Introduction: Instant Subway Ad Street Art

About: 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 practice in computer programming by building computational tools…

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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