Filed under: Art Pranks, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Instructionals, Pranksters
Most billboards are wheat-pasted posters, coming in two standard sizes, the most common being 12 x 22 feet. These are the billboards you see atop taller buildings and along the highway. The freestanding billboard of this size can be accessed with a 12 foot ladder. To access the ones atop buildings, you need to get up on the roof to get down to the scaffold. The other standard size is 5 x 11 feet. These are referred to as “pedestrian” billboards, usually attached to the sides of buildings in the inner city or freestanding along roads inside city limits. They tend to be easy to access with a small ladder. There are billboards much larger than 12 x 22, but these are generally hand-painted or custom vinyl. I would recommend against these, as they are far more expensive to replace.
I prefer to post billboards during the day, as it arouses less suspicion, but if you choose to work by night, you might want to kill the lights. The older style billboards have two florescent light fixtures mounted on top. For these you want to open the fuse box generally located on the supports. It requires a special tool, but a fork will do nicely. Inside the box is a timer. Rotate the knob until the lights go out. The newer billboards have a single floodlight mounted on the walkway. Just toss a jacket over it. Be sure to get the lights going again when you are finished so people can see your handiwork.
You’ll need wheat paste (often called wallpaper paste), paint rollers, a 12 foot ladder, 12 feet of cloth rope, and a five gallon bucket. You will also need thick porous paper. I use seamless backdrop paper, the type used by photographers to create uniform backgrounds in shots of models or products. It can be purchased at photo supply stores for around $30 per roll. Photographers also regularly throw it out when it becomes soiled with the models’ footprints. Check their dumpsters or ask them to save it for you. They are generally receptive to the idea, especially if they like your art. Most any paint that doesn’t remain water-soluble after drying will do. Acrylic is excellent but rather expensive. Oil based enamel is great but a bit toxic. Spray paint is also good for certain effects. Oil pastels are good for creating photorealistic elements.
Most real billboard posters wear jeans and a t-shirt. Sometimes the shirt might sport the logo of the billboard company or a slogan like “Do It Outdoors” or “Billboard Painters Get High Everyday.” Some companies have their billboard posters wear florescent reflective vests like the ones highway construction workers wear. I would recommend against this. You don’t want to stand out. A white painter’s jumpsuit would work. I’ve never seen a billboard poster wear one, but it’s what people would expect to see. Why disappoint? Final note about clothing: You might want to wear shoes with velcro straps. They usually take away your shoelaces in jail.
You will need about two gallons of wheat paste per 12 x 22 foot billboard, half that for the smaller size. Add three gallons of warm water into your five gallon bucket. Lightly dust the surface of the water with the wheat paste. Mix and repeat until the paste is the thickness of pancake batter. Bring along two paint rollers on 6 foot poles. Roll up your billboard, marking up and down on the backside corners. You don’t want to have to figure out which way is up at the location. You will need at least one helper, preferably two. If you are doing a billboard on the side of a tall building, you should tie the rope to the handle of the bucket and lower it down to your partner. Once you and your partners are on the billboard scaffold, the first person will begin rolling out wheat paste onto the billboard. Slop it on liberally and put a little on the beginning edge of the billboard to help it stick better. After person one has about five feet of glue rolled out, person two will position the poster at the edge and begin rolling it over the existing billboard. The third person will roll the paste over the newly posted billboard’s surface, making sure it sticks. The top corners are the most critical. Person one continues rolling out glue to the other side, followed by person two with the billboard, and person three, rolling the final layer of glue over the finished piece. Don’t worry about wrinkles, as they tend to stretch out when the glue dries. Your time on the billboard should be only a few minutes. Vacate the area quickly. People watching often will be tickled with your efforts and want to engage you. Be polite and friendly, but don’t linger. You have just committed a crime.
You might consider doing an add-on or what is often referred to in billboard liberation circles as a correction or modification: you work with the billboard that is already there by adding or subtracting text or altering images to create new meanings. Scout out the billboards in your area. If you see words you want to alter, measure and photograph them so you can match the font and size. Bring along an exacto knife and cut out a half-inch sample to match the color. I think you’ll find a lot of billboard advertisements leave themselves wide open to such interventions.
Nine Tips for Avoiding Arrest:
Unfortunately, this activity is illegal, but there are some precautions you can take.
1. Work in daylight hours. It’s far less suspicious.
2. Don’t bring too many people or linger too long.
3. Keep your billboards professional looking.
4. A camera crew can actually alleviate suspicion. Tell the police, “We’re making a video.”
5. Create work orders using the billboard company’s logo in advance. Include your own phone number. Put a message on your machine like, “You have reached Outdoor Systems. Please call back during business hours.” Also consider having a friend wait by the phone to play your boss.
6. If you are spotted by the police, continue working at the pace of a minimum wage employee of a billboard company.
7. Talk directly to the police in a friendly, unconcerned tone, and have your partners walk off. After all, you just post ‘em for minimum wage and are happy for the diversion provided by the police.
8. If an arrest does occur, it’s better to absorb blame yourself and leave the others to bail you out.
9. If possible, run like hell.
© Ron English