Monday, April 30, 2018

DIY Sherlock Wall Stencil: WE ACTUALLY DID IT!

I'm pretty pumped about this one, you guys.

Not only am I about to show you how to make large-scale wall stencils on the cheap, I'm *also* going to show you the completed Sherlock accent wall we just finished for our friends Chris & Christie. And you guys, it looks goooooooood - if I do say so myself.

First, to remind you what it looks like, here's a photo of the Sherlock set via Sherlockology:

That iconic black-and-white wallpaper is flocked, which is why the interior of the damask pattern looks almost solid black from most angles. It's also not technically black-and-white: the background is actually a metallic cream-and-pale-blue stripe, while the pattern itself is a deep chocolate brown.

Now here's a look at our almost-finished wall:
 We used a cream base coat and deep chocolate brown paint - but you can see the effect still looks very black-and-white.

 If you look closely you can see the top and bottom two rows haven't been touched-up yet, so those rows have thinner interior lines. I'll explain that in a minute. Keep reading.

When we were faux finishers John and I made our own stencils all the time, but this is easily the most difficult pattern we've ever attempted. However, IT CAN BE DONE, if you have the patience for it. (And if your walls are textured, then if you're willing to do a lot of touch ups afterward.) 

If your stencil pattern is small you can cut it out of a clear report cover or overhead transparency; those work great for stencils. If your pattern is larger than 8X10, though, here's a cheap way to do it:


- A printed pattern
- clear spray lacquer, any sheen
- a roll of clear packing tape
(Not sponsored, that's just the best of 3 different brands we tried)
- small foam roller
- latex paint

First you need a pattern. Luckily the Sherlock wallpaper is all over the internet, so it's easy to find. Even better, John's already done the work for you. We made ours the right size (we think), so grab this graphic below, go to Kinko's, and have them print it full-size. It should cost about $3.

 Here's our print-out from Kinko's:

Tape your print-out down to a work surface outside, and spray it with clear spray lacquer. Spray it until the lacquer completely saturates the paper, front and back:

We used Minwax, but any clear lacquer should work.

You should also saturate the entire paper, not just around the design like we did here. (We learned this the hard way.) You can trim the paper closer than this, though; all that excess edging will only get in the way later.

The reason we're lacquering the paper - and the reason you should NOT skip this step - is because water and paint will seep into your paper after you cut out the stencil. If your paper isn't sealed, it will swell up and start to fall apart. Not good.

When your paper is fully dry again, bring it inside and tack it down to a table:

Now we're going to cover the entire thing in packing tape - twice. Overlap each row so there are no gaps. Do all vertical lines first, then horizontal. Flip the paper over and repeat for the back.  

 Ooooh, shiny.

At this point you should have your paper pattern sandwiched between 4 layers of packing tape, and we are FINALLY ready to cut. Woohoo!

Use a new, sharp craft blade, and err on the side of giving MORE width to those tiny interior lines. If one rips, don't panic; just sandwich it between more packing tape, then cut away the excess tape.

 As you can see this stencil is extremely delicate, so lay it flat when not in use and be gentle moving it around. It's also a good idea to make more than one if you're planning to do a large wall like ours. (We ended up using two, since they wear out over time.)

So there's your stencil. Now what? How do you get started actually putting it on the wall?

It helps to start with a guide piece. John printed half of the pattern and taped it in the corner about halfway up the wall, like this:


Now the first full stencil lines up off of that guide piece. John included guide cutouts on the top, bottom, and left side of the stencil, so once you get started it's pretty easy to line up the next piece.

Spray the back side of your stencil with spray adhesive, pat it down with a paper towel to remove any excess, and stick it to the wall:

See the guide cut-outs on the left? That helps get the spacing right.

Use a smooth foam roller to apply the paint, but make sure you roll off almost ALL the paint on a scrap piece of cardboard before moving to the wall. You want very little paint. Excess paint will bleed like crazy, so better to have too little and build up slowly.

To keep the pattern level John used a laser level (a fancy gadget left over from our painting days), but you can use a piece of string or even a measuring tape with a level to make sure your stencils follow the same line. This step is crucial; once you start to veer off course the whole wall will look crooked, so remember to check that level every time! 

Oh, and don't trust the lines on your walls or ceiling; those are rarely straight.

 Here you can still see our initial guide piece taped to the wall on the left. Leave all the partial pieces 'til the end; we'll fill those in last. (One you've done all the full stencils, you'll need to cut up your stencil [sob] to fit in all those remaining spaces.)

As the cosplayers like to say in their armor tutorials: Repeat 'til Cry.

When your stencil starts getting too gunked up with dried paint, take it outside and spray it off with the hose. Lay it flat on the driveway to do this, so the water pressure doesn't bend/break any of those tiny lines. Then pat it dry. This is where it helps to have two stencils: you can keep going with your spare while a helper cleans and dries the first one. Make sure it is COMPLETELY dry before moving on, though; excess water will make your paint run!

Now let's talk bleeding. Paint bleeding. If your walls are textured, then odds are you'll get a lot of it. (John's sample on cardboard is darn near perfect, though, so if you have glass-smooth walls: LUCKY.)

Here's a close-up of the stencil right after applying on the left, followed by my touch-ups on the right:

 See all the jagged lines on the left? You can't really see them if you step back, but if you're like me (and our friends) you'll still want to fix them. So Christie and I've been going back with small artists' brushes and re-painting all those interior lines. Yes, it's tedious, yes, it takes a while/forever, but it's sooo much prettier when you're done. (Plus I find it rather soothing, so I can't wait to go back and help finish the rest.)

Only the middle rows have been touched up here - so again, all that bleeding really isn't noticeable from a distance. So hey, if you decide to leave the bleed, no judgment here.

 It took John about 8 hours to stencil the whole wall by himself, so count on a solid day's work for an accent wall around this size. Touching up all the bleed, on the other hand, could take anywhere from several hours to an eternity, so I can't help you there. :D

 Let's end with one more Before and After, since I love them so:


 ... and After!

We painted the other walls in the room green to match Sherlock's place, too. (We just did our best with the color match, since reference photos vary quite a lot.) Chris and Christie have lots more Sherlock plans for this room - plans I'm really excited to help with - so I'll keep you guys updated as we do more!

I hope this inspires some of you to try painting your own Sherlock wall - or at least give stencils a shot! If you have any questions fire away in the comments, and John or I will do our best to answer.

Oh, and if you love this and found it useful, maybe consider throwing a few dollars our way over there in the support box, or shopping through our Amazon link. Every little bit helps us keep giving you guys free tutorials and fun content, so thank you for helping out by sharing and liking and just generally being awesome, gang.


  1. I can't even fathom the amount of patience you all have to do such a perfect job. I would never in a million years be able to attempt such a thing. Truly amazing work!

  2. I admire your commitment and it looks beautiful. But I'm not as patience so I think I'll just go for the easier route w/wallpaper.

  3. hope they're not going to replicate the smiley face! your work is outstanding.

    1. I'm more concerned about the bullet holes... ;)

  4. This is amazing and I love it! One question though- when you are touching up the imperfect edges, are you adding more brown paint or cream paint? Or both? Is it just a case by case judgement call on whether to expand on the lines of the stenciled design or to make them smaller by filling in with the "outside" color? (I hope that makes sense)

    1. It's both, but mostly the cream; we've only been using the brown to darken any areas where the brown paint didn't cover completely. We've found it easier to touch up edges with the cream, even though that does make the interior lines larger.

  5. That is lovely! I am in the process of building a new house and every time I see something like this I think I should get creative in a room and put something Harry Potter or Star Trek: TNG on the walls.

    Question though - in our last house, we painted many stripes on a couple of accent walls and after a bunch of bleeding and painstaking touchups in the first room, I did a bunch of reading in the hopes someone had a trick. So I found something that said you should apply your tape and then paint the first coat in the current wall colour (because if it bleeds, who cares?), and then when you paint the stripe colour, the stripe won't bleed. Would that work with a stencil as well? It certainly made for zero touchups in the second room and I was delighted!

  6. That is freaking amazing, and now I want to do a sherlock wall when we finish the basement/play room next year. Your creativity, attention to detail, and skills amaze me!

  7. They definitely NEED the smiley face and the bullet holes, too!

  8. Would clear contact paper work as well as tape or was there a specific reason to avoid it?

    1. We actually made our 2nd stencil with a clear adhesive carpet covering - very similar to contact paper - and found it to be thinner & less durable than the packing tape. It's also harder to apply to the paper, because you get tons of air bubbles in between the plastic layers when you're handling large sheets. The tape, on the other hand, has few-to-no bubbles since you're working in smaller strips.

