CLOSE
getty images
getty images

12 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Street Art

getty images
getty images

From tags to throwies to murals, street art is everywhere; and in the last decade, it's gained appreciation from the public at large. Artists are being commissioned to take what was once only thought of as a mischievous pastime for ne’er-do-wells into the mainstream. But let’s face facts: It’s 2015, and no subculture has really achieved validation until it gains its own reality show. Enter Oxygen’s upcoming competition series Street Art Throwdown (premiering February 3 at 9/8c), which pits graffiti artists and street artists (cue the West Side Story soundtrack because there is a divide) against each other for a cash prize.

Not familiar with the art form? Brush up on your street sense here. 

1. GRAFFITI AND STREET ART ARE NOT THE SAME THING

Getty Images

While graffiti artists only work with spray paint and pride themselves on knowing their way around a can of the stuff, street artists use other media to create their pieces. “Graffiti artists really pride themselves on what we call can control,” says Cameron Moberg, 33, a graffiti artist and Street Art Throwdown contestant from San Francisco, California. “We take pride in not needing a stencil and really working on our can skills, that’s where the divide originally came from. But with good content coming out, there’s some more respect. You even see some collaboration between street artists and graffiti artists.” 

2. MASTERING CAN CONTROL IS NO EASY FEAT

Getty Images

Spray paint has come a long way, but getting the most out of it can still be difficult. “Can control is essentially being able to use the can properly and being able to manipulate what the can does,” explains Moberg. “For example, when you have something called a flare it’s when it’s really wide and fuzzy at the top of a letter and as you get to the bottom it will be really clean and skinnier. That can control process is not just moving your arm, it’s moving your wrist, rotating your wrist and your arm at the same time. In the '90s, we didn’t have the paint we have now. We were using hardware store paint which is really runny and it takes a lot of commitment to learn how to use.” 

3. EUROPEANS HAVE THE UPPER HAND WITH SPRAY PAINT

Getty Images

When it comes to spray paint, the Europeans apparently have it all figured out. “Some artists, like DAIM from Germany, started meeting with paint companies in Europe,” says Moberg. “They were like, ‘Look, if you want a good product—listen to us.’ They told them to lower the pressure of the can so the paint comes out slower. The valve system within a can has totally changed as well. With American paint, by the time you get down to the last quarter of the can or a third of the can, it starts losing pressure and your lines skip. European paint or paint from New Zealand, those paints don’t lose pressure once you get to the bottom so you’re emptying the entire can.” 

4. THE SHAPE OF SPRAY PAINT CANS HAS CHANGED

Getty Images

The dome on top of the spray paint can, which used to be about 1 ¼-inches tall, is now only about ½-inch in height, allowing artists to get closer to the walls they’re painting and write finer lines.

5. THERE ARE POLITICS IN STREET ART

Getty Images

Unlike painting on one’s private canvas, street art is public and subject to being covered by a competing artist, so you never really know how long a piece is going to remain visible. “It’s an open forum for the public to communicate about their current culture,” says Kristin Adamczyk, 24, a street artist from Detroit, Michigan, also competing on Street Art Throwdown. “There are no rules. It’s not a club you have to be in. Part of writing on the street is you could go back there tomorrow and it’s covered up because somebody dissed you or you don’t know where you are and you’ve written on somebody’s wall that they’ve already called. There’s politics and drama and silly things.” 

6. A THROWIE IS NOT SOMETHING COZY FOR YOUR COUCH

Getty Images

“We have different styles we do,” says Moberg. “Throwies are meant for what we call bombing, where you’re just getting something up really fast. That’s usually like a bubble letter and a one-color fill with a contrasting color outline and maybe a second outline around the whole thing with another color. Those you want to do in under two or three minutes.” 

7. WHEAT PASTES ARE FOR STREET ARTISTS

Getty Images

In street art, a wheat paste refers to a simple adhesive made out of flour, water, and glue to stick and seal a piece to a wall or building. “A wheat paste is a really good example of how graffiti is different from street art,” says Adamczyk. “Street art really means you’re bringing art onto the public street. That can mean you’re using a paint brush and applying acrylic paint or a wheat paste, which I like to use. I’ll print out some of my photos or I’ll do a sketch with Sharpies or permanent markers and then it’s on a piece of paper. All you do is apply the paste to it and post it up on the wall.” But, as with most street art, it has a temporary life span—six months for a wheat paste that has been well-sealed with a top coat or just three weeks to a month for one that has not. 

8. CREATING A TAG IS KIND OF LIKE PICKING A USERNAME

Getty Images

A tag is what represents the graffiti artist (like a personal signature) and may be the easiest thing to throw on a wall, but Moberg says finding perfection in writing your name is nearly impossible. “The biggest issue is everyone’s trying to figure out what name to write because in the graff world you really don’t want a name that somebody else has,” he says. “Back in the day, if you had the same name as somebody you would have to battle them. A lot of people now are using symbols or putting different numbers in their name because every name has been used. Graffiti artists get obsessed with style. It’s like we’re never satisfied. It’s the never ending obsession to accomplish how to perfect it.” 

9. THOSE SCRIBBLES MEAN SOMETHING

Getty Images

If you’ve ever looked at graffiti and wondered about the purpose of what appears to be a simple scribble, it actually may be the foundation to a larger, more beautiful piece. “Everyone says, ‘Well, I like a larger piece but I don’t like that scribbly thing people do,’” says Moberg. “What a lot of people don’t realize is that scribbly thing is the basic structure for the larger amazing murals that we do. A kid who is learning cartooning has a cartooning book and it tells them to draw a square, a circle and all of these shapes for the basic structure of the cartoon, whereas in graffiti, you have to know how to tag and write your name because that’s going to be the basic structure for the larger letter forms. If you don’t know how to write, you will never grow into having can control or even having a good structure of lettering.” 

