Warehouse Graffiti

Today’s watercolor experiment:

I consolidated two photographs as a reference for today’s graffiti study.  I took one of the photos of the warehouse at ground level, but could not get a good sense of the rest of the building from that vantage point. At the time (1990s) I used a darkroom on Vestry Street, on Manhattan’s west side, just a couple of  blocks below Canal Street. I got a pretty good photograph of the upper portion of the building from the window of the studio. Every single window opening, flanked by miniature doric, brick columns was blocked off.

I have been reading The History of Art by E.R. Gombrich. He spent much time reviewing architecture from ancient times through the 15th century. That must have been the impetus for me to include the arch and columns of the second-story window in my watercolor sketch below.

Watercolor: Graffiti on Warehouse Lower Manhattan, West Side

Warehouse Graffiti
6″x4″ 140# Mixed Media Paper

The colors I chose do not correspond to real life. The combination of red brick and yellow ochre wood coloring work very well together.

I particularly like the cobblestones in the foreground.

Below is a composite photograph showing how the upper portion of the warehouse fit with the graffitied portion that I chose to sketch.

Photograph: Composite Photo of Upper and Lower Parts of Warehouse

Composite Reference Photo

This scene warrants a larger rendition of the three graffitied doors; possibly a tryptic or a single sketch on larger-format paper.


Today’s watercolor experiment:

I chose a photo from one of my walks near the East River on the Manhattan side. It must have been early morning or at a time when the light just grazed the surface of an old, retired highway divider. The texture attracted me, plus the hand of the artist. Like the prehistoric petroglyphs, worn away by time, the message on the divider was also eroded, eroded by auto and bus exhaust, snow and salt from the plows of winter and the baking sun of summer.

I distressed the paper with sponge-dabbings of buff titanium, yellow ocher and silver gouache. I wet it and sprinkled on rough salt, hoping it would act quickly to etch and age the surface. I used a combination of black watercolor pigment and calligraphy ink to mimic the artist’s message.

Watercolor: Crude Glyphic Graffiti on Cement Highway Divider

4″x6″ 140# Mixed Media Paper

I wish I could have conveyed more of the grainy features of the surface on which the message is scrawled. The message and the surface merge, forming a coherent, animate image.

Photograph: Crude Glyphic Graffiti on Cement Highway Divider

Graffit-O-Glyphics – Reference Photo

The message on the highway divider is not carved into the surface as were the age-old petroglyphs. The artist must have known that his or her communique would soon disappear. However, I can’t help making the comparison between these ancient and modern forms of communication.

Crosby Dog Graffiti

Today’s watercolor experiment:

I enjoyed walking down Crosby Street in Manhattan during my 20+ years living in that great city. Beginning at Houston Street (pronounced, ‘how-stun’) Crosby runs south. The area South of Houston is also known as SoHo.  One of the interesting shops that used to be there (as I recall) was a small storefront that sold nothing but T-shirts and posters of the work of Keith Haring, a prominent artist, known for his graffiti.

As I was walking south on Crosby, I came upon a scene which really struck my fancy. There was a fire call box (one of a number which used to be all over the city) on a stantion that must have been hit by car, as it was bent. Bright graffiti stood out on the darkened walls. But what really got me to press the shutter on my camera was the electric-orange dog profile.

Normally, dogs seek fire hydrants. But in this case, it was clear that my silhouette dog just finished with a fire call box instead of a hydrant.

I used a combination of white conte crayon, gouache and ink to approximate the graffiti on the dark wall. I inked in parallel lines for the bricks of the wall before I applied black watercolor. I applied several washes before I drew the graffiti, but I couldn’t get it dark enough.

Watercolor: Graffiti and Fire Call Box on Crosby Street

Crosby Dog Graffiti
4″x6″ 140# Mixed Media Paper

The photograph is much darker in tone than the watercolor. The light is diffuse, highlighting the top of the fire box and the rim at the base of the wall.  I love the drama of the photograph.

Photograph: Graffiti and Fire Call Box on Crosby Street

Crosby Dog Graffiti – Reference Photo

Graffiti and Posters

Today’s watercolor experiment:

I have been looking through my archived photos of New York City street scenes. Most of them qualify for membership in my graffiti series.  Today’s snapshot, like yesterday‘s, pictures graffiti on a corner of a building. One wall of the corner building is decorated with series of ripped up posters; the other corner is a gated storefront with graffiti visible through the open grate and some on the baseboard.

My challenge was to represent the distressed nature of poster-laden wall. I used several different media besides watercolor: white gouache, ink and white conte crayon. I also used a sponge to apply a textured wash to make the surface look like posters were ripped from it.

