Be the Artist: Banksy

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Leave an anonymous gift of graffiti with this portable graffiti project inspired by Bansky. Image: Lisa Kay Tate

The Artist: Banksy

Who is Bansky? That’s a question many people want to know, as Banksy is the pseudonym used by the now world-famous grafitti artist. Banksy’s work started popping up around the Bristol and London underground art scenes in the mid-1990s.

He started out doing freehand art, but soon turned to the quicker stencil method in the 2000s. Banksy has also created stickers, spoof “Bansky of England” £10 notes (which can still be found on eBay), limited-edition posters, and other works. He has traveled beyond the United Kingdom, and left his mark in American cities like New Orleans and New York.

There has been plenty of speculation about the identity of Banksy, including that he might be a woman artist or group of artists, going by “he” to help hide the true identity. His… or her… or their… work is sometimes humorous and often bearing an anti-establishment political or social message. Whether or not the viewer completely agrees or adamantly disagrees with Banksy’s viewpoint, there is one thing everyone agrees on–Banksy’s work is eye-catching.

Many artists use their work to support a certain social or political view, but Banky’s anonymity may have more to do with where his art ends up, rather than what actually depicts. For example, one time the artist somehow climbed into the London Zoo’s penguin enclosure and painted the seven-foot-tall message, “We’re bored of fish!”

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Illusive as he is Bansky’s graffiti bears a very distinct style that has influenced other street artists. Images: Wikicommons. Book image: Random House UK.

Bansky has done his share of behind-the-scenes commissioned work, as well, from exhibitions to art installations. He also co-created the 2010 documentary on street art, Exit Through the Gift Shop, with fellow street artist “Space Invader.”

One problem with anonymity is Banksy isn’t available to give public talks about his work, but he talks about it in his book, Wall and Piece. There are also other books highlighting Banksy’s pieces found in different cities.

No one may ever really know the true identity of artist behind the Banksy name, but really, would that be any fun? Just knowing this artist is Banksy is good enough for now, and Banksy is happy with it that way.

“Speak softly, but carry a big can of paint,” he said in Wall and Piece.

 The Project: Anonymous Graffiti Gifts

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Find a design to fit the environment, and the intended giftee, and leave it where they can see it. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

Many artists have used stencil or screen printing techniques, including Andy Warhol, Corita Kent, and Pablo Picasso, but Banksy created a way to make this method bold, detailed, and fast, the latter usually to help him get the work finished without getting caught.

This project is going to take advantage of one of the easiest forms of stencils to find: pumpkin patterns. Anyone who has looked online at for pumpkin patterns recently, or has seen kits in the store, has probably noticed they don’t often have anything to do with Halloween or fall anymore. Some superhero, pop culture patterns could be used year round to create summer lanterns in watermelon, make t-shirt stencils, or in the case of this project, make some quick Bansky-style stencil murals.

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Printable pumpkin patterns make easy stencils for year round projects. Images: Lisa Kay Tate

I need to emphasize one thing, first. Actual graffiti is illegal. Don’t leave any permanent images anywhere without the consent of the owner. Now, I grew up in an area where graffiti-style art is a true fine art form, but it often takes the form of “murals.” One artist I talked to a few years ago told me the difference between a mural and graffiti was “you have permission to make the mural.” In short, get permission.

So, how do we leave surprise art bombs without getting permission? Easy! Create portable graffiti on poster board or cardboard, so they aren’t permanent.

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Layering the stencil: Create design’s shape with a silhouette (top), the add the details with other layers. Images: Lisa Kay Tate

Find a stencil (start out with a fairly easy pattern), and print it out. For larger images, this will take a few pieces of paper, so print on scrap paper at the lowest draft setting. Print two or three copies of the image, in case you need extras. Good, clean stencils are important in getting a layered effect.

Cut the first pattern out as just a silhouette, no details, and leave the cut-out piece for later. Place this image on the poster board or other surface and spray over the entire image. Younger artists can do this sponging or brushing on the paint.

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Cut out the final project, for some easy portable graffiti. Images: Lisa Kay Tate

Now, if you are just choosing a two-color method, take the cut out potion of the pattern and cut the  details, and place it over the first pattern. Then spray, sponge, or brush the detail layers on. Once you’ve mastered this, you can try it with three or more colors by just cutting out certain details on each layer. You can add smaller details freehand.

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Chalk art is another way to leave a non-permanent graffiti-style gift….or share an inside joke with fellow book lovers. Image: Lisa Kay Tate

This method can also be used for sidewalk chalk art graffiti. Use a thicker cardstock paper, so it doesn’t rip or warp when coloring in the pattern.

The finished pieces can be left behind as a fun “thank you” to family or friends who you were staying with for the summer, a birthday gift for a parent or sibling to wake up to, or an end-of-school gift for a teacher who made a difference.

Some artists have criticized Banksy’s use of stencils as “cheating,” but when stealth is key, they work best. Banksy, apparently, doesn’t care what others think, as stated in Wall and Piece:

“Become good at cheating, and you never need to become good at anything else,” he said.

Okay, this isn’t something to follow in all aspects of life, but in Banksy’s high-speed art world, it’s okay to take a short cut sometimes.

It is also totally okay to reveal yourself as the artist after a couple of days, but make them guess a little first.

Lisa Kay Tate is a veteran feature writer with 20 years experience in newspaper, magazine and freelance writing. In addition to serving as Associate Editor for her local arts and entertainment guide, El Paso Scene, she has been a regular contributor to the site ihogeek.com and maintains her own blogsite at lisathegeekmom.wordpress.com. She and her husband, writer/photographer Rick, live on the edge of "New Texico" where they keep busy raising their two geeklings and sharing space with their dog, Sirius Black, and cat, Loki.