How to Make XXL Street Stencils & Get Away WIth It




Introduction: How to Make XXL Street Stencils & Get Away WIth It

About: Eyebeam OpenLab Research and Development Fellow 2006-2007, Eyebeam Senior Fellow 2007-20010 You probably have seen his work already and don't know it. Check the site.

This instructable will show you how to cover 640 Square feet of advertising with giant block letters in less than 3 hours in high traffic areas - all during the day. By using clear plastic stencils and painting the whole wall black, this technique minimizes the amount of time one would look suspicious, allowing the writer to work during the day on a large scale.

Why Make an Instructable?
In 2000 I did a project to both cover these ads and, with luck, get the neighborhood to think about why ads filled our public spaces as opposed to anything else more productive. I know I haven't exhausted the potential of this technique, and so I pass it on to you to put to use and improve on.

What's wild posting? If you live in an urban area you've probably seen poster sized advertisements on the streets. These wheatpasted "wild postings" * are often illegally placed on construction site barricades, building facades, in alleyways, and on assorted buildings in order for big business to reach urban demographics (like you!). Companies win by putting their products in the face of hip, urban consumers at the expense of alternative uses for public space - such as murals, street art, community boards, or just plain old architecture. (see Banksy's The Joy Of Not Being Sold Anything)

These top-down autocratic messages designed to persuade the public just become a default part of city life. The idea of something more democratic or of community interest in it's place becomes hard to even imagine.

Step 1: Gather Materials

Neccessary Materials:
1. Large Ruler (36+ inches) or straight stick
2. Measuring tape at least 8 feet long.
3. Level
4. Permanent Marker - Sharpie, Marks-A-Lot, etc.
5. Construction/Agricultural Grade Plastic Sheeting. Clear. 3 or 4mil thickness should work. Usually sold in 10x100 ft rolls at hardware stores. (You can use the left overs from 2003's [biological attack warning.)
6. Manual Staple Gun
7. Roll of twine or string.
8. Black latex housepaint - a few gallons depending on how big your wall is. Buy extra, this stuff is handy.
9. Canvas drop cloth - makes you look more legit.
10. Paint Rollers, and stick
11. Foam Brushes
12. Light colored latex paint (for outlining letters)

Helpful Materials
1. Computer and printer
2. transparency sheets that work in said printer
3. overhead projector (lcd projector would work too)
4. Right angle
5. Painter's costume (overalls, painter's cap, and other paint splattered clothing)
6. Orange cones

Step 2: Scope Out Some Sites

1. Find some sites with wheatpasted ads.
2. Measure out the dimensions and make a note.
- many construction barriers are 8ft high, because they are built with sheets of 4x8 plywood. If you don't have a meauring tape you can count the sheets of plywood and determine the length.
- Poster advertising is usually a uniform size. If you know the width and height of one poster, you can often deduce the width and height of the whole wall by counting out the posters.
3. Take a digital photo if you can.
4. Watch the wall for at least 2 weeks. The posters will be replaced on a semi-regular basis. If you can determine when they cycle through, you can make sure your piece stays up as long as possible. note: I learned this the hard way when one of my larger works was covered with ads after just 7 hours.

You'll want to find more than one location. These locations are often temporary, construction barriers especially. I've planned on doing a wall, only to have it disappear days before I was ready.

Step 3: Plan Your Piece

Now that you know the dimensions of your wall, you can plan your piece.

The Message
This part is up to you and involves many factors. I offer some of these questions as starting points:
- What do you want to say that thousands of people will read each day?
- How can you involve your audience in the making of the message?
- What message will do the most good in that area?
- Will the message get attention or be ignored?
- Is the message in terms people will understand?
- What are your intended consequences and how can you maximize them?
- What are possible unintended consequences and how can you minimize them?
- Remember that the "fill" of your letters will be the ads, so incorporate that into your concept.

More starting points from the Anti-Advertising Agency website.

how could you turn this space into something interesting and meaningful?

Step 4: Blueprint Your Design

The Blueprint
I've found that clean, sharp font-like letters get people to pay attention. If the letters don't "look like graffiti" then in the popular mind, perhaps they are supposed to be there? You can at least get people to slow down and read until they figure out what's happening.

So, if you're going to reproduce a font for an 8 foot tall wall, how is that done? How tall and wide should you make each letter? How much space in between each letter?

You have 2 options
1. Create your own font
2. Use a font from your computer

(I'm only going to deal with option 2 in this instructable. Maybe I'll do option 1 in the future.)

Mocking up your design
I'm going to demonstrate this in an open-source alternative to Illustrator called Inkscape. You can use whatever graphicseditor you prefer.

1. Launch Inkscape.
2. Open the Document Properties (Shift+Ctrl+D) and change the rulers from pixels to centimeters (see image)
3. Type your text in whatever font you like. Blocky fonts are easier to recreate large scale and read easier.
3. Change the object property measurement to centimeters (see image).
4. Resize your letters to fit the wall.
- I used a 1 foot : 1 Centimeter ratio, so a 7 foot tall letter (6 inch margin top and bottom on an 8 foot wall) would be 7 centimeters.

Step 5: Scale Up Your Letters

I have scaled up my letters using 2 methods. Using an overhead projector, and using math and a level.

Overhead Projector method
1. Print your letters out on transparency sheets.*
2. Project the letters against a wall with an overhead projector.
3. Hang the plastic sheeting against the wall where the projection lands.
4. Trace your letters with a permanent marker.
*Depending on the projector, you might need to print your original larger on the transparency in order for the letters to project 7 feet tall.

