Expanding upon other reverse graffiti instructables and works elsewhere this is how you can create bright and clear street art and engage the public on issues of importance in your community with the help of some friends and a pressure washer.
This technique is very effective for etching designs into sidewalk grime but also has that "What the hell are they doing?" appeal for direct dialogue with the public. We did not attract any unwanted attention from police or security guards as we put our messages on public property. We used this technique in broad daylight, issued a press release and there were 14 of us who spoke with passersby. Check with the laws in your area.
Step 1: Equipment
This approach is more cumbersome than the bleach method but is non-toxic. The generator will produce air pollutants and carbon dioxide but is quite minimal when compared to the impact of a single-occupancy vehicle at rush hour. No SOVs were used in the making of this action. I looked into electric solar generators that are available in Canada but the largest is only 1200W- not enough for a 15-16 Amp washer. Sometimes you do gotta say it with hydrocarbons.
You will need a minimum of 4 friends to implement but a group of 8 or larger is far better. Some can speak to passersby about your issue while others get wet and wild.
We did this action in downtown Vancouver on foot. If you intend to use reverse graffiti in other areas, like freeway overpasses for instance, then you will require additional safety and other equipment. As ever- safety first.
Most, if not all, of the equipment could be borrowed from family, friends and local organizations that are supportive of your cause. The generator rental and the stencil lamination are the pricey items.
- Consumer grade electric pressure washer (1200 PSI)
- Narrow spray nozzle
- Plastic/laminated stencil
- 20L/5 Gallon water jug
- 3/4" hose adapter
- 10' hose
- Plumbers putty or tape
- 3000W gas generator (quiet model)
- Extension cord
- 4+ traffic cones
- Rain gear and waterproof boots
- Eye protection
- Water source
For stencil production:
- Exacto knife
- Hard surface
- Straight edge
- Basic graphic design software
- Access to printing and laminating services
The easiest way to make the stencil is to create your design, have it printed and laminated and then cut it out with exacto knives. Our stencils survived 20 applications at 1200 PSI but that was the limit. The paper inside the laminate will disintegrate through water entering the open edges but the plastic will remain intact. Avoid thin strips in your design.
I used a plastic hose adapter for the water jug but it bent slightly very early on which resulted in a small but bothersome leak. Next time I'll try a metal adapter. The generator and most of the equipment was moved on a dolly. A second dolly or handtruck would make water hauling more convenient if you do not have a water source nearby.
The pressure washer will require a feed water flow rate of 1.5- 2 gallons per minute (check the manual). I did employ a stand at first but the flow rate from waist height only resulted in middling performance, even when tipping the jug. Optimum performance can be achieved by using a gravity feed approach by holding the container at head height. You may have to increase the size of the air inlet hole in the jug.
Step 2: Site Selection
We opted to conduct our reverse graffiti action in full public view so we chose areas that not only had high foot traffic but could also accommodate our work crew safely and without much inconvenience to the public. We did tag a few locations overnight as well and found it more convenient to work, but for us, direct dialogue with the public was a key component- not many petition signatures to be gathered at midnight, not here anyway! We only worked on public property- most security guards are very clear about their responsibilities and will not bother you if you stick to public property, especially if you speak with them politely.
We designed a route through downtown that allowed us to easily move our equipment short distances on foot and were within close proximity of water fountains ( you will want to disinfect your water containers after use). You could re-fill from public washrooms if you had to. Our starting location was outside of the Premier's office, the politician we referred to in our clean graffiti as "Gordo". Major transit hubs and public squares were also on our route. Choose locations of symbolic significance as well as for visibility. A clean graffiti welcome mat at your political representative's office door can also be effective. Remember- your local representative acts as an early warning system for government so they are key for putting decision makers on notice. You'll want to follow-up with a meeting.
Design your route to have a end location that provides for easy loading into your van or trikes and is near a good restaurant or pub for you'll be wanting to celebrate!
Step 3: Logistics and Implementation
Getting the equipment to your location will likely require a van but it can be done using bicycles and trailers though you'll require a heavy duty trailer or trike for the generator. Moving the equipment on a dolly by foot is actually very easy, especially since you are a lively and energetic crew to be doing this in the first place.
In our event we rotated through the following roles:
- Water feeder
- Stencil holder
- Water re-fillers
- Generator minder and big picture view
We also had a Spokesperson and a Photographer/Videographer. If you are expecting curious inquiries from security guards and police then assign someone comfortable with authority figures to liaise with them. The person watching over the generator will be a distance away and so will have a good big picture view of the event, ask that person to notify the group of anything that needs adjusting, be it for safety, efficiency or what have you.
It will be a sunny day so don't forget to drink plenty of water and wear sunscreen.
There are a lot of cords and hoses so keep them tidy, untangling cords from hoses every stop can really slow you down. Be sure to keep electrical cords dry.
20L of water will give you about 3.5 minutes of pressure washing. We had 6, 20L containers on hand.
Of course, you already know not to point the water jet at anybody.
If you decide to have a public outreach component, have your team spread out to cover all approaches. Working in pairs is best, one person can collect petition signatures while the other engages passersby. Pairing up is also safer. The vast majority of people got a kick from our action, even those few who disagreed with us, but there is always a chance that you may evoke an angry reaction.
If you invite media then choose a location of symbolic importance and which offers the highest chance of success.
Having a dress rehearsal the day before helps everyone feel comfortable with their roles and is a chance to iron out any last minute kinks to ensure that the main event goes smoothly.
Step 4: The Reveal
We spent about 3 hours etching our clean graffiti onto sidewalks, putting down about 20 tags in that time. We distributed over 600 leaflets and collected almost 200 signatures on our petition. There were lots of smiles and giggles and everyone had a fun time. We appeared on the two most popular radio stations, and on a few evening TV newscasts. 3 non-English media outlets also covered our event. Next time our stencils will have Mandarin and Punjabi versions.
If you time your action for a slow news day (tough to anticipate) then you can increase the likelihood that your event will get coverage. This technique is a little bit edgy and has the potential to put people off guard. In Canada, people tend to be very polite and don't like to rock the boat. Here in Vancouver, the birthplace of Greenpeace, we can get away with a lot more- lesson: know your audience. Keeping things friendly and even mirthful makes it fun for everyone and helps people be receptive to your clear message.
If you try this out for yourself I would love to hear about your experiences and your recommendations for improvement.
I hope you have enjoyed this, my first instructable.