Watercolor: Posters and Graffiti on Corner

Graffiti and Posters
6″x4″ 140# Mixed Media Paper

To represent the chain-mail gate, I began by painting brown dashes with the same repetition pattern that I use for a brick wall. I then painted the vertical members of the gate with vertical strokes of silver paint. This combination represented the shuttered storefront very well.

Photograph: Posters and Graffiti on Corner

Graffiti and Posters – Reference Photo

The only modification I would make to my watercolor sketch would be to darken the interstitial spaces between the silver chain links. I would not change the brightness of the rest of that plane of the corner.

I remember, it was a beautiful, bright day.

Corner Graffiti

Today’s watercolor experiment:

The photograph for today’s watercolor experiment looks downright dusty. It is probably the underexposure and low contrast of the print. I am sure that the day I took that photograph, more than 20 years ago, the scene itself was well lit.

I wanted to make the watercolor different from the photo. I remember the building was not a brownstone, but I painted it as such just to see what it would look like. I used dark outlines around the security doors and for the graffiti itself.

Watercolor: Graffiti on the Corner of 26th and 3rd

Corner Graffiti
6″x4″ 140# Mixed Media Paper

I made some progress portraying the correct perspective. Instead of looking down on the scene, as in a previous experiment, in this case, the viewer is observing the scene from about eye level. I am also proud of the street signs, which play an important part in the composition of this study.

Here is the photograph on which my watercolor is based:

Photograph: Graffiti on the Corner of 26th and 3rd

Corner Graffiti – Reference Photo


Reader Graffiti

Today’s watercolor experiment:

I found another graffit-o-genic photograph in my files. I took it in 1991 during a walk through Coney Island. Coney Island is highly over-populated in the summertime, but nearly abandoned in the winter. I saw the cinderblocked opening to the ‘Reader Adviser’ building. The graffiti was incidental to me, at the time. What attracted me and caused me to snap the shutter, was the intricate nature of the tiles and columns framing the facade of the building.


I spent more time than usual with my sketch today. I used a combination of pencils (F and 2B), the former to sketch in details and the latter, to try out different shading possibilities. Details were important in this sketch. In fact I learned a lot by inking in the particulars of the tiles in the upper part of the drawing. It may be hard to notice, but in upper tiled square, I abbreviated the pattern of the first row by alternating vertical lines (|) and the letter ‘G’ in adjacent squares; for the second row, I alternated minus signs (-) with plus signs (+). Likewise, I approximated the design inside line of tiles underneath the border with ovals. It was only upon closer inspect of the tiles, that I found these tiles contained images of sea creatures. The vertical line was a lobster-like creature, the minus sign was a crab, the ‘G’ was a fish and the plus sign was a star fish. The ovals in the bigger squares were the backs of crabs.

The graffiti in the cinder blocks allowed me to include today’s sketch in my graffiti series.

Watercolor: Graffiti on Abandoned Coney Island Tarot Kiosk

Reader Graffiti 6″x4″ 140# Mixed Media Paper

The graffiti is actually interesting as well and, along with the cinder blocks, speaks to the decrepitude of the building.

Photograph: Graffiti on Abandoned Coney Island Tarot Kiosk

Reader Graffiti – Reference Photo

I wonder if the fortune-telling, former occupant of this kiosk saw this abandonment coming.

Air Brush Graffiti

Today’s watercolor experiment:

Today’s experiment is a rendering of a trompe l’oeil mural that is based on a photograph I took in Midtown Manhattan in 1989. I was wandering around, enjoying the sights at the Memorial Day block party. I wasn’t thinking in terms of graffiti when I took the picture, but it fits with my graffiti series of watercolors.

‘Trompe l’oeil’ is a term means a visual illusion intended to trick the eye into perceiving a flat surface as three dimensional. I’m sure it is not appropriate to apply this term to a watercolor or even a photograph of a trompe l’oeil mural. But I digress…

I sketched the scene with a pencil, as I usually do, except I used a .3mm mechanical pencil to accommodate the fine details. After inking the pencil outlines and watercoloring the mural and surrounding wall, I streaked the mural with white gouache and provided emphasis with strokes of my fine-tipped pen, to imitate the photograph.

Watercolor: Airbrushed Graffiti - trompe l'oeil

Air Brush Graffiti
6″x4″ 140# Mixed Media Paper

Unlike the photo and watercolor of yesterday, where the pattern on the wall is ambiguous, today’s photograph is very specific. I do like today’s photo and watercolor, but a bit of ambiguity goes a long way.

Photograph: Airbrushed Graffiti - trompe l'oeil

Airbrush Graffiti – Reference Photo


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