Introduction: Instant Subway Ad Street Art

Picture of Instant Subway Ad Street Art

Professionals are paid thousands of dollars to design the fine advertisements that grace our fair city's subways. The hard work and the ingenuity of the advertisers is demonstrated every day through the quality and quantity of messages and images that bombard us on every step of our daily journey. But just because these qualified men and women are at the helm of our visual media doesn't mean you can't take a crack at it too. In actuality, every well-crafted advertisement is a direct invitation to the viewer encouraging them to take part in the design process. Here's how

For this project you will need:
One roll of plain white contact paper. (The longer the roll and more opaque the paper the better your results will be)
Oil based paint markers ( Sharpie paint pens work fine, metallic colors work especially well)
A printer
A digital camera
Digital image editing software
An accomplice

Step 1: Choose Your Ad

Picture of Choose Your Ad

No matter who you are or what you do, certain advertisements will appeal to you specifically. Maybe they're the ads that feature that overrated, under talented irritating celebrity you love so much. Or perhaps they're the ones that constantly remind you that your fashion sense leaves much to be desired and will continue to impede your progress with the opposite sex until said product is purchased. Either way, something is bound to pop out at you on your daily commute to the job that is slowly degrading the very fiber of your soul. So when one does, take 5 minutes out of your schedule and snap a picture of it. That's what I did with these two below:

Step 2: Introduce Your Ad to Photoshop

Picture of Introduce Your Ad to Photoshop

Now that you've selected the advertisement worthy of your input it's time to enlist the aid of your personal computer. In Photoshop or another image manipulation program make the necessary adjustments that the advertisement so clearly lacks. Remember, as a consumer you play a vital role in the advertising process, so don't hold back. Channel your spirit animal and unleash your inner creativity. (My spirit animal is a manatee). Once you're done, you should have something that combines the original vision of the advertiser with your unique perspective on their work. This is what I ended up with:

Step 3: Make Your Ad

Picture of Make Your Ad

After you've illustrated to your heart's content, use your image editing software to size your creations to the proper dimensions, 603 x 463 inches to be precise. Then, save your ad as a PDF and print it out using adobe acrobat. Select the tiling option on the print dialogue so that you end up with your ad in 45 separately ink jetted masterpieces. You must then assemble these pieces. Once assembled connect them with scotch tape. If you have access to a plotter then you can skip these last few steps. You can also let me come over and use your plotter, because seriously, putting all these pieces together was a bitch.

Once assembled, flip your template over and find a really big pencil. Color the back of your template with this pencil in effect creating your own carbon paper. You can also buy carbon paper and skip this step. Once you've colored the back of your template, flip it over on a roll of plain white contact paper you purchased at your local hardware store for $5.47. Then get a sharp pencil and trace around the lines of your template being sure to press down hard. If you do it correctly you will have a light copy of your template on your contact paper when you are finished.

Step 4: Complete Your Ad

Picture of Complete Your Ad

Now that you've done the legwork, the rest of this process is fun and enjoyable. Contact paper is an ideal medium for oil-based paint markers. The combination of the slick surface and the reflective ink of the pens create a quality that is very similar to the appearance of the subway ads themselves. Because you are enhancing the original intent of those ads, subtlety is key, making this visual quality very important. Once you are finished coloring, cut out your ad and say your goodbyes. Soon you will be returning it to its natural habitat.

Step 5: Go Public

Picture of Go Public

For this final stage, timing is key. Unless you consider yourself a performance artist, or you like getting yelled at by the MTA staff, you will probably want to choose some time late in the evening or early morning to apply your work, when less people are on the subway platform. Because of the size of my ads, the application of them takes about 10 minutes. I chose 1:00 on a Thursday evening to execute this last step. It is also important to coerce a friend or acquaintance to accompany you on your venture and lend a hand. If this person is reluctant to assist, remind them about the time you made that totally sweet web page for them even though you were super busy with other things and they'll probably come around.

Much like the pacific salmon returns to the place it was born to lay its eggs and die, you too must return to subway platform on which you first took that fateful snapshot of your chosen ad. If you've done your math and sizing correctly, your contact paper sticker should fit more or less perfectly with the dimensions of the original ad. To apply the sticker it helps to have two people, and be prepared to reposition it several times to remove the air bubbles and wrinkles. During this process, disregard the old man on the platform with arms crossed, shaking his head in disapproval at your design initiative. In his day, they didn't have Photoshop. Once the ad is in place, use your paint markers to make any necessary touch ups and corrections, snap a few pics for your scrapbook and then flee the premises. You have abandoned your creative offspring into the urban wilderness where it must now fend for itself. Return home feeling justified in the completion of your role in the advertising cycle.


ilpug (author)2010-12-26

this is rad. id would stikc with smaller ads though. getting arrested is not a good career choice.

BATKENYAN (author)2009-09-20

hahaha ill stick with my stickers but your good, your good:)

Doldrum (author)2009-02-19

I love this approach. i think I might talk to a few friends about this ;) Thanks for the awesome idea!

KelvinAlf (author)2009-02-02

awesommmmeeeeee i'm 16 and i'm getting really serious in graphic design so i might take a stab at it(no pun at chris rock's poster)

Kiteman (author)2008-12-22

Very nice!

Did you get any reaction shots from people who saw the posters after you added the extras?

How long did they last?

pixelmaid (author)Kiteman2008-12-22

Thanks. They stayed up for about 2 weeks and got some press on a local blog, though a lot of people didn't notice them on first glance.

Kiteman (author)pixelmaid2008-12-22

Haha, makes you think how much effort is wasted on posters placed where people don't have time to stand and stare.

drummonkey92 (author)Kiteman2009-01-02

it's done so well that alot of people probably thought it was the original ad

ceramiceye (author)drummonkey922009-01-05

my thought too. I wondered if people assumed it was the original and then wondered why they made it like that. Especially the Chris Rock one. Since it says "Kill the Messenger" and they way he is holding the cross, I probably would have thought it was just the original and wondered what it meant. I probably also would have assumed that Chris was making some kind of Christian mockery of the crucifixion of Christ.

static (author)Kiteman2009-01-03

Then again the target having time to examine an ad isn't really necessary for an entertainment poster to be effective. Al it takes is a glance for most to remember recognize it whenever they are ready to go see a movie or whatever.

mg0930mg (author)pixelmaid2008-12-31

Links to said blog? Great i'ble by the way.

humongo_spork (author)2009-01-01

can you recommend a low cost photo manipulation program that will get the job done?

Kier (author)humongo_spork2009-01-01

You might try Gimp. It is free.

cornflaker (author)Kier2009-01-01 is easier to use

micronxd (author)cornflaker2009-01-02

and for this, inkscape is best to use

cornflaker (author)micronxd2009-01-05

Probably is, didn't actually read into this one that deeply...

Toulouse (author)humongo_spork2009-01-01

for vector try inkscape

- - Awesome instructable by the way! I know what you mean about advertisements during your day the destroy the fiber of your soul... awesome work!

Or Paint.NET, which is also free.

noremakk (author)2009-01-03

step 2 is really a doozy. You just kind of say "go be artistic with photoshop." What filters did you use? How did you choose which details to keep and which to toss? How long did it take you? How much did you do by hand/mouse versus automatically done by photoshop's many filters and effects?

pixelmaid (author)noremakk2009-01-03

I didn't use any filters. I traced over the original images with a tablet =) and kind of just made alterations as i went. I also referenced a lot of original stained glass art to try and match that look. Each separate illustration took about 30 min for me to do. You could probably use the live trace tool in illustrator or the bitmap trace function in flash or the posterize filter in photoshop to archive a similar vectorized illustrated look if that's what you're going for. I would recommend manually altering the images a bit to simplify them after using these methods.

noremakk (author)pixelmaid2009-01-04

Thanks, I'll get right on it!

selenamarie.draco (author)2009-01-04

Wow This all takes tagging to a whole new level. A higher power, if you will. Haha. I am impressed. I love the halos, too btw.

solarson0617 (author)2009-01-03

why do you put circles on their heads

pixelmaid (author)solarson06172009-01-03

They're supposed to be halos mimicking a stained glass style.

Hombre3000 (author)2009-01-01

What about the security cameras?

pixelmaid (author)Hombre30002009-01-01

This kind of thing, while technically vandalism is relatively harmless and not permanent. If you get caught on tape and prosecuted as a result of something like this, I would be surprised. That being said, there's always some element of risk in doing art in the public sphere, but i think it's pretty low in this case.

static (author)pixelmaid2009-01-03

I really don't care much about what happened to the original. Respectfuly I don't get your raggin on about another's public display and you create and install your own public display. Then I live out here in the sticks where billboard advertising is rare.