      All that said, feel free to experiment: contact paper could absolutely work!

  9. Yes, yes, very impressive...
    But what about Kitten?!?!

    In all seriousness, this is amazing! I am in awe of the intricacy and beauty of the finished wall! So pretty!

    1. Kitten is terrorizing all my desk toys as I type this - my poor Kermit statue seems to be getting the worst of it. She's also perfected the art of scaling my bare legs to reach my lap, and I have the bloody scratches to prove it.

      It's a good thing she's cute, is what I'm saying. :D

      And thank you!

    2. Awww! Thanks for the update!
      I love all the decorating posts you've been doing. It inspired my daughter and me to create a Harry Potter shelf on her bookshelf.

  10. Jen,

    You guys are amazing! Such wonderful work! I stenciled my daughter's nursery with a bunny family at chair rail height. It had five colors in it. Some craft stores sell sheets of plastic at different mils. These sheets can be found poster board sized. Printed design underneath, Exacto knife (I have a stencil cutter)... stencil.

    On a personal note, we went and watched Labrynth yesterday. It was wonderful to see on the Big Screen! So many small details are noticeable that you would not pick up on with a TV, such as Jareth's pants are not a solid grey but have a pattern to them. I first watched Labrynth on video tape, my Aunt recommended it, and had to have it. Wore out a VHS tape and now own it on DVD. So worth seeing a movie I've seen/listened to 100 times! I can't say the same for Jurassic Park when it came out in 3D.

    What did you name the kitten?


    P.S. It was great to see you in Pittsburgh!

    1. P.S.S. Knew I forgot something. Labrynth was paired with another story but we arrived late and missed the title so I don't know what it is but it was a good story. John Hurt was the narrator and of course Jim Henson did the creatures. It was a story about a soldier that gave a biscuit to a card player and ended up with his deck of cards and a bag. Adventures ensued forthwith. I would like to watch that story again and hope that it plays with all the showings of Labrynth and not at just select theaters.


      P.P.S.S. (And believe it or not) It was (still) great to see you in Pittsburgh!

    2. We used to purchase big sheets of plastic for making stencils when we were faux finishers, but now they're hard to find. Where do you find yours? The only option we found was buying in bulk online, so it would have cost us $50 or more. o.0

      Also I need to see that short! The Labyrinth showing snuck up on me, so we missed it. (Oops.)

    3. That short was the first episode of jim Benson's storyteller, from the late 80s. If you can find it, its absolutely fantastic. The story was called "the soldier and death."

    4. Ugh.. Henson, not Benson.. Autocorrect.😡

    5. Amazon sells rolls of template plastic for Cricut machines that come if different lengths, as long as your template isn't greater than 12" wide, you can use that too.

  11. Gorgeous!

    When you said, "Even better, John's already done the work for you."
    I thought for a minute, John Watson?
    I think that means it's time to get some sleep ;)

  12. Gorgeous! I wonder if anyone's come up with a stencil for Irene Adler's wallpaper, because that was to die for...

  13. holy crap. Jen, I can't even...this is like one of my favorite things you guys have done!!!

  14. so, a completely random idea on this, would it work to use an airbrush for such a delicate stencil? that way you won't have to worry about losing paint on the cardboard... but then again, it'd have to be thin enough to spray...

    1. I think it could absolutely work, and I'd love to see someone experiment with an airbrush!

  15. Did you ever try a kind of lamp foil for the stencils (in germany, its "lampenfolie", a sturdy kind of foil used for lampshades) I used lamp foil for stencilwork on cakes and it was just fine, perhaps ist easier to use than your paper/packing-tape stencil

    1. No, I haven't heard of that! I'll have to look it up and see if we have it here in the States.

  16. incredible!!! I am so impressed!

  17. Chris and Christie are amazingly lucky to have you as (local) friends! I can't wait to see more of this room.

  18. I stumbled on this stencil material today and thought of you: Apparently using x-ray sheets for stencils is a thing!

  19. Hi, what dimensions did you use for your template? I'm thinking of just purchasing a stencil-type thing and use that to save the hassle of cutting it out and everything, but would love to know what size I'll need it to be. Thanks, Ryan.

    1. I don't remember if we ever measured the finished stencil, but it's somewhere around 18 inches wide, maybe 24 high? (The graphic I provide above is the exact size we used, so you can print it true-to-size.) If you're talking about using a Cricut machine to cut it, then you may have to scale it down.


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