I get asked this question a lot.
Simply put a stencil is a piece of mylar plastic with a design cut out of it. When paint is applied to the cut parts of the mylar a design is transferred to your surface.
Hand stencils have been discovered dating back as far as 35,000 years ago. Pigment was blown across the hand held against a wall. The photo below shows these hand stencils inside a cave in Argentina.
In colonial America people used handmade stencils made out of heavy oiled paper or even leather to add beauty to the walls and floors of their homes. Early wall stencils were inspired by the wallpapers of the time. Examples of these original stencil works can still be found in New England.
Stencils make everyone an instant artist. Absolutely anyone can stencil. The use of stencils today is a part of the DIY movement.
Stencils are an inexpensive way to freshen up your home without the huge cost of redecorating. For example, instead of wall papering that boring wall, you could stencil a decorative border on it or around the doorway. You could stencil an overall pattern over the wall with a deeper or lighter shade of paint and you've changed the whole look of the room. Wall paper is expensive and messy. But using a stencil is quite inexpensive and reusable. And you have created something that is unique to you.
Stencil your world!