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 Discussions

    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....

    16 replies

    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."

    If you want to get in silly linguistic games, then (technically speaking) yes. Technically, you're an animal. Technically, you eat rotting organic matter (either plain-old dead bodies or, if you're vegetarian, rotting plants) every day of your life, since dead things start to decay the minute they cease to live.

    I think the meaning is quite clear from the definition. 

    Well as long as I'm right.

    "If you want to get in silly linguistic games" - dont see whats silly about it, and it a amusing response from someone posting a wikipedia quote...... 

    You really need to get with the spirit of the site, icecreamterror.

    The author is tagging areas without tacit permission.  He is changing the nature of an urban environment by altering the way its sensorium presents to the unsuspecting passer-by.

    By my count, that's graffiti. 

    Im sure my comments would have been removed if they were at odd with the spirit of the site.

    Would you still consider it Graffiti if the means of application was not aerosol, and it was being done in a rural area? 

    Unlike you, I don't think graffiti is a site specific art form, and I will passionately defend it from being diluted by piggybacking practices like this that are,  just like so "urban"!

    And exactly what are your credentials in the field of Art? 

    You should not have to rely on the site admins to moderate your own actions.  Comments are only removed if they are flagged.  Many people choose to leave borderline comments unflagged, as it demonstrates the nature of the poster more graphically than a "removed" label.

    Since when have qualifications been required for an appreciation of Art?  Perhaps you would like to check my credentials regarding the site?

    Graffiti was around for centuries before there was a word for it, and for centuries more before some examples of it became burdened with the title "Art".

    If you pay attention, I did not say that graffiti was specific to any site.  I said it was all about changing the way an individual encounters an environment.  Usually, as you are well aware, this is the urban environment, since most graffiti is used to "improve" an otherwise bland or unnatural space.

    As soon as you start getting pedantic about the labelling of an art form, you restrict it, you smother it under semantics, and you turn it into rote rather than art. 


    "Since when have qualifications been required for an appreciation of Art".....appreciation is one thing, but understanding of a academic subject is a very different thing!

    As for your
    credentials regarding the site? how is this relevant, unless your saying your opinion is more valid as your more active on here???????




    You are the one who questioned the validity of my opinion based on credentials.  I was demonstrating the fact that I am more aware of what this site is about than you appear to be.  What constructive criticism have you offered?

    All I see is "I know what Art is and this isn't it", plus a pretence at humility when you cast scorn on two other art forms in a single post.

    In case you haven't noticed, this project was part of the authors artist residency.

    On what grounds do you consider yourself to be better-qualified to dictate the nature of an art form compared to the author?


    Your right, I do question the validity of  your opinion, but that's based on your comments, not your as yet  unrelieved academic credentials on the subject.

    "On what grounds do you consider yourself to be better-qualified to dictate the nature of an art form compared to the author?"

    Well if you had taken the time to read all my post on this topic, you may have come across my comments on this!

    But once more just for you....Been painting Graffiti for over a decade, having had work featured in many publication, while studying Art for just as long achieving a  BA (Hons) in History of Art from CSM London....and am now working on my MA. ...........your turn ;)

    Due to you not even being willing to answer ANY of the questions iv asked
    its clear to see your not here for a civil debate, but an arguemt  that  I fear has degraded into who can have the last word.

    I think everyone puts way too much stock in the fact the having an education and lots of degrees in art, means that you are a true artist. I highly doubt that the artists that made the Nazca illustrations had any degrees.
    Most artists consider themselves artists even before getting said degrees, the degrees for the most part seem to make the majority of them more snooty. What education is good for is refining one's art form, learning a better way to do what you do, and unfortunately, according to societal views of this age, lending credulity to the artist in the purchasing public's eye.
    There are millions of actual artists that can't afford an education, does this make them any less an artist,or unable to voice an opinion about art? I think not.
    As to putting a definition on graffiti, as with most art, it evolves, look at Yarn Bombing and Reverse Graffiti. I do think though, that if it is done in a clandestine manner, it is more popularly viewed as 'Graffiti', and if you have permission, it is then an 'installation'.
    One of my favorite quotes is, "Art is anything you can get away with."