Street Art Trends: Spray Paint on Canvas

Jun 26, 2018 at 09:00 am by Barbara Din

Street Art Trends: Spray Paint on Canvas

In the first article of this series, I showed you Finger Painting as a street art trend. This time, I’ll show you one that it’s a classic and I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon: painting made with spray cans.

If you walked the streets of any big city, you’ve most probably seen it and thought it was amazing. Now you can see that it’s done in so many places, that it’s already part of the world’s culture. I’m talking about paintings made for people to buy on the spot, not graffiti or murals, which I’ll leave for another episode.

There are so many great ones that it’s hard to choose, but here I’m trying to give you just a taste of what you can see on the video 'net. Watch different artists make their own take on this street art classic.


Most spray paint artists take advantage of several techniques in order to accomplish interesting and useful effects quickly. The one most widely used is masking, like the lids you see on the planets and round objects, that get an area covered to keep it from getting paint so when they pick it up, the previously painted layer is revealed.

Also, the flat pieces of paper or cardboard prevent the paint to get to the other side, so they can get a hard edge on one side and soft paint on the other like they do with horizon lines and waterfall bottoms.

Another typical technique for spray-can painters is the subtractive one, in which they use an instrument or an object to subtract paint and leave either the previous layer showing or the white of the substrate (the surface on which the painting is being applied to).

This one gives a vast array of options depending on what’s used to do the lifting. It can be a large piece of magazine paper (they use these instead of, say, newspaper, because it doesn’t absorb the paint and therefore it doesn’t get stuck on the canvas), which generates many different textures, or it can be a palette knife or any other sharp and thin object with which they can make precise marks like tree branches or flying birds.

This can also be called Sgraffito, a technique which consists on scratching through a surface to reveal a lower layer of a contrasting color. You might have tried this as a child in school with oil pastels as the background and black ink on the foreground.

You’ll also see most of them spraying a lot of paint on a scrap piece of cardboard and then using different elements to pick up that paint and apply it on the surface, creating textured marks. They use this a lot to make brushes, tree canopies and clouds, among other things.

As you watch more and more of these, you’ll realize that layering is crucial. The order in which they apply the paint is not random: there are specific steps to get the final result. Watch carefully and see if you can pick a trick or two.

Some are flashy and quick, some are introspective and methodical, but they are all wonderful representations of an art form that is here to stay. Next time you see one of them on the streets, you’ll have more information to appreciate what they’re doing. I hope you enjoyed!

Barbara Din is a visual artist, graphic designer, painter, interior designer, crafter, musician and writer living in Argentina. Learn more about Barbara and her work at the following links:
Barbara Din Patreon page
Barbara Din YouTube Channel

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