In my apartment, I have an open living space that combines my living room, entry, and dining room. The long wall of my dining room is quite long, about three-quarters of the total length of the apartment, and when I moved in, I knew I didn't have any art big enough to fill the space, nor did I have lots of smaller art to fill it. When I moved in, I threw some self-made art on the wall as a temporary place holder....which (embarrassingly) lasted 10 months.You don't really get the full scope of the wall from this before shot, but suffice it to say that this felt lost on the wall.
Finally, this summer, I figured out what I wanted to do. The least expensive (and also probably the coolest) option was to do a stencil. Art would have been nice, but unless I win the lottery (and so far I've been quite unsuccessful at that), there was no way I could afford enough art for that wall. Plus, I was intrigued by the idea of a subtle tonal stencil that would be delicate but that would also make a statement.
You can sort of tell by the (rather terrible) picture up top that my walls are not pure white. They're off white, but my trim and doors are white, so the color I chose for my stencil was also white. Also, my walls are flat, so to add dimension, I chose an eggshell paint. (I went with a quart of Benjamin Moore's no-VOC Nature line, in eggshell, in Super White. A quart was more than enough.)
The stencil I found came from Royal Design Studio (the pattern is the Large Endless Moorish Circles). It is a $44 stencil, but it is large, which is a good thing. No, it is a very, very, very good thing.
I've never stenciled, but the directions that came from Royal Design Studio were pretty clear about using a dry brush. They even suggest dabbing paint off your brush onto a paper towel before using it on the stencil. They're not kidding, either. You really want a dry brush, or the paint can glob along the rim of the stencil or worse, get under it and mess up the design.
My general method was to dip just the tip of my brush (a stenciling brush about an inch or 1.5 inches in diameter) in the paint, and then to dab it several times onto paper towels before going anywhere near the stencil. That seemed to work best. Also, stippled (a fast up-and-down motion) rather than strokes worked well. But let me tell you, it is time consuming. You can see the size of the stencil in the above picture, where I had done three rounds, and it was at this point that I thought, "what the heck have I gotten myself into here?" No lies here; it took probably 8 or 10 hours over three days to do, and my wrists were not happy about it.
Was it worth it in the end? Heck yes! I love my stenciled wall. It is just what I wanted; it's subtle, tonal, and adds a sheen and interest. The stencil was $44, and I can't remember how much my quart of paint was (but it's already seen two other projects, and there's still lots left); quite simply, there is no way I could have found any art to fill the space as successfully as the stencil does. Especially not for under $100. And even if I had found art that was big enough for under $100, I probably wouldn't have liked it as much as this.
Here it is up close. You can kind of see that not every stencil is perfect, but from far away, it all looks uniform. Plus, its imperfection adds character (something I, a perfectionist, would never thought I would say.) When you get close enough to see them, the small variations definitely scream, "hey! I'm a hand-painted wall here! A little respect?!"
It's pretty much the most perfect solution.