Art Student Q&A

ArtStudent Q&A Chapter 2: Go Your Own Way

I am professional artist AZZURRO; Ask me anything! I will respond to any and all student questions regarding my practice and experiences. Follow in my steps or go your own way; the decision is yours. This time I'm speaking to Louis a student from Christian Brothers College, which is also where I studied street art, completely unaware it would be my full time job a few years later. Louis is completing a research project on how street art impacts the community.

 L: When did you first start being a street artist?

A: The first time I ever painted a commissioned public mural out on the street was in November of 2015, a piece named ‘Feeling Good’ for the Oxford Hotel in North Adelaide. I used nothing but black posca paint pens and a ladder (like chunky permanent markers loaded with paint instead of ink- vandals use them for quick ‘tags’ on bus stops etc.). The first thing that I learned was how overwhelmingly easy it was to just start painting on a public wall. I continued doing linear paint pen pieces with extreme detail for a while before I changed things up. The first time I picked up a paint brush was for a Headspace commission six months later (I had never really painted before) and then I first touched aerosol in December of 2017. I have never stopped painting since my first mural, whether it’s working on a commission or for a family or friend or for my own enjoyment. At some unknown point along the way, I realised I had become a street artist.

L: How long does a street art piece take?

A: Every wall is completely different. For some reason I can sometimes get a huge wall done in a few days, and then go on to work on a smaller wall which can take months. I think the beauty of being a ‘street artist’ rather than a vandal or graffiti/tag artist is that I have time to stop and think and plan the design, and can really put my heart into it. Sometimes I like to especially take my time when the piece is in a nice spot with a lot of foot traffic and people who I can have interesting and insightful conversations with as they pass by. For instance, I spent 3 months working on the Central Markets Victoria Square entrance. I didn’t need to, but I wanted to, because it was such a central location, and they are going to be there for a very long time so I wanted to make them look top notch. If I was to go out into the night to find a wall to do an unauthorised piece, I would have to keep checking over my shoulder, and the result could only be a less quality design.

L: How do you get permission to do street art?

A: You don’t need to. Any council would like you to think that you are required to get permission from them before painting the outside of a building but this is not the case as it is not reflected in any legislation. If you have permission from a landlord to paint a wall, and you will not be attaching anything to the wall that could harm anybody, then you are free to go ahead and paint. This is obviously as long as you do not pose a threat to your own safety or the safety of others, if you are required to have a ladder out on a footpath or road, that’s when you head into Council territory and will need to consult with them. This usually means adding on 7-8 months before you will paint- which I’m not into at all! It is much better to work for small business. Councils will commission artists from time to time but honestly these jobs can be nightmares, as beauracy and political correctness and payment schedules and supplier registrations can slow things down to a stop sometimes.


L: Do you give your street art a story or a theme (true story or your own story)

A: When I started I had wanted to tie all of my murals together with a theme and story, and make them all connect. Now I realise this is VERY difficult to do as most clients will be afraid of anything too adventurous (especially councils, corporate bodies) and usually they want to include their own branding. Which is most likely not to have a very interesting theme or story other than selling people coffees, beers or haircuts! When I have included little meta references to my own other works in murals, it has been because I’ve done so without permission from the client and usually in a way that they either don’t notice or cannot ask me to remove or change it. I think the idea of doing a whole string of murals with a continuing story is a fantastic concept but you would probably need to apply for a bulk grant which would cover the creation of all of the artworks in the series. I have worked for the richest in the state and even they just do not have the money or guts to make that happen. 

L: Do you get paid for doing a street art piece? 

A: Always! Though you do need to carefully choose your freebie jobs from time to time (because they CAN lead to bigger better things!!) you need to be hard on this. Money talks! It is unfortunate but if you don’t learn to talk about money properly you will be exploited, usually not in any way that is sinister but if a business senses they can save a buck, they will. I always take a deposit of 50% upfront, or the whole amount if it’s a smaller amount (under 1000). It proves to me that a business is serious when they process this without any dramas. After all- all of the work is done by you, the only thing they need to provide in exchange for your services is money, (ideas maybe, but they won’t be climbing up ladders with you). If you happen to get love and exposure and new friendships and stories and secrets out of a client/commission along the way, then good for you. The amount of money that is seen as a lot for a young person, is actually quite small and insignificant to the average business, so be generous to yourself with quoting works. And obviously you can start small and increase your rates over time as your worth+portfolio grows as an artist.  It is an AWFUL and demoralising feeling to stand on the street painting when you know that you are not covered financially. It is better to stay home

L: What tools do you use to make your street art?

A: It is a good time to be alive for artists. We have every imaginable colour and medium available to us quite cheaply- back in the day only the Catholic Church could afford to buy fancy paint pigments and therefore murals which is how Michaelango came to prominence and changed art forever.  I use acrylic BritishPaints from Bunnings. I like to stand in front of the entire range of colours taking my time deciding, you can get sample pots for as cheap as $5. I supplement this with paint pens, aerosol, and varnish. I like to keep it simple, sometimes all I have on me for the day will be one or two little tubs, one brush, one pot of water and a rag. After a while of honing your skill you begin to realise that no matter where you go, as long as you have your two hands you will be able to find materials to use to create something from nothing. This is an extraordinarily empowering feeling

L: Do you get help from other street artists when you do a art piece?

