Guerrilla art: neighborhood beautification without the blech

July 6 |
sacramento guerrilla art, sign poll cozzy
Photo by Robert Couse-Baker. Used under Creative Commons license.

My neighborhood definitely lacks offbeat bite. There are cute houses, but they're pretty standard. There's not much micro neighborhood pride. We barely know our neighbors. I want the place to have some cache, and I want it to feel like mine.

I bet a lot of Homies nodded your heads at SOME part of that intro. Yeah? This guerrilla art inspiration post is just for you. Guerrilla art is the catch-all term for art placed outside — to varying degrees of legality — usually anonymously. Sometimes it draws attention to neighborhood features, sometimes it's funny, and it's not usually destructive (though it's often mischievous.)

You may be familiar with some forms of guerrilla street art, like yarn bombing, which is a pretty well-known recent entrée to the street art world. But what are some other ways to give a neighborhood a kick in the pants?

Character Installations

Photo and art by Will Scobie. Used under Creative Commons license.

This is a super simple project. Get together with friends or family and crank out a few characters or scenes that can go up easy with staples or tape.

You'll need:

  • Cardboard — I always have a stash because we're constantly ordering from Amazon, but if you need boxes, visit a store before trash day and ask.
  • Magic markers.
  • Spray paint, if you want. I've been loving Rustoleum Double Coverage Primer.
  • Utility knife and blades.
  • A hard surface on which to cut.
  • A staple gun or packaging tape.

Play around, draw a dinosaur or a Dr. Suessian tree. Don't overthink it.

If your character would look better, cut your image out by laying it on a cement floor and carving with a utility knife — with a fresh blade!!

Find telephone poles, street corners, and fire escapes for your new friend. Place, and enjoy.

Moss graffiti

This has long been on my to-do list.

Mossenger and Anna
Photo by webponce. Used under Creative Commons license.

Legend has it, if you mix a can of beer, a half-teaspoon of sugar, and several clumps of moss in a blender, then apply to a shady, moist wall in a shape, you'll have your own moss graffiti.

Guerrilla gardening

I wasn't interested in this until I moved next door to a lovely school building with unkempt grounds. Now, seed bombs sort of pique my interest.

You could go two ways with guerilla gardening. Some people take over uncared-for urban green spaces, like traffic islands, and plant vegetables and flowers which they maintain and eat — where appropriate. This is actually an organized movement in many parts of the world. Here's a page of tips for getting started.

You can also seed bomb. Make your travels through the neighborhood more productive. You can use a tennis ball to spread native seeds as you ride your bike, or you can use this simple technique to make fun-to-throw seed bombs.

Seed bomb thrown!
Photo by Platform London. Used under Creative Commons license.
  1. Wash a dozen eggs.
  2. Use an awl or a pick to tap a small hole on either end of each egg. Blow the contents out (you can also shake them, if you want to use the egg. It just takes more time.)
  3. Wash the eggs again.
  4. Fill with your pre-selected assortment of native seeds and a bit of soil or compost.
  5. If necessary, use a bit of cotton rag to re-plug the holes.
  6. Replace eggs in their carton, and tuck in your bag, ready for a walk.

Lost Signs

Lost dog will bite your face off
Photo by misterbisson. Used under Creative Commons license.

Fake lost signs are the hot new rage, and they are so easy to make, being that all you need is a computer and a printer. Or, really, a Sharpie and a piece of paper. They're a really easy starting place — you don't have to deal with your feelings of guilt/nervousness for semi-legal postings if it looks like you're merely posting a flyer.

Take a look at The Daily Wh.at's collection of lost signs to get ideas.

These are just the beginnings of my guerrilla art aspirations. What street art is on your list to tackle?

  1. I wish I knew a good place to moss graffiti! That looks awesome :)
    I also want to make lost dog posters like that featuring my handsome hound… maybe… we'll see!
    Thanks for sharing. This was a super fun read

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    • This is so cute, i'd be worried they'd get run over though :-( pavement ones would be ok.

