I walk past a lot of bright colourful street art on my way to my nearest art shop in London's East End when I need art materials.I never really used to like this kind of work until I saw Banksy’s film ‘Exit through the Gift Shop’ last year which gives an insider’s view/or views of street art.
On seeing the film I had a total new found respect for the ‘Art’ of street art.
Whilst some of it seems to me trashy and throwaway other images are highly
accomplished technically and really imaginative.You have to wonder why some of the artists go to such a trouble when the work might just get painted over the next day.
Here are some of the kinds of images around London's East End I'm talking about.
The artists in the Banksy film cut out stencils of the images they wanted to put on the wall then took the stencils to the building they want to paint on, they then spray with aerosol cans through the stencils (which acts as a mask) creating the image on the wall.A few days after seeing the film I saw some guys in Shorditch doing exactly this.After watching them for 10 minutes taping the stencil to the wall then spraying they were done and on to the next one.It was really quick.
I liked the fact they planned the image in one place and executed it somewhere else.It's easy to assume street artists just draw the first thing that comes into their head on the spot, but not so, as I am learning .I like the idea that they are planned and at the same time look quick and spontaneous.
I particularly liked this painting of a figure on a horse I saw on a wall in near my art shop.
I found out it’s by an irish street artist called Conor Harrington (
I thought it had a great sense of tone to it.I have since found out that he is a fine artist actually who works in a street art meets fine art style.He has just had a successful show at the Lazarides Gallery in London.
What interested me more actually than the subject matter and the tone in his work was the surface and the drips of paint on the rough wall.Having never used spray cans to paint with I was unaware of what interesting marks you can get with them.Amazing dribbles and splatters.
I’m used to working in oil paint and you can’t get these effects in the same way in oil paint.
Looking at these raw and rough marks made me want to give it a go.
I found out that the most widely used spray paint is called Montana Gold , I checked their website and found out that when you buy a can you can also buy lots of different nozzles to vary the width of the spray from thick to thin , some drip some splatter.The website said the thinnest nozzle could spray from 0.4 -1.5cm.This is pretty small and I was excited as I thought that this could allow me to do some fine detail work.
I bought a few cans they are about £5 each , and I put a huge sheet of paper on the wall of my studio and excitedly began to paint with the spay can. Acrylic paint is normally water based so I presumed it would be odorless,what I didn’t realize was that these cans were acrylic paint suspended in some kind of lacquer. Firstly this ruled out using it on my acrylic based studio paintings because the 2 paint types( normal water based paint and lacquer based paint in the can ) might crack if I mixed both types together.Secondly it meant that this paint really really stank of fumes!
I found the paint itself impossible to control, it’s like the paint is alive when it comes out of the can.I could not seem to get any thin marks of 0.5 cm like suggested.This could make for interesting accidents but frustrating when I tried to work on a delicate bit of the picture pressing gently on the cap only for nothing to come out of the can , then suddenly half a second later a river of paint lands on my picture.I’m used to having control when painting so it was strange to feel I could not control the paint.The nearest I could get to controlling the spray was by masking an area with a sheet of paper with one hand while I sprayed with the other.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was fun but after a few hours of experimenting I started to feel sick I ended up with pretty rubbish sketch of a barely human looking head (Below), a lungful of toxic fumes and a layer of acrylic dust all over my studio.It seems the sprayed paint that doesn't land on your picture dries in the air and settles on every upward facing surface.Oh, yes and it’s impossible to get off your hands.
My first effort
Sometimes I think it’s good to experiment like this even if it doesn’t work out as it can lead to other ideas.I drew my picture freehand this however really lead me to understand why street artists use stencils as stencils enable artists to put the paint where they intend.I'd appreciate if anybody has any tips of how to paint with a spray can to let me know...
I’m not easily beaten though and I would like to do more pictures with a spray cans without the nauseating side effects.
I found out that Liquitex ( the company who makes my normal artist quality acrylic paint) have just released an acrylic spray paint in the US.
This paint comes in a wide variety of colours it odor free and you can mix it with any of their other acrylic paint.
However it's currently not yet available in the UK.This was actually what I expected from the Montana Gold - no smell and intermix-ability , I will get some as I’d love to experiment at bit more, and I will be able to use this in my acrylic paintings in my studio work without the surface cracking.
It was an interesting experiment.