Introduction: The High Writer

NYC writer KATSU demonstrates the functionality of the latest tool from the Graffiti Research Lab: The High Writer. Drawing on previous paint-pole designs from innovators like Barry McGee and the Citizens Against Ugly Street Spam, the High Writer is a tool that amplifies the scale and height of marks rendered with a spray can. The high writer is easily constructed from materials available at Home Depot and your local bike shop. All praise be to the Eyebeam R&D OpenLab.

To view high writer photos on flickr Click here.

Benefit Art Show and Auction for Daniel McGowan

The prototype High Writer will be auctioned off at the "If They Come for You in the Morning" Benefit Gallery Show for Daniel McGowan hosted by Visual Resistance. All proceeds from the show will benefit the legal fund of environmental and social justice activist Daniel McGowan.

Thursday, July 27 & Friday, July 28, 2006, 5-10pm
ABC No Rio, 156 Rivington St, Lower East Side, NYC

Art Auction on Ebay

The AMERIKA1 mural by KATSU pictured in the video is currently up for bid on ebay. Click here to place your bid. Now lets learn how to write naturally high.

Step 1: Parts, Materials and Tools


All of these parts can all be purchased at the local Home Depot or art supply store. Look for the bike parts at used cycle shops.

Hardware store

12-15 foot painter's pole
3 pole extension set
Paint edger attachment
Handyboard sheet
Balsa wood blocks
2-inch #8-32 bolts, nuts and washers
2.5-inch #8-32 bolts, nuts and washers
3/4-inch #8-32 bolts, nuts and washers
1-inch #8-32 bolts, nuts and washers
3-inch 360 swivel coaster
3-inch C-clamps
Transparent tape
JB Weld
5-minute epoxy

Bike shop

Bike V-Brake system: hand lever, bike cable and one brake arm/pad
bike water bottle holder

Art store

Spay-paint can
NY fat caps


MItre box
Mitre box saw
screwdriver set
box cutter
hex key set
measuring tape
cordless drill and 13/64th drill bits

Step 2: Make the Head

If you're going to make the Hight Writer you might as well start with the head. The head consists of the water bottle holder that secures the paint can, the mechanisms that spray the can and counter-weights.

Fabricate the Head

First you must fabricate the wood risers and support panel.

1. Download this PDF file and print it actual scale. Use it as a template to help you (a) cut a 6-inch by 13.5-inch panel out of the 1/8th-inch handyboard and (b) drill a number of holes using a 3/16th or 13/64th drill bit.

2. Cut two riser blocks from the balsa wood using a mitre box and saw.

The wheel riser block will be:
2.35-inches x 2-inches x 1.35-inches

The brake arm riser will be:
2-inches x 2-inches 1.2-inches

3. Using the holes in the panel as your template, mark and drill matching sets of holes in the riser blocks.

Assemble the head

Use the #8-32 bolts and nuts, using washers where appropriate, to attach both risers, edger attachment, brake arm and water bottle holder. If your water bottle doesn't line up with the generic holes in the template you will have to experiment with the location of the bottle once you assemble the rest of the head. You can leave the actual brake pad on the arm use it as the contact point with the spray-can cap, or you can make your own contact surface like we did with a 2-inch x 2-inch piece of 1/4-inch Plexiglas. Check the attached images and photo notes for more specific info.

Tighten the C-clamps down on the bottom of the support panel as pictured. This help the system stay flush to the wall.

Step 3: Make the Tail

Fabricate the Tail

To build the tail and connect it to the head you will need to fabricate a few parts: the cable, the hand lever and the cable constraints.

1. To make a night writer with a full extension of less than 10-feet you can just go to your local bike shop and ask for a tandem bike brake cable. For lengths greater than 10-feet, I don't know any way other than to make your own cable. (a) Get your local bike repair guy to cut you as much bike cable housing as you got pole to extend. (b) Cut the end connector features at either end of an old bike break cable. (b) Go to the Home Despot and get 1/16th or smaller aircraft cable and JB Weld. (c) Go get a coffee. save the stirrer. (d) Slide your aircraft cable into the cable housing. Experiment with your pole in order to get the right length of housing and cable. (e) Mix the two part JB Weld with the coffee stirrer. Scoop up some of the epoxy into the stirrer. Cut a small section of the epoxy filled stirrer around a 1/4-inch in length. Stick two ends of aircraft cable or bike break cable into the two ends of the stirrer. Let the connection dry for at least 12 hours before use.

Assemble the Tail

2. To make the hand lever that controls the spray-can remotely, you simply need to slide the bike lever over the base of the extension pole and connect the bike cable to the hand lever using the round retention feature on the end of the cable. If you are using a smaller diameter pole, less than 1-inch, this will not be a problem. For those using larger diameter poles (1" dia. or larger), you will need to modify the pole. I modified my Mr. Long Arm painters pole, by removing the rubber grip at the end. This reveals a hollow cavity inside the pole. I epoxied a threaded junction inside this inner cavity and screwed-in a cut section of 0.90-inch diameter extension pole. The hand lever slides easily over this small section of extension pole.

3. For the bike cable to work, you will need to secure the cable housing at a minimum of two locations: the top and bottom of the pole. While a number of ways exist to constrain the cable housing, I use transparent tape. Just wrap the housing and pole with tape. Remember to leave a service loop so the telescoping pole can extend to its full length. Check out the attached images to get more details.

4. Once you have welded the cable to its intended length, attached the hand lever, inserted the cable retention feature into the lever and constrained the cable housing, you can insert the other cable retention feature into the brake arm. You should initially leave a good deal of slack in the cable so you don't inadvertently trigger the paint can during assembly.

Step 4: How to Write High

Before you use the High Writer to communicate your message on a large scale, you will need to: practice writing with the high writer, prepare and load a spray-paint can and fine tune the bike cable and hand lever to make sure you can spray the can by squeezing the lever. If the cable is too tight it will trigger the can to spray inadvertently. If it is too slack, it won't trigger at all when you squeeze.

Preparing and Loading a Spray-Paint Can

To prepare a spray-paint can, you need to make a ball of transparent tape. You can then tape the small crumpled ball of tape to the front of the paint can. Then continue to wrap the paint can with transparent tape until it looks like the paint can is pregnant on one side. This tape is needed to thicken the can and thus secure it in the water bottle holder that is slightly over-sized relative to the can. The paint can should go into the water bottle holder with the tape lump pointing toward the front.

High Writer Calibration

The High Writer can be fine tuned by loosening the hand lever hex bolt and sliding the lever along the length of the pole. The opposite end of the cable should be secured by the retention feature on the brake arm. This should increase and decrease tension on the cables Experiment with the right amount of tension necessary to trigger the can to spray when you pull the handle.

Using the High Writer

In order to use the high writer you should treat it like a giant paint brush. The swivel wheel allows you to rest the majority of the weight of the High Writer against the wall. You don't need to lift the wheel off the wall to most efficiently operate it. You just release the hand lever when you want the writer to stop spraying.

Good Luck.