10. GRAFFITI IS MEANT TO IMPRESS OTHER ARTISTS

Getty Images

Graffiti artists aim for visibility to impress others within their community, not for the likes of you. “When people are looking for a spot, they want to choose one that other graffiti writers will see and say, 'Dang, how did he get that spot?'" explains Moberg. “That can be crazy in a couple of ways—it can just be really high or it can be in a spot that’s really public and it’s like, ‘How’d he do that with so many people around?’”

11. SOME CITIES ARE USING STREET ART TO BREATHE NEW LIFE INTO THE AREA

Getty Images

Detroit is working with street artists to bring a newfound energy to a city that is in desperate need of revitalization. “We’ll get a lot of commissioned murals for new restaurants in Detroit,” Adamczyk says. “We also have a couple of projects like the Detroit Creative Corridor and the Beautification of Detroit Project. These two groups put up murals on vacant buildings just to make the city nicer, or they cover up really bad graffiti with a beautiful mural. I think it’s a new guerilla marketing ploy where it can be this interactive installation piece. A lot of people have events where they are hiring artists to come in and do live painting.” 

12. STREET ARTISTS LEARN TO ACCEPT THE TEMPORARY NATURE OF THEIR WORK

Getty Images

How do you let go of your work when it’s something as personal as art? You learn to embrace the fleeting quality of the 'biz. “It’s something I had to come to appreciate because as a fine artist, when I spend four days on an oil painting I get really obsessed with it and I don’t want to let it go—even if it’s sold,” says Adamczyk. “But street art—that was a huge thing for me. It was the acceptance of something being temporary and also not being hurt that maybe somebody covered it because what I did wasn’t as good and what they did is way better and deserves to be there.”

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Art
The Simple Optical Illusion That Makes an Image Look Like It's Drawing Itself
iStock
iStock

Artist James Nolan Gandy invents robot arms that sketch intricate mathematical shapes with pen and paper. When viewed in real time, the effect is impressive. But it becomes even more so when the videos are sped up in a timelapse. If you look closely in the video below, the illustration appears to materialize faster than the robot can put the design to paper. Gizmodo recently explained how the illusion works to make it look like parts of the sketch are forming before the machine has time to draw them.

The optical illusion isn’t an example of tricky image editing: It’s the result of something called the wagon wheel effect. You can observe this in a car wheel accelerating down the highway or in propeller blades lifting up a helicopter. If an object makes enough rotations per second, it can appear to slow down, move backwards, or even stand still.

This is especially apparent on film. Every “moving image” we see on a screen is an illusion caused by the brain filling in the gaps between a sequence of still images. In the case of the timelapse video below, the camera captured the right amount of images, in the right order, to depict the pen as moving more slowly than it did in real life. But unlike the pen, the drawing formed throughout the video isn't subject to the wagon-wheel effect, so it still appears to move at full speed. This difference makes it look like the sketch is drawing itself, no pen required.

Gandy frequently shares behind-the-scenes videos of his mechanical art on his Instagram page. You can check out some of his non-timelapse clips like the one below to better understand how his machines work, then visit his website to browse and purchase the art made by his 'bots.

And if you think his stuff is impressive, make sure to explore some of the incredible art robots have made in the past.

[h/t Gizmodo]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Tessa Angus
arrow
Art
Surprising Sculptures Made From Fallen Feathers
Kate MccGwire, Orchis, 2012
Kate MccGwire, Orchis, 2012
Tessa Angus

Kate MccGwire is a British sculptor with an unusual medium: feathers. Her surreal, undulating works often take the form of installations—the feathers spilling out of a drain, a stove, a crypt wall—or stand-alone sculptures in which antique bell jars, cabinets, or trunks contain otherworldly shapes.

MccGwire developed her obsession with feathers after moving to a studio barge on the Thames in 2006, as she explains in a video from Crane.tv recently spotlighted by Boing Boing. The barge was near a large shed full of feral pigeons, whose feathers she would spot on her way to work. "I started picking them up and laying them out, collecting them," she remembers. "And after about two weeks I had like 300 feathers." At the time, concerns about bird flu were rife, which made the feathers seem "dangerous as well as beautiful."

When not supplied by her own next-door menagerie, the feathers for her artwork come from a network of racing pigeon societies all over the UK, who send her envelopes full every time the birds molt. Farmers and gamekeepers also send her fallen feathers from birds such as magpies, pheasants, and roosters.

The cultural associations around birds are a big part of what inspires MccGwire. “The dove is the symbol of peace, purity, and fertility," she told ArtNews in 2013, "but it’s exactly the same species as a pigeon—which everyone regards as being dirty, foul, a pest.”

The same duality is present in her own work, which she frequently shares on her Instagram account. “I want to seduce by what I do—but revolt in equal measure. It’s really important to me that you’ve got that rejection of things you think you know for sure.”

You can see some pictures of MccGwire's work, and watch the video from Crane.tv, below.

Kate MccGwire's installation "Evacuate"
Evacuate, 2010
J Wilde

Kate MccGwire's sculpture "Convolous"
Convolous, 2015
JP Bland

Kate MccGwire's installation "Gyre"
Gyre, 2012
Tessa Angus

Kate MccGwire's sculpture "Gag"
Gag, 2009
JP Bland

Kate MccGwire's sculpture "Writhe"
Writhe, 2010
Tessa Angus

Kate MccGwire's sculpture "Quell"
Quell, 2011
Tessa Angus

Kate MccGwire's sculpture "Taunt"
Taunt, 2012
Tessa Angus

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios