Smell Graffiti

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Introduction: Smell Graffiti

As a part of my artist residency with Paraflows/Monochrom and Quartier21 in Vienna, Austria I've created a new form of street art using scent.

Step 1: Theory

Graffiti as a medium has remained largely unchanged since early humans were painting cave walls. The style and purpose has evolved over the centuries, but still nobody has successfully broken free of its visual nature. From this line of thinking smell graffiti has emerged. Harnessing modern chemistry and appropriating technology invented for industry I am working on a new way to make a statement in a public space.

Scent is interpreted by the limbic system which is very closely tied to emotion and memory. This leads me to believe that interacting with people using scent can potentially be a much more powerful medium than paint since people experiencing it can't help but react to it. The goal of this project is to realize the potential of smell as art and to explore different ways of using it to interact with people.

Step 2: Chemicals

First you'll need to get your hands on some scent compounds. There are a few ways to do this. The easiest way is to do what I have done so far which is sourcing off the internet. There are an assortment of companies that sell scents for aromatherapy, candle and soap making and amateur perfumery. Mass produced esters can be quite affordable. I've purchased from The Good Scents Company and ScentIt.com, both of which worked out well.

Another way to get scents is to make them yourself. If this is something you are interested in, i'd suggest reading up on creating your own essential oils, or preparing your own esters by combining an alcohol and an acid.

In addition to the esters, I add isopropyl alcohol to make them thinner and atomize more evenly in my spray setup.

NOTE: Take care to read and understand the handling instructions on any chemicals

Step 3: Spray

I had thought of a few ways to release the smells, but to stay true to the graffiti aspect I have been mostly using refillable atomizing spray cans. They are generally used in industry for lubricants and coolants. The particular cans i've been using are made by a company called "Sure Shot" and they come in stainless and aluminum. These cans are great because they are refillable and are pressurized up to 200psi using a standard schrader valve. That means you can just pump it up with an air compressor or a bike pump.

Step 4: In Practice

The scents don't last very long. On the order of 20 minutes to a couple hours if you spray an object. I have found that this is plenty of time though.

As part of this project I've been sourcing natural scents like dirt and freshly cut grass and spraying them in urbanized public spaces where these scents are never encountered.

I can imagine many other ways of using scent as a powerful medium. For example places where scent is strategically used to the advantage of an advertiser can be jammed by overwhelming it with a second, foreign scent. I've heard of vending machines wafting the scent of chocolate to lure in more customers. What if instead of chocolate, the vending machine smelled like smoke.

Another very intriguing possibility I have been playing with is to create synthetic synesthisia by hacking my cans to spray both paint and scent simultaneously.

photo credit: esel.at

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    162 Comments

    This scent grafiti is an interesting idea. I never woulda' thunk of it, that's for sure. very creative. ... but I find some of the responses even more "interesting". I started checking out Instructables years ago and I go to the site very often; One of the things I liked about it was the fact that comments tended to be constructive and most times friendly...
    but I'm starting to notice more spiteful comments that are simply jabs at others. I guess that's the inevitable outcome of any web-site that allows people to comment, since everybody is a tough guy when hiding behind a keyboard. Just because you CAN get away with being a jerk when there are no consequences does NOT mean you should be that way. .... I mean a site designed to inspire creativity, knowledge and education is not the place to take bullying stabs at other people and there diseases (be they real or imaginary). just because you are able to be a jerk does NOT give you the right to be one.... if a person is looking to be an ass or pick a fight why not go to the millions of mindless sites that revolve around that mentality.
    The fact that a person would come to a site like instructables and then insult others who have commented tells me personally that they do not have what it takes to fight in an arena designed for that kinda' confrontation and verbal attack.... in short they are a big fish in a very small pond since this site, up till recently anyway, revolves around a higher mental ability. creativity and constructive criticism. This arena is NOT a mid 90's AOL chat room so don't act that way here. Thank you.

    I like the idea when applied near the trash cans, IF it's your property, BUT I agree with some previous posts. Some folks are allergic to fragrances.

    As for it being a brand new idea... well... Territorial mammals have marked their turf for millions of years. But public urination is illegal in most cities ;)

    C'mon folks, there's no need to debate what is and isn't graffiti, or why you should or shouldn't do this.

    An instructable is suppose to share HOW to do something, not WHY.

    Dose calling it Graffiti make you feel a little bit more cool? Cant see to many real graffiti artists switching to Street Perfumery....

    Graffiti is unauthorized writing or drawing on a surface. Even though it's not writing/drawing, I'd still consider it graffiti, as it's unauthorized, and scent can bother a lot more people than a bit of spray paint. Ever got onto a crowded bus or train and someone decided to marinate themself in the cheapest perfume earlier? OP: I really, REALLY love the idea of fresh cut grass on the subway. In Boston, all you can smell is piss, sewage, stale air, and garbage. And that's ABOVE ground. If you could bottle sunshine and fresh air, I'd get a crop duster and cover the entire city.

    The only link this has to graffiti is the notion that a Aerosol, and no permission = Graffiti (a fallacy IMHO)

    Graffiti is a artform that unfortunetly is being diluted by "street artists" with little knolage of the craft that is free can Graffiti.

    You just have to look at how Stencil art has now become known as Graffiti buy the ill informed populace.

    says the person with a stencil inspired graphic as their main picture. i mean no disrespect, but i take issue at the comment that stencil art is not graffiti. i don't know if you are saying that because you don't consider it as free as non-stencil graffiti in terms of form, or what the basis of that comment was. but there is stencil graffiti out there that is just as intricate and powerful as some of the best large non-stencil works. again, no disrespect intended.

    My picture is based on a Shepard Fairey Screen print poster...not a "stencil". Stencil art is just that, "Stencil art". But you can call it "street art" or "guerilla art" if you want, you can even call it Fine Art....But you cant call it Graffiti. This is illustrated by some of the biggest names in the game that don't call themselves Graffiti artist, Shepard Fairey, Blek Le Rat, SWOON and so on....they are street artists. I like Stencil art, and your right it can be just as intricate and powerful as free can work.

    "Graffiti (singular: graffito; the plural is used as a mass noun) is the name for images or lettering scratched, scrawled, painted or marked in any manner on property."

    So all paintings are graffiti......as the canvases are someones property?