Heraldic Arts and Sciences: Beyond the banner and Shield
Part 2: Stencils: Make Them, Use Them, Love Them!

One of the most useful things in heraldic arts and sciences is the stencil. Stencils were certainly used in period to assist various sorts of arts, and so are a perfectly acceptable addition to any person's arts and sciences kit.

One of the simplest ways to create a stencil is to draw the desired item on a piece of paper and cut the design out. If you have gone through the SCA College of Arms and registered your design, you should have all you need to create stencils simply and quickly, in whatever size you desire. Just take your paperwork to the local copy shop and use the copiers to enlarge or shrink your heraldic design to the desired size. You could, at this point, just cut out the design elements and proceed. However, paper stencils are quite flimsy, and do not often last for more than one art session, especially if you have attempted to make a complex stencil--that is, a stencil comprising more than one element. Complex stencils, like a lion and 12 fleur-de-lys,  can be little more tricky to use than stencils that contain only one element and registration marks, depending primarily on the complexity of the design. You can, if you want a more sturdy stencil, have the copy shop copy your design on to card stock. If you are not familiar with the phrase, "card stock" is a heavier paper, similar in feel to a manilla folder that one might use in a file system.

Probably the most sturdy stencils you can make without too much problem are those made from plastic. Most craft stores currently carry a wide variety of stencils. Most stencils made by modern design companies are not very attuned to pre 1601 design concepts, and so the likelihood of a search through the craft store yielding a wealth of usable stencils right off is pretty slim. However, in the stencil section, you will usually find "blank" stencils that may be used to cut out your own design. Thinner plastics may be cut with X-acto or other craft knifes; really sturdy plastics will require a stencil burner. For projects in this series, however, the thinner plastic stencils should be fine. To make a stencil with this material, place the stencil blank over your design, trace the design on to the stencil with a black marker, and then cut the design out of the stencil with the craft knife.

Of course, the question must be asked: What do you do if you don't have a set of arms registered or want your arms drawn differently? Dover puts out several books that are excellent sources of heraldic clip art; these copyright free designs can be copied and enlarged, shrunk, or manipulated in any other way to suit your purpose. Three useful titles still available are:

Design Your Own Coat of Arms by Rosemary A. Chorzempa

Heraldic Crests : A Pictorial Archive of 4,424 Designs for Artists and Craftspeople (Dover  Pictorial Archive Series) by James Fairbairn

Heraldry : A Pictorial Archive for Artists and Designers (Dover Pictorial Archive Series) by Arthur Charles Fox-Davies, Carol Belanger Grafton

Within these three books, you should be able to find a line drawing of most common charges.

In summary, creating stencils is extremely easy. You need the following items:

Heraldic drawing, either by your hand or from a clip art book.
Base stencil material (paper, card stock, thin plastic)
Craft knife (like X-acto) single edged razor blades can be used in a pinch.
Black marker capable of writing on plastic, if you will be tracing.
Light box, if tracing. A sunny window is an adequate substitute.
Tape, to hold the plastic and heraldic drawing in place, if tracing.

To make the stencil:

Prepare heraldic drawing. Transfer drawing to stencil base material, either via a copy machine or tracing. With the craft knife, cut out the drawing. SImple designs, like a cinquefoil, can be cut out along the outer edges. More complex drawings, like a griffin, may require some forethought before cutting; if you just cut along the outline, you will later need to add the detail freehanded. You can choose to cut out the stencils to each side of the lines in the drawing. Initially, it will be much more work to do so, but you will only need to do so once. Once everything is cut, you are pretty much done. Add registration marks (small marks to line up a series of stencils properly, like a small cross in each corner), and you are done!

You now have a usable stencil. In future articles, we'll discuss just exactly how to use these stencils!

And in the interest of saving space and not overwhelming anyone with too many projects, we'll save the nine-mans-morris board for next month.