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Big Art

Street art is in demand and on display in cities across the U.S.

Common Threads © 1998 & 2012 Meg Saligman/City of Philadelphia Mural Arts program. Photo by Steve Weinik, 2012. Reprinted by permission.

Back in 1984, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, had a graffiti problem. People were illegally spray-painting the city’s walls. Local artist Jane Golden came up with an unusual solution: Team up graffiti-makers with professional artists to paint murals on buildings with the owners’ permission. This eventually led to Mural Arts Philadelphia, a program that works in collaboration with communities to transform their public spaces into canvases for works of art. Since 1984, Mural Arts has created more than 4,000 murals throughout the city.

And it’s not just Philadelphia. Murals have been popping up in cities such as New York, Chicago, Miami, Seattle, and Los Angeles. Building owners eagerly invite famous street artists, like Shepard Fairey and Os Gemeos, to turn their bare walls into beautiful works of art. 

Back in 1984, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, had a graffiti problem. People were illegally spray-painting the city’s walls. Local artist Jane Golden came up with an unusual solution. She suggested that graffiti-makers and professional artists work together. The teams would paint murals on buildings with the owners’ permission. This project led to a program called Mural Arts Philadelphia. It works with communities to transform their public spaces. Blank walls are turned into works of art. Since 1984, Mural Arts has created more than 4,000 murals throughout the city.

Philadelphia isn’t the only city covered with murals. New York, Chicago, Miami, Seattle, and Los Angeles all are too. Many of these murals are painted by famous street artists. These artists include Shepard Fairey and Os Gemeos. 

Most mural artists start with small sketches. But how do they translate that onto a large wall? New York street artist BK Foxx explains: “Painting a big wall is really the same as painting a small canvas, because proportions are still relative to each other. On a canvas, the increments of measure are inches; on a wall, it’s feet.”

BK, who has been spray-painting murals since 2013, often starts with a photograph of the actual wall to determine the dimensions for her template. She then takes a picture of the subject she wants to paint and uses Photoshop to superimpose it on the wall photo. Then she prints the image on an 8.5-by-11-inch paper for reference. Before painting, BK marks the center of the wall with a little cross. She then makes more marks to divide the wall into quarters, eighths, sixteenths, and so on. She marks up her printed image in the same way to keep perspective.

This method proved useful when she painted her biggest mural to date, which was 100 feet tall. “When I discovered I could make these really cool images that were so much bigger than myself, I just wanted to keep doing it,” says BK. “Even now, I want to paint bigger and bigger each time.”

Most mural artists start with small sketches. But how do they translate a small sketch onto a large wall? According to New York street artist BK Foxx, “Painting a big wall is really the same as painting a small canvas. The proportions are still relative to each other.” A canvas is measured in inches. A wall, however, is measured in feet.

BK has used spray paint to make murals since 2013. She usually starts with a photograph of the actual wall. The photo helps her determine the dimensions of her sketch. She then takes a picture of the subject she wants to paint. BK then uses Photoshop to superimpose, or layer, her subject on to the wall photo. Then she prints the image on an 8.5- by 11-inch paper for reference. Before starting her mural, BK marks the center of the wall with a little cross. She then makes more marks to divide the wall into quarters, eighths, sixteenths, and so on. She makes the same marks on her printed image. This helps her keep the image and the painting in proportion. 

She painted her biggest mural yet using this method. It was 100 feet tall! "When I discovered I could make these really cool images that were so much bigger than myself, I just wanted to keep doing it," says BK. "Even now, I want to paint bigger and bigger each time."

Write and solve proportions to answer the following questions about murals in cities across the U.S. Round all answers to the nearest hundredth when necessary. Record your work and answers on our answer sheet.

Write and solve proportions to answer the following questions about murals in cities across the U.S. Round all answers to the nearest hundredth when necessary. Record your work and answers on our answer sheet.

At 100 feet tall by 75 feet wide, Common Threads (above) by Meg Saligman was the largest mural in Philadelphia when it debuted in 1998. If Saligman’s sketch was 10.5 inches tall, what was its width?

At 100 feet tall by 75 feet wide, Common Threads (above) by Meg Saligman was the largest mural in Philadelphia when it debuted in 1998. If Saligman’s sketch was 10.5 inches tall, what was its width?

If Saligman wanted to put a picture of Common Threads on a postcard that’s 4 inches wide with the mural completely filling the width, how tall would the image on the postcard be?

If Saligman wanted to put a picture of Common Threads on a postcard that’s 4 inches wide with the mural completely filling the width, how tall would the image on the postcard be?

