Street Art Beyond the Spray Can

Posted by Amara Holstein and Celeste Prevost


This post is in partnership with Pepsi Refresh Project

When you hear the phrase “street art,” there’s almost no limit to what you can do. Check out moss graffiti by geniuses like Helen Nodding (a.k.a British artist Ladybird) and Anna Garforth. Michael William Kirby out of Baltimore does mind-blowing paintings with chalk, or there’s Joshua Allen Harris’plastic bag creatures tied to vents that come alive only when the NYC subway goes by—and don’t forget French artist OX, who takes over billboards to make bold graphic statements.        

From trees to statues to signs, Magda Sayeg been all over the world with her Houston group, Knitta Please. Sayeg says, “I wanted to take knitting out of its traditional, functional context and bring it into a rough, harsh, urban landscape.”

DC-based Mark Jenkins and Sandra Fernandez use a less cozy medium for their message. With packing tape and plastic wrap, they create somber figures in disturbing settings—always with a dose of dark humor. Some of their tape sculpture people have their heads embedded in concrete; others are trapped under dumpsters or are perched on top of building ledges.

Does all this art talk inspire you to take to the streets? Here are some quick tips for creating art outside and beyond the usual can of spray paint.

Pick A Medium

Find a material that speaks to you. If you like gardening, you could use grass seeds or plants. Maybe your parents have boxes of old video tapes stuffed in their basement; pull out the tape, and use that. Lisa Hernandez won a 2010 Pepsi Refresh grant for her organziation,  Long Beach Depot for Creative Reuse, where she sells everything from fabric samples and bottlecaps to corks, and old yo-yos. “Take simple things from home and make art out of it,” she says­­. (Her daughter, Yoshino, is knitting projects out of plastic bags). “Plus, it reduces waste by using what we already have.” Sustainable street art, anyone?   

Educate Yourself

Take a look at what others are doing. “Become aware of what’s current to help figure out what you like and want to do,” says Sayeg. Pick up a copy of the magazine Juxtapoz, read the latest online street art resource Wooster Collective, or check out the site Fecal Face, dedicated to subversive art. Also worth checking out: Street Files, a curated site where readers submit street art they see and like (over half a million photos are up to date).

Get Noticed

Think about what you’re trying to say and how to say it. “You want to catch people’s attention,” says Sayeg. “People aren’t in a gallery or museum, expecting to see art. They’re just walking down the street.” Do you want to make people to smile, or do you want to confound them? “People respond in many different ways,” says Fernandez and Jenkins about their tape art installations. “Some people don't notice it. Some stop to take a picture or even try to speak to the sculptures.  And some people call 911 before they get close enough to find out that it's a sculpture, and then you have the larger public response with fire trucks, ambulances, etc.” In other words, consider your goal—unless you want the local fire department on your front yard.  

Get Neighborly

Host a street art block party (check if you need a city permit) and have your neighbors donate boxes of old stuff. Hernandez hosted a Pepsi Refresh Creative Use Day with her $5,000 grant, and people did everything from creating a collage on an old fence to making pretty chains out of leather scraps to creating a solar-powered water fountain with empty cans. A side benefit? “It’s all about building unity in our community,” Hernandez says. “You get to know each other and talk instead of hiding inside.”

Just don’t get upset if people take down your work. After all, that’s the nature of the street.

Read more from the GOOD Guide to Finding Arts and Culture here.