Love: Weird, Wonderful, & Wanted

Summer of Love.

The story of street art going terribly wrong and terribly right.

I’ve been putting this love stamp design on a few of buildings lately so I figured I’d take this time to explain the design, talk about the process of wheatpasting, and then drop a shameless plug for you to buy a print of it.

Love Park RIP.

Skateboarding has had a major influence on my “design career” since I was 13. My entire goal during my teenage years was to get in Transworld or Thrasher or anything at all for that matter. But as I got older and covered my walls in posters, the less I wanted to be in the pictures and the more I wanted to be taking them and designing the layouts. I didn’t know this was called design at the time, but I wanted to do it regardless. Anyway, I grew up skating at this place called Chem Plant in South Jersey (RIP), which was sort of a makeshift mediocre skatepark, so it was always a real treat to go into the city and skate a real spot, Love Park (also RIP). The perfect ledges. The gap to barriers or over trashcans. The lifted granite tiles. The fountain gap. The hype. Everything. It really was a skater’s paradise. You could see living legends just rolling around like it’s no big deal.

I drew that sign over and over and over again. I made stamps of it. I had framed prints of it in all different colors. I went to museums just to look at paintings of it. My life revolved around that silly, much smaller in person, sculpture. To me it meant skateboarding and skateboarding was my life.

The former Love Park. (Robert Indiana, 1976)

Fast forward 10 years to current Mike. I skate much less after rupturing my spleen, breaking my collar bone twice, and the final nail in the coffin knocking out my two front teeth. (Hey, I ended up getting on Transworld though.) From time to time I would walk through Love Park and pretend that I could still hang, but who am I kidding, these kids are insane now.

Anyway, back to the story, I met a girl and we decided to get married! We were working on collateral for the wedding and our main goal was to not make anything cheesy. Usually the second you slap the word love on anything it’s immediately mushy and bogus.

I thought about it for awhile and was like oh, duh. I’ve been drawing this Love sculpture my entire life. Why not pay homage to something that was such a huge part of my life and the city we love together? It was a no brainer. I tried a few variations but once I stretched the “O” over the top space and I saw the heart in the “V” I was like….o damn, this is it. And the second I made it, I felt the urge to put this on every single thing I could. I want it on walls. I want posters. I want pins. I want it on a quilt. I want it all. And we made it all.

A one-off version framed & printed by Artifact Uprising.
A lapel pin for our wedding guests.

How to wheatpaste.

I get asked questions about pasting a lot so I’m just going to write it all out here. It’s probably not the “right” way to do it, but it’s how I do it.

Step 1. Scope out a space you’d like to paste at and measure it. There are a few unspoken rules: Don’t paste over anyone else’s art, don’t paste on people’s windows or houses, and don’t be a dick.

Step 2. Design or draw whatever you want your poster to be.

Step 3. Print out your piece on a laser jet printer. DO NOT USE INK JET, I’ll show you an example of what happens to it later on. If you’re working with a huge piece, you can just tile it across 11 x 17 or pay a butt load at FedEx to get it printed on a few giant sheets. Saves a ton of time and costs a ton of money.

Step 4. Cut out your piece from the 11 x 17 sheets.

Step 5. Put it all together to make sure you’re not missing any pieces.

Step 6. Divide the piece in half and use very small pieces of scotch tape to tape your half together as a unit. This gets really challenging the bigger your piece gets. If you’re working huge just break it down into quarters. I usually divide it in half just because it’s easier to manage when putting it up. It would be too massive to have the whole thing taped together at once.

Step 7. Get some paste. It’s literally just wallpaper paste. You can get it from Lowe’s. Scoop some fat brushes while you’re there. I’ve had terrible experiences using rollers in the past. They just bring the whole thing down.

Step 8. Figure out how you want to start: left to right, right to left, top to bottom, or bottom to top. Then start pasting. I usually put a coat on the wall itself, place the paper over top, then seal it with another layer of paste on the paper. The paper will get super saturated and become very flexible. This can be great for wiggling it into place but watch for tears and whatnot. Feel free to use your hand to push out any bubbles.

Step 9. Keep going through that process until your entire piece is up. Go back and look for dry spots or places that may need some touching up and just hit it with the goopy worms (aka wheatpaste).

Step 10. If you want your paste to stay up for a long time you can take an x-acto blade and make cuts through the whole piece that way if someone tries to tear it down it will just end at the cut rather than taking a big chunk down.

That is literally all there is to it. No tricks. Nothing crazy. It works just like putting wallpaper up in your house.

23rd Street.

This piece was really fun. It’s right around the corner from my house and it’s on a building that has been condemned ever since I can remember. Chara and I walked by it every day and for about a year I was like dang, it would be so sick to put something there. But I hadn’t pasted in years and I didn’t really have much spare time on my hands. All excuses. So once the love stamp was made I was like yes, that will go there and it will fit perfectly.

