Monday, June 25, 2018

SIDE QUESTS: Spray Art

So I’m cheating a little with this sidequest is still pretty nerdy and sci-fi, but I miss doing it so I wanted to write about it.

What Are We Talking About?

When I say Spray Art, most folks don’t recognize the form, but as soon as I describe the bright planets made with spray paint, most folks nod. Periodically, videos go viral showing a street artist flourishing spray paint cans and producing a fluorescent spacescape.






The Basics

Spray Art is a specific form referring to paintings, often made as part of street shows, with poster board, spray paint, lids (like a Cool Whip lid), and glossy magazine pages. Other tools come into play (paint scrapers, palette knives, lighters), but many designs can be made with those four pieces of equipment and some extra poster board squares.

A lot of Spray Art features spacescapes or planets, though beach scenes, mountains, and various stencils create unique variations. No painting ever comes out the same due to layering of the paints—one of my favorite things about spray art. While some paintings can take up to half an hour or longer, most are made before the paint has time to dry—less than five minutes.

By Skech


While artists certainly make these paintings in their garages or studios, I’d argue that part of the art is the performance. Yes, the finished piece can be amazing and beautiful, but there’s an energy that comes when a crowd gasps when the artist lifts a lid to reveal a planet, or smears a stretch of mountains into existence against a night sky, or scratches suddenly become a city. The act of creation becomes as much a part of the art as the finished product.

The Rabbit Hole 

Once upon a time, I saw someone who looked like a pre-Iron Man 3 Robert Downey Jr. take a piece of poster board and turn it into a galaxy with a few cans of spray paint. Half the time, the dude didn’t even look at what he was doing. He could flip the cans, watch the crowd, and turn a tiny piece of white space into a universe.

I’d seen some videos about Spray Art—a quick YouTube search turns up some masterful artists like Eden and Skech. I watched a few YouTube tutorials and fell in love with the medium. While the end pieces look super hard, my favorite part of making planets is the surprising ease. In fact, I’d encourage folks to try it if they like the style. Pretty soon, I’d collected a dozen colors and an A. C. Moore membership. I started by giving them away as gifts and making them for my own enjoyment, but because I love the performance aspect of spray art, often done in front of a live audience as a street art, I wanted to try it in public.

One of my larger spacescapes at 12x24


I signed up for a booth at my local summer street fair. I wasn’t sure what would happen, if I would like doing it in public, or if I would even make my money back. I’d only been painting for a few months off and on, and my arsenal was small: pyramids, trees, and, of course, planets.

Well, I was hooked immediately. I made a profit, and my tip jar was way fuller than I imagined. But what I loved about making the street art was making free paintings for kids. Growing up, neither myself nor my parents would have had the money to buy a piece of spray art, even if the prices were low, so I wanted to make sure that any kid could take home a piece of the magic. Sometimes the parents were more excited than the kids, but I carry with me many cherished moments, such as a group of kids watching for thirty minutes and declaring it magic. I’ve been called a magician multiple times, which still makes me smile.

Probably my best waterfall to date. Never got mountains down.


When selling my pieces, sometimes I’d be surprised at a piece I wasn’t happy with would be loved by several people, nearly bought, until the right person took it home. Sometimes, folks would flip through my portfolio book, passing over some of my proudest paintings, until they would beam at a year-old painting or a spacescape I found dull. The paintings spoke to certain people, sometimes a total surprise, such as a middle class dad, complete with polo tucked into khakis, coming every month and buying my biggest paintings. Families with kids in strollers would tell me how they had them framed in their house.

I don’t say all this to make it sound like I super talented, I wasn’t. Spray Art has an innate magic that makes people smile. To take a section of flimsy poster board, three cans of cheap spray paint, and a few crumpled pages of an old People magazine and make a window into space in under five minutes—that’s magic.

Posted by Phoebe Wagner — She can be found lurking @pheebs_w on Twitter or someday on the website domain she's already paid for at phoebe-wagner.com.

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