What is Pochoir or stencil printing?

The name Pochoir derives from the French word for “stencil”, and refers effectively to a stencil-based process of print making that was used by artists and graphic designers to either create prints or apply additional color to existing prints. Although the technique has been dated back to 500 C.E., it is primarily known for its popularity during the late 19th, early 20th century, which saw the development of the Art Nouveau and Art Deco movements. The technique was honed by great masters of this time, most notably by Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, and Henri Matisse.

Pochoir involves the designing and creating of stencils that are to be cut with a knife, and if desired layered on top of each other in order to create compositions that vary in complexity. Originally stencils were cut from sheets of aluminum, zinc, or copper, however with time print makers moved towards plastic as their material of choice. Once cut, the stencils are laid out onto a sheet of paper or canvas, and then using various brush types, single or multiple pigments are applied over them. Removing the stencil then reveals the desired print motif, and the process can be repeated in order to yield more complex compositions, or perhaps a wider selection of color.

Pochoir from the mid 20th century was disparaged for being an expensive and slow technique of print making, and was thus taken over by more mechanized forms of printing such as lithography (see What is a lithograph?) and serigraphy. However, due to their fundamental “hand-made nature”, Pochoir prints retain a unique vividness in both their material and visual senses.

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