Courtesy of Maria Chang

New York, NY

Last October, this tribute to 1980s hip-hop was completed by street-art duo Os Gemeos. They are twin brothers from Brazil, and their name means “The Twins” in Portuguese. This piece is actually a pair of murals on opposite-facing walls. It’s easy to spot a work by Os Gemeos because most of their murals feature stylized characters and playful imagery.

The street-art duo Os Gemeos are twin brothers from Brazil. Their name means “The Twins” in Portuguese. Last October, they finished this tribute to 1980s hip-hop. This piece is actually a pair of murals on opposite-facing walls. It’s easy to spot a work by Os Gemeos. Most of their murals feature stylized characters and playful imagery. 

Each wall measures about 65 feet tall and 80 feet wide. If Os Gemeos did a sketch on paper that was 8 inches tall for one wall, how wide would their sketch have to be to stay in proportion?

Each wall measures about 65 feet tall and 80 feet wide. If Os Gemeos did a sketch on paper that was 8 inches tall for one wall, how wide would their sketch have to be to stay in proportion?

If Os Gemeos wanted to fit sketches of both walls side-by-side on a single piece of paper that was 14 inches wide, how tall would the paper need to be?

If Os Gemeos wanted to fit sketches of both walls side-by-side on a single piece of paper that was 14 inches wide, how tall would the paper need to be?

Courtesy Shepherd Fairey

Costa Mesa, CA

Shepard Fairey might be best known for designing the “Hope” poster for President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. But he’s also painted murals around the world.  

This is Fairey’s most recent mural, which he completed last September. It blends his graphic style with images that have connections to the community.

“Art in public spaces is exciting because it keeps people from having to go to a gallery or a museum,” Fairey told the Los Angeles Times. “Maybe it reels some people in to being excited about art.”

Shepard Fairey designed the "Hope" poster for President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. It’s his best-known piece. But he’s also painted murals around the world. 

This is Fairey’s most recent mural. He completed it last September. It blends his graphic style with images that have connections to the community.

Fairey told the Los Angeles Times that art in public spaces is exciting. It means people don’t have to go to galleries or museums to see it. "Maybe it reels some people in to being excited about art," he says.

At 55 feet tall by 136 feet wide, Fairey’s mural can be seen from the nearby freeway. If his sketch was 17 inches wide, would it fit on an 11-by-17-inch piece of paper?

At 55 feet tall by 136 feet wide, Fairey’s mural can be seen from the nearby freeway. If his sketch was 17 inches wide, would it fit on an 11-by-17-inch piece of paper?

The woman in the middle of the mural takes up about  of the mural’s width. If Fairey wanted to put just that image on a 6-inch-high postcard, how wide would the image be?

The woman in the middle of the mural takes up about  of the mural’s width. If Fairey wanted to put just that image on a 6-inch-high postcard, how wide would the image be?

Courtesy of Crash

Miami, FL

Ten years ago, the Wynwood neighborhood of Miami was an industrial warehouse district. Today, the six buildings that make up Wynwood Walls are a destination for street artists and tourists. More than 50 artists from around the world have covered the 80,000 square feet of walls with their art.

Developer Tony Goldman, who created Wynwood Walls, was a big fan of street art. He knew that these warehouse walls—that all had no windows—would be the perfect canvases for an outdoor gallery of street art. Now, Wynwood Walls invites new artists to create new murals every year.

Ten years ago, the Wynwood neighborhood of Miami was an industrial warehouse district. Today, Wynwood Walls are a destination for street artists and tourists. Wynwood Walls is the name for six buildings covered with murals. More than 50 artists from around the world have covered the 80,000 square feet of walls with their art.

Developer Tony Goldman is a big fan of street art. He created Wynwood Walls. The warehouse walls had no windows. Goldman knew they would be the perfect canvases for an outdoor gallery of street art. Now, Wynwood Walls invites new artists to create new murals every year. 

This mural is by street artist Crash Matos. He got his start in New York City at age 13. The wall is 12 feet tall by 24 feet wide. If Crash made a sketch that was 9.5 inches wide, what would its height be?

This mural is by street artist Crash Matos. He got his start in New York City at age 13. The wall is 12 feet tall by 24 feet wide. If Crash made a sketch that was 9.5 inches wide, what would its height be?

If Crash made another sketch on larger, 11-by-17-inch, paper, what’s the maximum width and height that his sketch could be on this piece of paper?

If Crash made another sketch on larger, 11-by-17-inch, paper, what’s the maximum width and height that his sketch could be on this piece of paper?

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