid in the initial color and pattern with a simple dry-brush stencil technique. I was inspired by the amazing work of Italian artist, Carolina d’Ayala Valva, to overpaint the stenciling with washes of color to create a luminous look.

Some day, I would love to have the opportunity to study with Carolina in her Rome Atelier, but in the meantime I have her wonderful book, which I highly recommend! After painting with watered-down acrylics (as opposed to the traditional egg tempera) the painting on plaster was sanded to distress, and given a soft toning glaze.

Here is lovely Nancy showing off her own completed panel.

Another panel that I have taken from Julia Morgan’s amazing architectural drawings is the Pescado Panel. It is full of whimsical birds and fish that appear almost happy to have been caught-ha!

This panel is stenciled with three colors of our new Royal Stencil Cremes over a background of composition gold leaf. The gold leaf has been patinated and distressed with a safe chemical process that I am still perfecting-as much as you “can” perfect a chemical process! Once I have it a little more “under control”, I will surely share the details. ;)

Another project that we worked on was a faux tile mural. For this we again used upcoming Hearst Castle Collection stencils. In this case we simply used them as patterns to trace and then add loose hand painting to create the look of classic Portuguese tiles. My sample above shows the mural in various stages of  completion. I hope to finish the mural in the next couple of weeks. It was thrilling for me to have the time to actually pick up a brush and paint, as it seems my hands are most often attached to a computer keyboard these days!

This study shows the final effect of the last step-adding a China Crackle layer (from Modern Masters) and rubbing in a toning glaze to reveal the cracks and add depth and aging.

Here is a completed mural by Debbie Hayes, who was the fastest painter of the bunch of us! It’s quite beautiful, isn’t it? All of the stencils featured in the projects above will be available soon from Royal Design Studio stencils!

Another decorative style that is synonymous with Barcelona is Modernisme, the uniquely Catalunyan version of Art Nouveau. I wanted to honor that heritage, and so we also did a tecnique using metallic foils with a new Modello Marquetry Masking Pattern stencil from Modello Designs.

On our way from Barcelona to the monestir, we stopped at Espintura Studio to do an embedded tile pattern technique with SkimStone and a Modello masking pattern.

Now that I am back, I’m continuing to work on the videos and lessons for my next Virtual Workshop combining these two mediums.

I hope you enjoyed seeing our painting samples from Barcelona! As I said above, I am already planning a return trip in Sept. 2012, so drop me an email if you want to be the first to get those details when they become available!. The details on this recent trip are still available here.

You can view more photos from the Barcelona painting class and trip in my flickr sets!

July 1st, 2011

Customer Love: Gary Lord

Having two companies can be a lot like having two children. You love each one passionately and strive to give them equal amounts of time and attention. It can be hard to maintain that balance, though, when one or the other becomes more “needy”. And so, while lately I have been focusing a lot on my “oldest” child Royal Design Studio, which sells reusable, “designer” mylar stencils since 1994, my “baby” Modello Designs (one-time-use vinyl masking stencils) has been feeling neglected and is frankly starting to get a bit jealous. And so, my darling Modello Designs, I am committing some quality time to spend with you, and promise to show you off and brag about you here once a week!

Modello stencils on cabinets

This will not be hard, as you can do amazing things! While your Royal stencil sister excels at creating beautiful repetitive pattern, YOU truly shine when it comes to creating custom-designed, custom fit patterns. Take this recent project by my good friend and Italy traveling buddy, Gary Lord, of Prismatic Painting Studio and Gary Lord Wall Options.

Gary worked with our in-house custom Modello designer extraordinaire, Michelle, to modify some of our existing designs for an amazing kitchen cabinet conversion.

Each Modello vinyl stencil pattern was designed to fit the various door panel spaces perfectly, so that Gary could simply place them and focus on his artistry rather than the frustration of trying to fit the patterns to individual spaces.

Modello cabinet stencils

Gary used an elegant trompe l’oeil painting technique that Alison Wooley shared on one of our painting trips to Italy.

furniture stencils

Using multiple values of the same color and applying some hand painted touches over a quickly stenciled base color that was applied through the Modello patterns, Gary created a kitchen masterpiece! What will our Modello customers cook up next?! Stay tuned, and see….