I have always been fascinated by street art and graffiti culture across my travels in Europe. The one city that particularly stands out for its street art culture is the German capital, Berlin.
Everywhere you look in Berlin, especially in the East of Berlin, you’re likely to spot a spray-painted street art or graffiti. What’s particularly fascinating is not the aesthetics or the finesse of art, but the tonality of expression. Every piece of street art, graffiti, a painting that you spot is there to convey a message. It aims to raise a voice, sometimes to highlight ideologies and sometimes as a mark of dissent.
And while street artists often get caught and punished for vandalizing property, what better way of peaceful protest than the route of art?
On our recent trip to Berlin, we took the Street Art Tour & Workshop with Alternative Tours Berlin to formally understand explore the city and expression of the city.
We assembled at the Starbucks at Alexanderplatz, near the Berliner Fuhrersturm and met our guide, Alex and other travelers who were joining us on the tour. After a brief introduction, we headed straight to the Warschauer SBahn station a few steps from there and took a train to our first stop. From there, we walked a few meters to Friedrichshain.
- Part I: Understanding the forms of Street Art
- Part II: How to make an art piece?
- Basic Tips for Street Art Creation
Alex: Our Street Tour Guide
Alex was a Greek Street Artist who had moved to Berlin about half a decade ago.
Given Berlin’s constantly emerging position in the street art and graffiti scene, you can only guess why! Being a street artist himself, Alex knew not just the nuances of street art and it’s form that he was going to share with us today, but he could identify art, the messaging, the technique and the differentiation techniques used by artists across the world. Basically, we had just the right person to guide us through the various street arts, graffiti, and murals that we were to spot and decipher in the duration of the tour.
Part I: Understanding the forms of Street Art
Walking towards Friedrichshain we had already guessed where we’d be going. After all, on our previous trip to the city, we were particularly fascinated by this compound of underground clubs, which was filled art across its many walls and sides that we had been introduced during our Berlin Food Tour.
Graffiti vs Installations vs Paintings
Street Art roughly translates to any piece of art found across the streets. But not every piece of street art is a graffiti, a more commonly thrown around the term in reference to art on the streets.
As explained by Alex, a graffiti is a message conveyed creatively through an art piece on the streets, which is always signed with the artist’s tag. A graffiti is usually a piece of typography, often mixed with art and is more often than not done with a free hand using spray paint. Most of these pieces are created in an extremely short time span.
Installations or Murals
Installations or murals are pieces of art displayed in open spaces that have been purposefully created using various products and are mostly 3D in nature. These could also include paper cut-outs, waste products and more.
Paintings in street art are a more organized form of art and aim at beautification and definitive expression of messaging. A painting aims for visual appeal and aesthetics more than the above forms of street art.
Is Street Art legal?
Considering most pieces of street art are aimed at voicing an opinion, dissent, and rebellion, their legality is questionable. Hence, such art pieces are created in a very tactical manner when in popular public places, by groups and artists, sometimes merely in a span of seconds.
Art pieces like murals and street paintings require more time, resources and flexibility to create a visually appealing piece of art. Hence, most of these art forms are licensed or legally sanctioned by the authorities, often reflecting over environmental care and more global causes that deserve attention.
Part II: How to make an art piece?
After giving us a detailed insight into the different forms and expressions of street art that dominated the city of Berlin, it was time for us to learn some techniques and make our own piece of art. We headed to an abandoned train workshop which was now taken over by street artists and was the studio for street artists.
Even walking in, you could tell that this place was breathing art and expression.
First up, we settled after all the walking and were given a simple but crucial task of picking our subjects for our art piece and cutting through the black portions to create a stencil. I picked a Pablo Escobar look-alike while Parichay picked Mahatma Gandhi.
After about 20 minutes, we headed to the main studio where we got a demonstration of the next steps and the practical techniques involved in creating art with spray paints.
Step I: Cut out
The first step to creating a piece of street art was to pick a subject and cut out the black portions carefully with a paper cutter without bending the paper or cutting outside the defined boundary. Your cut out could play a major role in how your art piece shapes up.
