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How to Transition from Street Art to Murals – Reuben Woods

Okay. I’m a street artist who has been painting smaller scale works and I now want to transition to painting larger walls. What’s the best way of going about it?

Urban art is a unique field. There’s no one way to success. It’s a tricky field as it often operates outside of traditional support so there’s no fast and true path an artist should take. But as a rule, the very first thing you need to do is hone your work, understand what you are about as an artist.

I have an old garage wall at home that I could work on. Should I start there?

It’s a good idea, if you can. Finding a space at home allows you to start translating your ideas and your work into a larger scale. Also, you can repaint it as often as you like. As well as being a great practice wall, it helps you understand that even a legal wall is temporary. Ultimately, painting on an outdoor wall is different from drawing on paper or on a screen.

What about public space? Is there anywhere I can practice legally in the city?

The giant spray cans at the Placemaking at One Central space in Rauora Park have been designated specifically as a free-for-all space that can be accessed at any time. The space is great to just have a go and it’s also really interesting to see how the space changes so quickly. Just remember that anything you paint there might only last a few hours, so take pictures! This is an easy public space to access, and it will get you some visibility, but of course, traditionalists will say that to become a street artist you really just have to just do it and that the streets are the real canvas.

Just for clarity – what is the difference between graffiti and tagging?

There isn’t actually a difference, tagging is a part of graffiti. Graffiti is a subculture with a range of aspects, histories and rules. In very basic terms, graffiti is writing your name in public. Tagging is a base element of graffiti – it is the simplest form in that it is usually a single line work. For some artists the tag is the heart and soul of what graffiti is. At its most simple, graffiti is about contesting space and leaving your mark.

Alright, so I’ve been working at home, and at the Spray Cans, but now I want to move into larger scale work – like a legal wall. What’s the next step?

You need to start building up a body of work. To get the chance to paint a larger wall or a commissioned project – people will want to see a body of work. People will want to know what you are capable of producing. The next step is to ensure that you have an approach and a style that will translate to a larger space. Think about what size you are capable of – it does take time to get to this stage. You really need to give a lot of thought to how your style translates to larger spaces. You need to make sure you are thinking practically as well as visually.

What about style? Is there a particular style I need to adopt?

One of the beauties of urban art is that it’s so broad. It’s about finding a medium and aesthetic that suits your art and voice. Each approach speaks slightly differently to each different place or context. Experiment with mediums – perhaps start with a poster approach, or stencils, or rollers. Try out what works best for you as an artist.

If I get the opportunity to work on a legal wall, can I do anything I choose?

This is where it can get tricky. Unless it is literally a free wall, there is likely going to be a need to work with the building or business owner. There’s an interesting balancing act of maintaining your visual voice when you take on a commissioned work. You have to think about how much you are willing to compromise and how you might respond to briefs or desires.

Is it a good idea for me to work out what my bottom lines are then?

It’s important to think about this in terms of what aspects of your work you’re willing to compromise.  If you have flexibility you may get more opportunities but at the same time it means you might have to sacrifice some of your personal style.

I’ve seen some walls on buildings in public spaces that I think would suit my art.  Do I just door – knock and see whether the building owner is keen for me to work on it?

This can be a good way to go about it. Reaching out to owners of buildings and outlining your ideas to them. It can be hard and you might not always get a ‘yes’, but it is a direct line. Keep an eye out for people calling for artists online as well. Of course, you can also approach Watch This Space. We accept expressions of interests from urban artists and we have a database of artists who we can then match with opportunities as they come up.

If I want to approach Watch This Space, what do you need from me?

We want to know things like the style and medium you work in. We like to see examples of your work, obviously. We want to know whether you have worked on murals before; whether you can work with heights.  The other thing that’s really helpful for us (and you) is to know what price you’re willing to work for. Figuring out budgets is important.

Should I work for free?

We would say no. There is value in what you’re doing. You should look at being paid for your skill and time. This is going to vary – the more walls you’ve painted the more people will pay. We do believe an artist should get something but what that something is depends. There are examples of artists who have done work for no payment – and that’s down to individual choice – but we’d like to see a world where that doesn’t happen. On the flip side, not getting paid can allow you more freedom in your style – so it’s a balancing act.

Should I have a Social Media account?

In today’s world nearly everyone needs to promote their work. So yes, you probably should have a social media account of some sort – especially a visual one. It’s important to think about how you curate that and to think about how you’re presenting yourself. It’s a good way to show what you can do.

What about collaboration? Should I work with other urban artists or should I be a lone wolf?

It really comes down to personality. A lot of artists really enjoy collaborating with others. You get to problem solve with a collective which can help- particularly if you’re dealing with a large space –  and you can learn techniques and also just have a lot of fun. But it comes down to your own preference. Some artists will have assistants once they start getting more work as well.

So how can I be an assistant?

If you know of someone whose work you admire – reach out to them. There are always benefits in connecting with people, you might network opportunities, or simply learn from them.

Is it a good idea for me to watch other artists work?

Absolutely. Watching and learning is always good. But it’s super important that you do that in a respectful way –which means not imitating or copying them. It’s really important to develop your own style. Understanding influence rather than imitating

What about practical matters? Should I maybe look at taking a course in Working with Heights?

If you want to get into larger wall spaces then that’s a good idea.  There are likely requirements to have Working with Heights certification to work on a larger wall, so it’s definitely a bonus if you have this in your back pocket. It’s also worth checking out health and safety requirements when you’re working in a public space.

What about materials? What do I need to think about when it comes to tools of the trade?

There’s a lot of practical matters to think about. Like how much paint you might need for a particular work. How many cans or tins of paint might I need? How many brushes or roller sleeves will I need? You learn by experience, so it’s a good idea to experiment with different materials. Be well prepared before you start any work, what might you need onsite? Planning is good. Some artists are really fastidious and others aren’t – you have to find what works for you.

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