Hombre3000 (author)pixelmaid2009-01-01

Agreed. Especially for something not-that-offensive like this. At least it's clean and well-done.

usanoisecorp (author)2009-01-02

nice work man, i like the holyness look of it

Nav (author)2009-01-02

Art is anything you can justify. You, like everyone else here can be no judge of what "valid art" is. Your probably one of those design students who think they can make edgy adverts so you can drop some knowledge on all us non artisit vandles.

Kiteman (author)2009-01-02

Dude, this is not a piece of original artwork that has been defaced, it's not even a limited-run print. It is one, mass-produced, short-lived, little-seen poster that has been enhanced.

The message of the original poster has not been hidden, it has not been changed. If anything, it has been enhanced.

I would lay money to beans that, if the film company had found out about this project, they would have been glad of the extra publicity for the films. Any TV coverage would be guaranteed to contain studio-provided clips of the film, and ticket sales would only have improved.

Kiteman (author)Kiteman2009-01-02

(Sorry, two posters, out of the uncounted thousands that are stuck up every year, and most of which are simply ripped, torn or tagged before being covered up by the next posters)

flyingace (author)2009-01-02

Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.

ewoodworker (author)2009-01-01

I respect your hard work. More importantly I respect your intelligence for seeing through all the media in our life that tries to eradicate our souls. Anyone that feels any sympathy for the original art work (ie. the ad), has not figured out that the media we face everyday is nothing more than an attempt at mind control. This is a great Instructable with good humor added!!

pixelmaid (author)2009-01-01

I appreciate your feedback. While I can sympathize with overworked designers, my intention for this piece was not to criticize commercial designers themselves but rather the industries of mass media as a whole.
There's a very strong artistic tradition of re-purposing existing objects and imagery to create new work. Furthermore, creating art in the public space is essential in that it produces work that is accessible to people who are outside of the conventional art institution. I think that artists and other media makers have a responsibility to reclaim the public space as a realm of independent expression, because this expression is so often denied. My project, while not groundbreaking by any means, was an attempt to turn a form of one-way communication into a two way conversation. We're constantly bombarded with messages via commercial media and usually we are provided with no venue for response or criticism. This project circumvents these restrictions and tries to do it in a manner which is light hearted and fun. Destruction was never the goal of this piece. If you're interested in my intent behind the imagery I chose, you can read the statment about this piece here

also, as to how i would feel if a piece of my work was modified by someone else, I accept that by placing any piece of art in a public space, it will be subject to modification by other people, in a lot of ways that's the best part of the process. If it was an intelligent and considered modification, even if it completely contradicted my original intentions for the piece I would be flattered.

teamcoltra (author)2009-01-01

I love it, for sooo many reasons but the best reason is your not doing anything malicious (well... thats up to interpretation) You are just changing the advertisement.. and if it DID get some attention you are only helping the people you did this to.

Sighted (author)2009-01-01

Very nice, great idea :D

T3h_Muffinator (author)2009-01-01

Wow! Neat! My aunt did subway art a while back (guerrilla, of course), but that involved epoxying her pieces to the subway walls. This seems like a really awesome way to get a message out! Perhaps something will pop up in the Kendall square station (on the "T") soon enough>>

Tystarr (author)2008-12-31

Which station was that?

pixelmaid (author)Tystarr2008-12-31

Nassau in greenpoint.

ravebot (author)2008-12-31

very nice i got a set of pray paint stencils this size for Christmas but i'm thinking that i like your idea better

caitlinsdad (author)2008-12-31

Ha, this makes the people who do graffiti and only draw mustaches or black out a tooth seem like amateurs. It would be fun if you did a video of you bombing the ad and capturing the non-expression of native New Yorkers and transit workers. I hope to see your work sometime, it's good for a laugh.

fungus amungus (author)2008-12-31

You wearing a Chrome bag in that last pic? Nice.

inventorjack (author)2008-12-31

Impressed! This instructable is great. Thanks for sharing.

volquete (author)2008-12-31


fungus amungus (author)2008-12-23

This is a great project you have. The results look sweet. I'd recommend changing the title, though. Never expected that "fun with contact paper" was about street art.

microman171 (author)2008-12-22

Wow =), that is a really cool idea!

About This Instructable




Bio: I'm a Ph.D. candidate at the MIT Media Lab in the Lifelong Kindergarten Research Group. My research examines ways to diversify participation and ... More »
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