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  2. I have seen the knitting ones around my area, but man I love the seed bombs and the lost poster. >:D

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  3. You can also turn unsightly logs or pipes or tree branches into fun creatures or animals with just a bit of paint (for eyes and a smile) – and then you can add different props for different seasons (like ornaments for Christmas or a turkey hat for Thanksgiving) – just make sure you take them down when its no longer appropriate…

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  4. I live in a semi-ugly area of Koreatown, 1 underpass away from the cute "bicycle district" in LA. I came across moss graffiti on the interweb a couple of months ago and have been planning on brightening the dumpster-strewn back alleys for a couple of months now.. think this was my incentive!

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  5. Some fun signs appeared in my old neighborhood last winter. My favorite was the one advertising "Free slips of paper!!!" (complete with little tear-off slips).

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    • Someone put that one up in my partner's office a few months ago :) It was wildly popular.

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  6. A tiny tree appeared in a median on my route to work last winter. It was a spindly, wee little thing. So, of course, it received a single red ball ornament.

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  7. I *love* this! Knit bombing has become quite big in Wanaka, a tourist town about 2 hours from where I live in NZ. I've been doing heaps of knitting for one of my projects at school (art student) and one of my classmates suggested I start knit bombing my town :P I don't think I have quite enough skill, however!

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  8. This was so awesome I actually just reblogged this. Still can't get over the coolness!

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  9. Someone top secret (wink, wink) decorates old lawn chairs in adorable ways and leaves them at bus stops around Orlando.

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  10. A horticulture PhD once told me you can mix moss and buttermilk in your blender and then paint it on… not sure if that would be better or worse than beer. Love this post!

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    • I've actually always heard both–2 cups of buttermilk or yogurt+2 cups of beer, tsp of sugar or corn syrup, 1/2 a cup of moss with the dirt shaken out, blended, painted, sown!

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      • I've tried making moss graffiti work for a class i was teaching. over and over, actually. never worked- buttermilk, beer, water, nothing. granted, i live in the south; my guess is that the only was to get it to work is if you live in the pacific northwest. (and also, if you look at some of the websites about moss graffiti, you'll see that the photos are actually photoshop renderings. some sites even admit that they were unable to get it to work.) not to discourage you, though! i hope someone gets it to work!

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  11. Inspired by this, I did some guerrilla art today! I wrote in chalk on brown paper "Smile, someone loves you!" and "(Name of my neighborhood) is awesome!" My friend made a huge turtle out of cardboard, decorated it with construction paper, and put it in my lawn. :) It was so wonderful and I felt so cool. :D

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  12. Thank you
    You have completely inspired me take up knitting and start my own bombing group. i live outside of houston tx (where yarn bombing started) and i've been dying of something to give my community. Maybe even a few cardboard characters if the local folk can handle it…. : )

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  13. ive also been dreaming of seeding my brother in laws new lawn )new house) as a prank, i think i just might : )

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  14. I have a question about yarn bombing. I live in the pacific northwest, where it's quite damp most of the year, and I worry the yarn will just get moldy. Is this actually an issue, and if so is there anything you can do to prevent mold? Or do you just have to plan on cutting the yarn off during the wet season and putting up new stuff later?

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    • I also live in the Pacific Northwest, and am always dismayed by yarn bombing, because I have seen so many old gross moldy ones.

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  15. I live in Oregon and when folks yarn bomb here, it's either something they know will be coming down, like a fence around a soon to worked construction site, or they take it down once it gets soggy and gray.

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  16. On a deer crossing sign, someone put a red "dot" sticker on the nose. Makes me smile every time I see it.

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    • There's one of those around here, too! Someone also drew a hula hoop around a pedestrian on a crossing sign. Love it!

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  17. moss graffiti is totally on my to-do list as well. i may also paint it on my the outside of my windowboxes this year if i'm forced to get ugly ones. i have all the stuff for clay-based seed bombs just hanging around and need to get around to making them! we're also taking over a vacant lot this spring and designating it a community garden, cuz i freaking said so! :P

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