There are a number of ways to spend a Saturday morning after a heavy Friday night and one of them is to be given a blank sheet of paper and instructed to draw something.
Something? Urgh. Anything? Erm.
This is the predicament my girlfriend, L, and I find ourselves facing in Portobello’s Graffik Gallery, which runs daily graffiti workshops for beginners.
Running a little behind schedule, on arrival we’re directed straight through the gallery and into a small, covered back yard where a group of varied ages sit on benches around a trestle table. A permanent marker and label sheet is handed round for us to write our names and stick it to our chest like everyone else.
‘E’, ‘D’, I write. Easy enough. But after a look around I notice that the majority of attendees have been a lot more creative with their name writing. Stu, for example, has done a nice circled star before his ‘S’ and an umlaut over his ‘u’. ✪Stü. Damn, that’s good. My ‘ED’ looks particularly uninspiring next to him.
Our teacher perches himself informally on a table facing us and explains that writing our names was a piece of our identity, our very being, or more definitively, our tag.
Not a good start for Ed.
And now you’ve asked me to draw something. Anything.
In my less than fit state, I take a deep breath and scan the yard for inspiration. A wall? A trestle table? A spray can? Come on.
In the end, I settle on a tree. A nice, calming tree. I make sure my tree has everything that will confirm to a viewer that this is indeed a tree. That it embodies everything that a tree should be, in order that it is… tree-ish.
By the time I’ve finished, I’m proud to report that my ‘tree’ has full, bushy foliage and a solid trunk. A boy of nine or ten next to me looks inquisitively at my artwork. I look down. I hurriedly alter a section between two bulbous bits which are supposed to be the leaves and square off the formerly round-bottomed trunk so that now, hopefully, it won’t be misconstrued as a cock and balls.
The teacher/graffiti master is excellent throughout. Street art is his life long passion and whilst we work he fills us in with a brief history of graffiti, charting back to men in their caves, up to present day. “Now”, he informs us early on, “there is only one rule in this workshop. Don’t ask me if I know Banksy.” There follows a moment of silence.
“But, yes. I do know him. And that’s all there is to say. So, has anyone got any questions?”
A brave, curly-haired girl in her early twenties raises her hand.
“Who would you say are your biggest influences in your own art?” She proffers.
“Well…” he says, eyes looking to the skies above as he considers the legends of wall art, “obviously, Banksy.”
And with that, he discusses the merits of his tabooed subject for a good portion of time.
As the session goes on, my hangover subsides a little and we learn how to make stencils. This is the technique used by many of the world’s most famous street artists so that they can create rapid, iconic imagery and then beat it to the sound of the police [whoop, whoop].
My tree is fortunately a relatively simple stencil to make and after a demonstration in good can shaking and spraying techniques from a Belgian street artist-in-residence called _STR∆. That’s right. I don’t know if his mother named him that but he must have faced a tough time in his formative years.
Anyway it’s then time to practice our stencilling on the walls of the yard before committing our work to canvas (The gallery lets you buy a ready-primed mini canvas for £5).
After working with a variety of cans and trying out previously (and professionally) put together stencils, I finally spray a blue background on my canvas and go for a gold tree through my stencil. And I have to say, as shit as it is, as it stands drying, with my brain still thudding slightly within my skull, I felt a smug sense achievement. Fuck you hangover, look wot I done.
To book yourself into a graffiti workshop contact the Graffik Gallery here
By Edward Lines