Step 2: Prepare the Base
On the given canvas, the next step is to prepare the base. Now before you prepare the base, make sure that the surface is clean and then place your paper.
Pre-decided your color palette, especially your base colors and assemble them in your workspace.
Test the nozzle of the spray paints to see if the color hasn’t dried up or is available in plenty. Try shaking the bottle and pressing the nozzle harder.
When you start preparing the base, make sure not to spray too much at just one spot. Keep a continuous vertical or horizontal movement while setting up the basics. You can switch colors when needed.
Additionally, you can use the motif stencils to add more character to your base.
Most importantly, allow the base to dry after every layer of the paint.
Technique 1: Layered Colors
The first technique that Alex showed us required us to place the stencil on the base and cover the entire stencil area with white spray paint. This was followed by taking off the stencil and spraying white paint across the area occupied by the stencil outline.
Let it dry.
The next step was to place back the stencil and use one or two contrasting/ darker colors over the stencil area and then carefully lift the stencil.
Your multicolored subject was ready on the canvas.
Technique 2: Shadow Technique
In the second technique, we learned to create the shadow effect in which the stencil was to be placed on the base and was to be sprayed across the area with white/light shaded paint spray.
Lift the stencil and let it dry.
Put back the stencil, slightly shifting from its original position and spray a layer of contrasting color(s) on top.
On lifting the stencil, you will see a 3D shadow effect formed as a result of shifting the stencil.
After completing your art piece with either of the techniques, you can decide to amp it up a notch by adding some effects in the background using a range of design techniques.
Remember to let your art piece dry properly before wrapping it up.
Basic Tips for Street Art Creation
- Be mindful while cutting your way through your stencil.
- Test your spray paints/ nozzles before you start painting.
- Always keep a white spray can handy.
- Spray your paints evenly. Don’t spray too much color on one spot.
- Try selecting complementary shades and color palettes for your art piece.
- Let every layer of color dry before you head to the next step.
- Sign your art.
- Have fun!
From being fascinated by street art in Berlin to actually dedicating time to learning more about it, this one has been one of my favorite experiences in the city. Having witnessed the range of street arts across the globe, the strong voice, artistic and political expressions and opinions that it represents are beyond amazing. Now to dissect, the various forms, techniques, and representations found in the city of Berlin from someone as amazing as F was quite the experience, especially because he himself has been creating this form of art for the last 20 years.
Early on in our tour, we bumped into one of the greats in the street art domain- MOD who was working on a new piece in the area. Just looking at the enthusiasm and excitement on Alex’s space revealed so much about what it truly meant, especially because a lot of street and graffiti artists go by pen names and don’t always get identified by people. Alex went on and on, feeding our curiosity with tales of street artists in Berlin.
What was further rewarding was to actually be in the studio and learn all about the techniques of street art.
It’s funny how easy it looks on the outside, but it’s ‘a literal work of art’.
What to carry on this tour?
All that you need for the art is provided on the tour.
What you must carry/ prepare on your end:
- Suitable clothing as per the weather and something that you’d be comfortable in while painting
- Cameras to capture the inspiration in the first part of the tour
- A Day Ticket for Public Transport to save time. There will be at least 3-4 transport rides needed on your tour.
- Coffee/ snacks/ water for the duration, since the duration of the tour, is solely for the activities and does not include any lunch break despite the timing
- Carry an umbrella if necessary
How much time should you put aside?
Both parts of the tour put together, you need at least 4-5 hours kept aside for the Street Art Workshop Tour.
The second part, that is the workshop is in the interiors of East Berlin and could take some time for you to get to the key touristy areas or your accommodation. Plan accordingly.
Cost of the tour
There are many free tours available in Berlin. But to get a better understanding of the street art scene in the German capital, to learn and put to use your new learnings and techniques of street art and graffiti, you must opt for the Street Art Work.
The cost per person is 25 eur+ taxes.
Book your tour here: https://alternativeberlin.com/berlin-tours/street-art-workshop/
There’s so much more to street art than what meets the eye! And to explore that very factor, it’s highly recommended to take this super fun and exciting tour.