Turn an ordinary planter into an eye-catching outdoor decoration with DIY guidance from Tatiana, one of our Graphic Designers (who happens to love a good pun). Follow this tutorial to brighten your day and your balcony.
At iii, we like to be creative both indoors and out. With spring in the air, I’ve been looking forward to brightening up my balcony with new potted plants—starting with the exciting task of picking out and decorating containers for them!
This year, I want to get bee-friendly plants—there’s been a lot of buzz about the recent decrease in honey bee populations and the serious issues that could arise if the decline continues (to learn more, check out Pollinator.org). I decided to create a bee-themed container garden that was both beautiful and helpful for my winged comrades! I hope you enjoy this DIY—or should I say BEE-I-Y!
- Copic Multiliners and pencil: For sketching out your initial design
- X-Press It Stencil Sheets: Thick, reusable vinyl sheets perfect for reusable stencils
- Silhouette CAMEO: Or any other plotter or vinyl cutter
- Copic Airbrush System: Any of the Copic airbrush systems will work, but the ABS-1N or ABS-2 are the most portable options
- Copic Classic or Sketch markers: Pick out whatever colors you’d like for your design—both of these marker styles will work with the Copic Airbrush system
- A plain planter: A smooth surface will work best—avoid picking a planter that has any embossed pattern
- A potted, bee-friendly plant: for a list of plants that are good sources of nectar and pollen for honey bees, visit this page.
Step 1: Draw a design of a bee
Start by creating your stencil. Lately, I’ve been "pollen" in love with illustrations of insects, and I’ve noticed some bee trends flying around the internet. I asked one of our resident iii artists, Alisa, to draw a honey bee for me to reference (shown in the middle, on the right side). I traced it and some other bee references and penciled out a design for the stencil.
When sketching the stencil design, it's important to think about connecting areas of the background/negative space of the design as much as possible, so that when you peel out the positive space areas, the stencil will hold itself together rather than becoming a bunch of floating bits of vinyl.
Note: This tutorial shows how to create your own custom stencil, but you can also buy pre-made stencils or use a die-cutter to cut out X-Press It Stencil sheets.
If you'd like to make the bee stencil shown here, download the files I used:
Step 2: Make a vinyl bee stencil
After sketching the stencil, I scanned my drawing into a vector program and traced the design with the pen tool, make clean lines for the CAMEO to cut out. Avoid making any super detailed or thin shapes, because they won’t hold up once you cut them out in vinyl.
Then I made a .dxf file and imported it into the Silhouette software, which I used it to cut out the stencil on the CAMEO plotter (I used the vinyl material setting with the speed set to 2, thickness set to 30, and ratchet blade set to 10).
Next, carefully remove the positive-space parts of the stencil design—think about which parts you want to be airbrushed with color and not remain the same color as the background and peel those parts out. Then cut the stencil out, leaving space around the edges.
Now you have two sturdy, reusable custom stencils! I made my bee design in two layers–one for filling in the body and wings with color, and the other for the black line-work detail of the bee.
Step 3: Airbrush the design on planters
Now you can peel the backing from the stencil and gently position the stencil on the planter. Smooth out any bubbles or ripples if needed. If you mess up or want to adjust the placement, you can easy peel off and reapply the stencil. The Stencil Sheets from X-Press It are low tack, and do not stick to themselves, so there is no concern with getting the stencil tangled or folded.
Next, I used the Copic ABS-1N portable airbrush system to spray Tuscan Orange (YR27) & Napoli Yellow (Y19) Sketch markers on the first layer of the stencil. Then I added Maroon (E77) along the edges of the body and wings, to add depth and shadow.
If the air pressure begins to weaken, the Air Can may be getting too cold. To fix this, just warm it up by holding it in your hands or by waiting a short time before continuing to airbrush. Work in short bursts to keep the can from getting cold too fast. Warning: Do not store the Air Can in direct sunlight, like in a hot car or sunny window.
If you’ve never used the Copic airbrush system, here are some great resources for tips and troubleshooting.
The ink dries almost immediately, so when you’re finished airbrushing the first layer, just peel off the stencil and place it back on the backing it came with, or another clean surface.
Next, place the 2nd stencil, being careful to line it up with the 1st design as much as possible. You may have to try several times to get it!
I used a combination of Dark Bark (E49) and Black (100) markers on this layer.
Peel off the second stencil, and reveal the bee-uty underneath!
Step 4: Put plants in containers and watch for visitors
The planters are ready to be filled! Transplant the bee-friendly plants into your decorated containers, and make sure to water them—hive five, you’re done!
Here are Alisa & Chihiro, the resident artists at Imagination International Inc, enjoying the spring weather and waiting for some bee visitors to come buzzing by!
Shown here are three different native Oregon bee-friendly plants: Beach Strawberry, Thimbleberry, and Huckleberry. We got these beautiful plants from Go Native!—a native and culturally significant greenhouse and nursery project at Bandon High School, on the Oregon Coast. (To learn more, visit Go Native's! website)
Remember, some great ways to prevent further damage to honey bee populations is to avoid spraying pesticides on your yard and garden, buying local and raw honey to support beekeepers, and planting plenty of bee-friendly plants to encourage bee habitat!
We hope you enjoyed this tutorial (or TAT-torial)—created by Tatiana Havill Affatati, a graphic designer at iii, who goes by “Tat” (pronounced “tot’). Some of her passions are making puns excessively, eating burritos every day, and dancing in fields.
Click here to learn more about airbrushing with Copic and Mask It.