Rebecca Hotop knows the power of stencils. "It's not just chickies and duckies," said Hotop of Fairfax Station.
Stenciling was the way for Hotop, a professional faux finish artist, and other members of the Capital Area Stencilers nonprofit artisans group, to offer their skills to Fairfax County nonprofit Reston Interfaith this month.
Each of the past few years, the CAS group has participated in a community service project, painting murals at a senior center in McLean and Bethesda, Md. Last year, the group — which meets monthly at The Apple Tree store and studio in Springfield — painted T-shirts for orphans at the Rainbow House shelter in Haiti.
This year, the group stenciled designs onto canvas tote bags, filled the bags with toiletries, and donated everything to the Embry Rucker Community Shelter in Reston.
"Some of our people protested doing something far away when we had so many needs so close to home," said Hotop.
On Jan. 13, at its monthly meeting, nearly 20 members of the CAS painted the bags, which were donated by 4 Star Marketing. The group also received acrylic paints from DecaArt's "SoSoft" line, which are made for canvas and other surfaces.
"When you ask companies for this kind of a philanthropic project, they usually come through," said CAS vice president Ceil Glembocki.
THE ARTISTS spent five hours stenciling designs onto the bags that day. Most of those present were professionals working in the fields of decorative painting and faux finishing. They make their living producing high-end custom wall finishes, murals and other intricate stencil artistry.
"These people are extremely busy, but they donated their time to do this," said Glembocki.
For Linda O'Neill, a professional faux finisher who painted the bags, the outreach was a no-pressure way to express her creativity in a collaborative environment.
"The best part is you're not constricted by anything. There's no client telling you to match the color of their dog's eyes," said O'Neill. "You can allow yourself to be nothing but creative."
The bags were presented to the shelter on Friday, Jan. 21.
"I'm very overwhelmed and grateful for it, on behalf of the shelter residents," said Susan Samuels, resource coordinator for the shelter.
The donated bags will be given to residents who enter the shelter, families or individual adults. Those who enter Embry Rucker are offered job counseling and encouraged to participate in life-skills seminars. Residents stay there from one to three months, and when they leave, they are given opportunities to pursue job and housing options.
"A tote bag is so handy. It's very meaningful for everyone here to have something to organize their personal belongings, because that becomes their life, what's in that bag," said Samuels. She added that many of her residents come to the shelter with few possessions and would appreciate the hand-painted designs.
Susan Johnson, owner of The Apple Tree, said she has been hosting the monthly meetings of the CAS for nearly two years. The store also offers regular classes in decorative painting and other crafts.
"I thought it was a really neat idea, since most of our customers and students are women, and it was close to home," she said of the outreach.
"They did some really fabulous things. It's amazing what one can do with stenciling nowadays," said Johnson.