A: No. You need to be smart about who you work with. The more people you add in a project, the slower things move and the more likely it is that there will be drama. I worked with quite a lot of artists in my first years. Obviously this has its benefits in terms of meeting people but ultimately it lead to problems for me. Despite the colourful industry that it is, there are untrustworthy people in the arts field, though this should not mean that you assume this of all artists you come across- it is still something you need to be aware of. I’ve stopped working with other artists for a few years, and now that I am 3 years in, I am beginning to learn who my genuine friends/art colleagues are that I would consider working with in the future. You need to keep your guard up, after all you are guarding your own creative visions like jewels in the deepest parts of your brain. There will be plenty of incidental opportunities to collaborate but you shouldn’t assume that everyone wants to hold hands and make art together. And in the street art realm there is a whole layer of politics that you don’t want to even know about (we are not all friends!), which is fine because you don’t need to be involved in it in order to have success and happiness as a street artist and make a positive effect on your community

L: Do you get asked to do work for art festivals or events?

A: I have been lucky to work on a lot of arts festivals and events. We are at an interesting point in time in terms of arts and fashion, where big business is beginning to clue on to how valuable and enriching mural art and live art can be for their brand, and more and more new ways are being explored to marry urban art forms with the consumer world. The more time you can spend in peoples faces, the better, the best moments in my career have always been when I’ve been painting a huge blank wall while hundreds of people look on and pass by. It is a strange feeling to turn around and see twenty or so people holding their phones in the air pointed at you. Real life interaction and ‘performance’ is always going to be profoundly more valuable for your career than anything you can put on facebook or instagram. It is important to remember this- I rarely put my social/website/contact details on a mural, because people will hunt you down if they are moved by your art, and the ones that bother to do this are the ones who matter in the long run. My favourite times have been painting for Holiday Inn in the middle of Rundle Mall, or at Adelaide University O-weeks (where I have become a bit of a mainstay) or in Westfield shopping malls (Marion, Tea Tree Plaza) where you can literally get thousands of people exposed to you and your artwork in just a week.

L: What is the quickest and longest street art that you done (What are you most proud of ?)

A: Every time I finish a piece it becomes my favourite. But I think some of my proudest artworks are the ones that have taken the quickest amount of time to create. This is usually because I’ve thought the design through very cleverly- often if I end up stuck spending too much time on an artwork it can turn into a big monster that I dread leaving the house to go work on for 8 hour chunks a day. So I would say that my proudest pieces have been my caffeine god at Fair Espresso, my two-storey lobby/reception area for Holiday Inn, a hostel piece in Amsterdam which has become a bit of an icon and my imagination-soaked adventure world at Aldinga Library. But I really love everything I have worked on and have never thought ‘ I hate it’ the way other artists tend to broadcast. I think thats a really unhealthy mindset to fall into, you need to realise that everything you create was correct for you at the time, while still asserting to yourself any areas that you need to improve. There is always room for expansion and exploration into new concepts and techniques, this is happening at all times forever as an artist. The longest art piece I have ever worked on is probably a tie between my work at the Central Markets (daily for approx 3 months) and my Holiday Inn lobby which I painted on 60 giant boards from home using 30 + litres of paint over a 4-5 month period

L: How long do plan your street art before you begin?

A: For big serious clients you may spend as long as 2-3 months working on multiple mockups that need to be run past whole business teams. Usually at this point I will end a commission as I don’t enjoy this process. Also, without warning and through nobody’s fault, a client can back out at this stage in a single email and you’re left unpaid and unsatisfied, sometimes with a design that is of no use in the future because it was their logo, or a stupid quote they adapted to their own business. I have been lucky to get a lot of clients that have said ‘do whatever you want, whenever you want to start’. My favourite and most quality works have been ones I have made up on the drive-in to my blank wall and then improvised using whatever paints I have available to use. This was how I did my Caffeine God piece at Fair Espresso. There was no planning involved other than using what I know about balance and symmetry. I like to line the whole thing up in a messy, faint paint pen sketch and then go for it. The hardest part is making the first mark. The rest can come naturally if you have an image in your head and most importantly, some confidence in your own ability to hold the pen or brush

L: What do you like best about being a street artist?

A: There are no rules! It is a brand new profession so nobody knows better than anyone else how to go about it! Meaning there is room to make it your own. People revere street artists quite highly these days. As an artist it is true that you move among all social circles, the upper, middle and lower classes, the handfuls of people and crews that pull all the strings in Adelaide, good and bad people, people who are pillars of their communities. Since becoming a professional artist, I have been granted access to the behind the scenes of the fringe, shopping malls, casinoes, and just generally the business world. It is a surreal feeling to see the fine line between what I call the cast, the crew, and the audience. I believe as a community-oriented artist and professional that I have some degree of responsibility to hold it together and keep the ship afloat. It is about soothing the community but also providing carefully delivered thought-provoking stimulation, ensuring spontaneity, a sense of wonder and magic, and rewarding people in the community for discovery, activation and exploration of urban and suburban spaces.

‘Feeling Good’ at the Oxford Hotel, North Adelaide (2015).  

‘Feeling Good’ at the Oxford Hotel, North Adelaide (2015).