Graffiti Fence Name Designs

Middle School Students enjoy doing creative interpretations of their name, and exploring the art of graffiti lettering is always a hit. When I saw a lesson in one of my art teacher Facebook groups that incorporated a “fence” made from popsicle sticks as the surface for student graffiti art, I knew it would be a winner in my classroom. Thanks to Brian White, Middle School Teacher in Davenport, Iowa for the inspiration!

We began this lesson by watching a video on street artists and having a discussion about the movement. It’s important to stress that Graffiti is vandalism, and we were sure to accentuate the difference between exploring the style of graffiti art on paper versus on private property without permission. Many communities now designate areas where graffiti is tolerated or allowed, and urban art murals allow many street artists to showcase their talents in a legal way… and get paid! There is a lot to explore on the internet on this subject. One video I found concise and informative was this segment from CBS nightly news. It is succinct and makes for good class discussion.

The first thing we did was work out our Name designs on paper. This video by art teacher Rebecca Speech breaks down how to turn ordinary writing into Graffiti inspired letters! Although her lesson is a drawing lesson based on a “positive word” versus a name, the concept is clear and her instructions on how to create graffiti style letters are easy to follow! Watch all the way through adding a fun drip effect around your word: 30 seconds in to approximately 3:40 is what is relevant.

Important! It’s important to pre-plan how big your fence is going to be. I knew we’d be making a fence with 12-13 popsicle sticks that was about 10” wide and 6” high, so I created a rectangular paper template that would help the students design their name the correct size.

Here is one student’s name sketches: (I ask them to make two variations to choose from)

Next, we made our fences! The slide show below shows the basic steps of how we did this: Lay the desired amount of sticks vertically, with enough cross-pieces on the back to support the structure. Heavy Duty snips can be used to cut the sticks if necessary. I used Alene’s Tacky glue, set out in cups and applied with swabs, to assemble the fence. (This prevents students from “over-gluing”). The next day, students painted their fence with full strength or watered-down acrylic paint, based on whether they wanted a wood grain showing or an opaque, solid appearance.

When the fence was assembled and dry, and the name design was complete on paper, we used good old fashioned carbon paper to transfer the Graffiti image to the fence! The kids were amazed that the simple pressure of a pen traced over their name could be enough to imprint the image on the fence. I inherited some packs of carbon paper when I started at my school 20 years ago, and it still works great! Gotta Love that old school “technology”— though trying to explain how carbon paper functioned with a typewriter to this generation of students produces a lot of blank stares… 🙂

Color came next! (Most exciting new material in my classroom: Posca Paint Pens!) We started by Sharpie-ing  over the transferred outlines, just to make it easier to see. The basic rules we followed when using the Posca Paint pens was “background to foreground”: Start with the drip/splatter background, then do the letters, finish with the outlines and any surface reflections or “shine” effects you desire. Students also were required to add at least one “bonus feature” in their extra space, and I had various handouts of graffiti doodles from which to draw inspiration.

This slide show shows my sample project through the transfer and color steps:

Once our fences were complete, it was time to make the base. We used rigid insulation foam for this.  One 4’ by 8’ sheet was enough to make over one hundred 3” by 10” bases. I bought the ½” thickness and it was easy to score and snap with a utility knife. This step was a little labor intensive, and I pre-cut the bases for the kids, as I did not feel up to the challenge of teaching X-acto skills to a large class of 7th graders. I also cut a narrow v-shaped trough in each piece in which we inserted the fence. The kids did distress their own base prior to painting, however, by using their fingertips to break away small chips. This gave the cubic pieces more of an organic appearance. On the day we painted, I set up my six tables with variations of green and brown acrylic paint. Students moved to one table and brushed their base a solid color, then moved to a second table and sponged on a second, contrasting color. The variations achieved by mixing and matching just six color options was pretty cool!

The slide show below shows the bases in various stages of completion:

Last but not least, we hot-glued the completed fence into the dried foam base. Students had the option of hot-gluing pebbles, stones, or small pieces of fake plants to their base to complete the look of their graffiti fence scene! This project was a complete HIT with my middle schoolers, who begged to be able to take them home right away! I’m definitely grateful for my online art teacher Facebook groups, which are a wonderful forum from which to draw lesson inspiration. Have fun trying this with your students.

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