Math and Level method
1. Since you printed your letters to scale (1cm=1ft) you can draw a 1x1cm grid over the letters and use that as a guide for hand drawing your letters onto the plastic.
2. Plot key intersection points onto the plastic.
3. Use the level as a straight edge and to ensure you are drawing at right angles.
4. Note that "round" letters like S, O, C, Q, etc extend slightly above and below the "square" letters.
5. Don't worry if you are off by an inch or two, but try to be as exact as you reasonably can.

Cut out the letters.
On each plastic letter, note in permanent marker what letter it is and how far to space the next letter. Write the same note in several places on the plastic. When you're on the street, it's easier to find your notes than to roll out each 7 ft letter and see what it is.

Step 6: Overview of Painting Process

Gather up your materials and be sure to your drawings and a printout to refer to on site.

See the pictures for an overview of how it all works.

Step 7: Hanging Your Stencils

Run a line of twine along the top or bottom margin of your letters. This twine will serve as a guide to where to hang your stencils. In the case of this example, 6 from the bottom edge.

Check the notes you wrote on your stencils and hang the first letter using your staple gun. Remember your left and right margins. The level can come in handy as a guide, if your ground and walls are also level...

Step 8: Paint the Whole Wall Black & Pull Your Stencils.

1. Get your black paint, your rollers, and your drop cloth, and systematically paint the whole wall black. Cover your clear stencils too so the whole wall is black.

If anyone asks who you are or what your doing, say something like "just cleaning up" or "giving this wall a fresh coat".

2. Hang out and let the paint dry. Maybe grab some coffee or a snack. Get your hi-light color and foam brushes ready.

3. When the paint is dry, pull the stencils down and pack them up. Immediately start work on your outlines. If you have 2 people it goes pretty fast. If you hold the brush correctly, you can get a fairly uniform line weight.

That's it. Take pictures and send them here:
the Anti-Advertising Agency


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    78 Discussions


    4 years ago

    Man, I've been searchin for this instruction for 3 years and found it today. Man, thank you, you are the kindest person in the Internet.


    4 years ago

    Man, I've been searchin for this instruction for 3 years and found it today. Man, thank you, you are the kindest person in the Internet.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Applause is in order for you. *much clapping* I can't think of much more poetry than using adversments against themselves.


    12 years ago on Introduction

    If you wanted to be a little ninja about it, you could even wear a dust mask(hide identity), and maybe some pepper spray in your pocket if things get ugly, lol


    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    and maybe some pepper spray in your pocket if things get ugly, lol

    ye cuz the spray paint in your hand wont workl ike pepper spray, they wouldn't see sh!t if you sprayed


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    You don't use spray paint, you use wall paint and a roller, looks more legit and is easier with such a large surface where you don't have to worry about anything but covering everything up.


    12 years ago on Introduction

    definitely a ROCKIN idea!!! much respect to the author. just a question about removing the painted over stencils... when u take em off the wall, do u just rip em off from top to bottom? do they come off pretty much intact? would u suggest minimal staple-age so as to minimize the possibility of the stencils getting caught in the staples while u try to rip it off that wall, or is that not really a concern?


    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    I just gave a tug and they come off. I was more concerned with getting out of there quickly. If you want to recycle 'em, you can put packing tape over the tears in the plastic when you get home. The thicker construction grade plastic is durable enough.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    That's a good point. Reusing them would be a little more obvious. 


     Long dead instructible, but it recently got featured, so I don't feel so bad about kicking it up.
    Another form of plausible deniability for the painter, is to paint it and leave. Then, have some of your friends come by and rip the letters off. They "don't know who painted it" and there is most certainly nothing illegal about removing illegally posted things from a wall.


    10 years ago on Step 8

    Two questions:

    If the wall is brick, staples or not? I guess staples might work in older brick, but should I try roofing nails or just tape?

    How 'official' does this have to look? Pretty much will I get questioned for doing this being a teenager and not appearing to be a professional painter?


    10 years ago on Introduction

     i was attempting to do this to a railroad box car. epic fail..  :(


    13 years ago on Introduction

    I love this idea, it's pretty awesome what you're doing =]

    Is there a way to make large adhesive letters, and roll them on like wallpaper?

    Or cutting letters out of wallpaper, and rolling them on for the same effect?

    Just a thought!


    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    The wallpaper idea would leave you exposed for longer while obviously doing something "wrong". The part where you're just painting solid black while in disguise is a lot less noticeable than slowly spelling out a stirring message one letter at a time.


    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    Both of them would take MUCH less time, I don't see how you could think differently. Especially my second idea.


    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    Well, take the example in the instructable. ADVERTISING

    So above, you're spending a couple of hours looking like a painter "cleaning up", and then at the very end it's... rip,rip,rip,rip,...etc, and a minute after the suspicious activity, you've got your message delivered, time to take pictures and go home.

    With adhesive letters, I see it as more like...
    Get your setup ready, and then
    get your second letter ready, maybe peel off an adhesive end, or have one person hold it while someone else pastes up the wallpaper. (Maybe staples + paste would be best here, then you've got only one person).
    get ready for third letter...
    get ready for fourth letter while passersby wonder what's up...

    You see where I'm going with this. I'm just thinking about the duration of time when you're exposed and looking especially suspicious. With your version, your net time is significantly reduced, but your overall suspiciously exposed time is moderately to significantly increased.


    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    I understand what you mean. The second idea is the most time efficient of all, however. You'd look suspicious, but it'd take a minute or so in total to roll on an entire banner. The first idea is cutting actual letters out to roll them on, the second is rolling the outline of the letters on, so it'd have more of a masking effect like the instructable produces.


    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    In other words, the first idea: faster, but more suspicious. Second idea: fastest, very suspicious, but you'd be gone before anyone could say anything.