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Stenciling a Tribal Lamp: Can You Beat This Drum Shade?

How to stencil a tribal inspired lamp shade and base. DIY project

Sometimes you can find the perfect lamp to light up a specific area or a special corner of a room. And sometimes you can’t – especially when you have a specific design style in mind! So what’s a girl (or boy) to do? Create your own, of course!!  All you need is some imagination, inspiration and a bit of good information. Read on to see how I crafted this custom stenciled tribal lamp shade and base from pieces you can easily source from your local home goods store…

Makanyane Safari Lodge

My design inspiration for this project was the look of the Makanyane Safari Lodge in South Africa. I quickly realized I wasn’t going to find the perfect tribal-inspired lamp I had in mind, so instead I started to look for individual pieces. I found a plain drum shade easily enough, but really wanted a wooden base to keep with the rustic feel that makes this room so special. Fortunately, a trip to Target revealed a tall rectangular wooden vase with a block shape that was perfect for stenciling. Unfortunately, a vase is NOT a wired lamp base. But, more on that at the end of this post….

Tribal Stencil Lamp Supplies

First, here are the supplies to stencil this look:

Stenciled Tribal Lamp Shade

Something about the rhythm of patterns on the Raven + Lily Tribal Stencil seemed to sing out to be part of this lamp. The stencil fit perfectly on the drum shade, as you can see. And the straight sides of the shade and base made them very easy to stencil. Because it’s hard to fix painting mistakes on fabric, I suggest test painting on scrap fabric before you stencil a lamp shade. I tested the stencil with Renaissance Red Stencil Creme on a scrap of silk dupioni fabric, and the results were so beautiful, clear and crisp, I think there’s going to be a pillow coming to match this project’s lamp shade!

Stenciled Tribal Lamp Shade

PRO tip! When painting a lamp shade, use stencil adhesive to hold the stencil flat against the curved shade, and start stenciling at the back seam.

Because my lamp shade’s fabric did not absorb the paint much, I stenciled three light layers of paint to build up the color. Stenciling light layers is better than a thick layer of paint, to prevent the paint from bleeding under the stencil.

Stenciled Tribal Lamp Shade

I continued painting the pattern all the way around the lamp shade until meeting the seam on the back side. Using stencil adhesive and painting several light layers of paint will help you get a crisp pattern like this.

Stenciling a tribal inspired lamp base

Next I painted the wood lamp base. If you want to use just part of a stencil pattern, as I did here, just tape off what you don’t want to paint. It’s a bit hard to see here, but I used clear packaging tape because it was handy, and see-through tape made it easier for me to line up the patterns. I stenciled part of the tribal stencil’s geometric pattern up the middle of all four sides of the lamp base using Aged Nickel Stencil Creme. Then I added rows of the Squared Diamond Stencil from Royal Design Studio using Smoked Oyster Stencil Creme.

As you see here, part the same tribal stencil was used on both the lamp shade and base, but the patterns look very different when you run the stencil in different directions and vary the colors of paint.

Tribal Stencil Pattern Lamp

Now, you may not live in Africa where you can see lions, giraffes and elephants from your front porch. Yeah, neither do we! But the tribal stencil can bring a bit of safari feel to any room. In our house, this tribal pattern lamp is in our sun room where we can watch a safari of deer, squirrels and maybe even a skunk or two on summer evenings!

When I spotted the wood vase at Target, I thought it would be great as a lamp with exaggerated proportions. So it needed to be converted into a lamp base. This step was, as it turned out, not as easy as stenciling the lamp. While it’s easy to find a lamp kit at a home improvement store like Home Depot, because this lamp has a strong personality it called for special pieces that were hard to find. I share some steps and mis-steps from THAT process in this blog post on India pied-à-terre.

Royal Design Studio Wall Stencils and Paint Supplies for DIY Projects


  1. This is very inspiring to me. I have traveled quite a bit on East African safaris and lived the look found in the safari lodges. No way to bring home items like your lamp. Great project to add to my list!

    • That’s great Debbie, I hope this inspires lots of people. Our home has far more Asian touches than African influence so this is inspiring me to broaden my design horizons too! Oh boy, safari trip is on our short list … some day …

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