I wanted it to be super bright and colorful. We don’t have a ton of murals on this side of Fairmount, so I really wanted to make it count. I ended up making this super weird 60’s feeling background that just felt so right for the space. And that’s how that tagline came into being.

Love: Weird, Wonderful, & Wanted.

Sometimes you find love in these weird little places and it surprises you. That was the entire concept of the piece. Then we started developing other little phrases to go with it. I had an idea that I wanted to go through every letter of the alphabet and relate it to love using alliteration techniques. Who knows maybe it will still happen?

Nightmare on Front Street.

(Quoted from Amberella.)

After I put up the paste on 23rd street, I got a message from my bud Kyle Huff from Honeygrow asking if I was interested in pasting on one of his walls for the Front Street Walls project. I was a little hesitant just because I’m not a fan of any kind of expectation when it comes to this stuff. I’m not an artist and I don’t really know what I’m doing. And boy, did that come through on this one.

Troy & I struggling. Photo: Kyle Huff

I designed another Love Stamp mural with a different background and color scheme specifically for the space. My buddy Troy Memis helped out and it all ended up going to shit. We noticed that the stucco walls were really not taking the paste very well. It was like the walls were coated in anti-paste paint. The paper would just get drenched and fall to the ground. Not only that, but we printed on an ink jet printer so all of the colors started to rub off as we were putting it up. This is the point I was talking about earlier; ink jet printing will not work for pasting. Ever.

This is me crying but you can’t tell. Photo: Kyle Huff
Done? Photo: Kyle Huff

We muscled through it and got the entire piece to stay up. It actually looked pretty decent for what it was worth. The caption under this one had a little bit of foreshadowing in it. Love: Brilliant, Beautiful, & Brutal. We had no idea just how brutal it would be.

So we left it as it was for a bit and it ended up on some fashion blog, Lark & Lace. You can see how faded it got over time.

I think it rained for a solid week and then Kyle hit me up and was like, “Listen, it’s falling off the wall and fading in some spots to the point where you can’t even tell what it was.” So I was like okay, I guess I have to paint this freakin thing now. Sidenote: I’ve never painted a mural before, because it’s hard and time consuming. I pretended I knew what I was doing and went to Lowe’s to scoop some beautiful paint. I got some deep deep deep forest greens, a poppy blue, and some mustard-ish colors. Tryna keep it mid-century.

The bad boy.

We headed over to Front Street and were greeted with utter garbage. The thing looked bad. Very bad. I was embarrassed that I was even associated with it. We developed a game plan that we would try to use the current piece as a stencil and then take it apart piece by piece. That ended up taking two days. Two days of hell.

Taped off.

It was 0% fun. 100% terrible. Big shouts go to Nick Vicente for helping out and not complaining once about this trash task. It was feeling really bad. Some pieces were barely stuck to the wall while others were literally never coming off…ever. We were scraping pieces off with an x-acto blade. No lie, inch by inch. THEN, once we got to painting the background color we started rolling over some of the old paper that we spent the whole day scraping and miraculously they wanted to fall off of the wall, in gigantic chunks. Mad doesn’t even begin to explain it. The sun was setting so we called it a day and went home. Pissed as heck.

Not mad, just disappointed. (End of day one)

The next morning we went back at 8AM and started all over again. We put another coat over the letters and painted the background a darker green. This thing was starting to come together. We kept using the existing piece as a stencil, peeling back layer after layer. We cleaned up all the little notches of the stamp. We taped off every corner and tried to make it as sharp as we possibly could. And once we peeled all of that tape off it was beautiful. Really beautiful. It was simple. It was bright. But understated.

I didn’t want it to have that “street art” feel where there’s a million things going on and some sort of heavy message. It was just meant to feel like clarity. To feel like art that happens to be on the street. I wanted people to be drawn in to the textures and the colors. Those textures tell such a story that no one really knows until you read this post. Just like love itself, there are so many weird layers to it and you don’t know until you go through it.

Misery. Photo: Kyle Huff
Nick Vicente hitting that E. Photo: Kyle Huff
Details. Photo: Kyle Huff
Photo: Kyle Huff
“I can’t believe this took two days.”

Love Stamp Print.

I was approached by Ryan Tempro of M.C. Pressure to see if I was interested in collaborating on a print. He had recently bought a new press and wanted to push the limits of it.

I had been toying with the idea of releasing a print, but had no idea how to get it done properly. Should I do digital prints? Screen Prints? Letterpressing might be too expensive…and so on. So I kind of tossed it on the back burner until this opportunity came up. I sent Ryan the file and he was like, “Hell yes, let’s do it.” And so we did. We tried to keep the price as low as we possibly could. It’s a limited run of 50. (We might print more colors in the future depending on how this sells, but we will never print these colors again). $20 + free shipping. You can scoop yours here.

That’s all, thanks for listening.