On the next block I spot a bus stop outfitted with an advertisement for a vacation-and-travel website. If ever there were a worthy space for a bright rocket pop poster, a brown aluminum-and-Plexiglas billboard at a taxpayer-funded bus stop in a poor neighborhood is it.
Behind the bus stop glows the bright fluorescent fixtures of a parking lot, and a sign, and also a marquee of a pharmacy and department store. At the next intersection, I crank the wheel to the right and circle the block, and on the east side of the parking lot, diagonal and down a sidewalk a bit from the bus stop, I park, pull my shopping bag from the passenger’s seat, and step out into the January chill.
It’s 9:48 of a Wednesday night.
University Avenue still teems with the halogen lights, revving engines, and sputtering tailpipes of passing cars and buses. Shoppers funnel into and out of the drugstore, trading parking spaces and swishing plastic shopping bags. I set my canvas bag on the ground in front of the bus stop bench, and I sit. The ad in which frolicking white people romp on a white sand beach seems oddly mundane and out of context for a community ten minutes’ drive time from the ocean. From the bench, I touch the smeary plastic and watch for police cars.
I gather the bag from between my legs, stand, and walk back to my car. Driving through the stream of University Avenue, I scan again for potential areas to hang my posters, swiveling my neck, propping up on the plastic interseat console to survey blighted buildings and the dead-weed fields surrounded by wood and chain-link fences.
I circle the inner city, uptown. I stay away from downtown and the beaches. Although I have to work in those areas, I don’t consider them my home. The territory of my house radiates out from the North Park Water Tower at its center, and the 8, College Avenue, University Avenue, and Park Boulevard circumscribe it.
Trash cans offer surfaces of opportunity, but street utility boxes, for me, are off limits. I hate those boxes. Let me tell you why. A North Park business association called North Park Main Street saw fit to adopt the locked metal bins, take submissions from artists, panel juries, choose designs, and provide art supplies for the painting and decorating of the normally bland metal cubes that protrude from the sidewalk. Let me rephrase that. A business association — so, if you don’t own a business in North Park, you don’t get a say — adopted the metal bins — even though they belong to us all — took submissions from (bad) artists, paneled juries — with people whose credentials are unknown to the rest of us (perhaps they are merely business associates, or friends, or the jury could be a retarded chimpanzee and a lukewarm pot of coffee, we don’t know) — and they decided how these municipal features should be decorated. Bully for them for taking charge of a beautification program, because that’s exactly what I’m doing and I’d love nothing more than to paper one of these ugly sons of bitches, but I won’t. The artists who painted them have already left their mark, and no matter how terrifically repugnant I find any one of these boxes (although, some of them are real nice; there’s a lovely one, painted with chairs and tables in a very van Gogh style, on 30th and El Cajon, in front of a furniture store), I would not go over someone else’s work.
Tonight, I motor my clown car past the North Park Water Tower. It rises above Howard Street and Idaho Street, sentry and epicenter of the cracked sidewalk, asphalt grit, and green-grass playgrounds of uptown. Tomorrow night will be the real thing, and my guts tingle with anticipation.
Informative How-To Section
Here’s what you need for making multicolor stenciled posters:
An X-Acto knife or sharp razor-blade tool
An ink pen (a black Sharpie worked best for me);
A tablet of newsprint paper (this paper will bear the design and be pasted);
A tablet of thick paper. I chose watercolor paper that proved to be too thin. Next time I’ll use sturdy craft paper (this paper is for the stencil; ideally, it should be the same size as the newsprint);
Paint (spray paint, good old Krylon worked well for me).
Begin by designing your poster. With your Sharpie, lay out on the large pad of newsprint an approximation of how you’d like your poster to appear. A quick sketch will do.
Lay a sheet of the sturdy paper over the sketch on the newsprint. With your Sharpie, solidify the outline of the design. If you can’t see your design well, taping the two sheets of paper to a window will help. Trace along and clean up your design as you go.
For alignment with subsequent sheets of paper, ink in two dots somewhere outside the design. (Trust me, two dots smaller than a thumbprint but larger than a pen tip will do, doesn’t much matter where you put them, as long as the dots aren’t close together.)
Now. You should have a newsprint layer on bottom and on top, a craft-paper outline of your design, featuring two dots on either side.
Lay another clean sheet of craft paper down on the outline. Tape it in place if needed. Start with the dots. Recreate them on the top paper. Then outline the areas of one color. In my rocket pop example, the bottom of the pop is dark blue, just an oblong square that will be spray-painted blue through the stencil.
Remove that sheet and lay a clean one down. Repeat the last steps until you have outlines of all your colored shapes.
Now lie on your belly in your bedroom or kitchen and cut out each block of color from its sheet of paper, using the X-Acto knife or razor-blade tool. Cut out the little dots on each sheet too.