How Philly street art gets made: A wheatpaste journey from the Bok to the sidewalk

Advice from the artists: “Don’t think too hard.”

Fresh Off the Desk smooths out 'Shade Queen' as it is installed in the bathroom of Tattooed Mom

Fresh Off the Desk smooths out 'Shade Queen' as it is installed in the bathroom of Tattooed Mom

MAGGIE LOESCH / For Billy Penn
maggie-headshot

If you’ve walked around Philadelphia recently, you’ve seen it. Over the past decade, it has become inescapable — in the most alluring way.

Philly’s ever-changing collection of street art is pasted on walls, trash cans, lamp posts and fire hydrants. Mailboxes, fences, sidewalks and stop signs. A grassroots supplement to the robust, government-sanctioned Mural Arts imagery that helps set the artistic tone, the city’s independent art turns public surfaces into a not-necessarily-legal collection of rotating galleries, always presenting something new to gawk at and ponder.

So how’s it done? you might wonder. How do these artists execute?

A day with Philly-based artists Yuengling Bling Bling (YBB) and Fresh Off the Desk (FOD) provides a look inside the process. The duo has been working on a new wheatpaste project called SCRAPS collection.

After meeting six months ago, the two 20-somethings (who asked that their full names be withheld) decided to combine their expertise. YBB had been collaging and wheatpasting in Philadelphia for two-plus years already, and FOD had been collaging but wanted to make the jump to street art.

Their workspace is at FOD’s day job, an architecture office in South Philly’s Bok Building.

YBB and FOD create collages with photos from LIFE magazine in an office at the Bok

YBB and FOD create collages with photos from LIFE magazine in an office at the Bok

MAGGIE LOESCH / For Billy Penn

Creating the collaborative collages consists of the duo flipping through books of old LIFE magazines, plus any other materials they can get their hands on for free or cheap.

FOD runs her finger along a collage-in-progress in her office at the Bok

FOD runs her finger along a collage-in-progress in her office at the Bok

MAGGIE LOESCH / For Billy Penn

Is there a unifying theme in their work? YBB describes it as “visual nonsense.”

The duo will flip through the mags separately and cut out people, objects and words that catch their eyes, paste a few things together, and then trade back and forth, each gluing on new additions — though not without first asking what the other thinks.

Materials for collages sit on the table at the Bok workspace

Materials for collages sit on the table at the Bok workspace

MAGGIE LOESCH / For Billy Penn

“We’re friends that both offer different things to this creative relationship,” YBB said.

'Hula Portal' from SCRAPS collection's summer series decorates a pole on Fourth Street near Pemberton

'Hula Portal' from SCRAPS collection's summer series decorates a pole on Fourth Street near Pemberton

MAGGIE LOESCH / For Billy Penn

Materials feature photos of life from the past, so the artists’ work has a vintage feel — with a heavy influence of outer space.

YBB and FOD paste 'Smoke Show' on a wall at Cecil B. Moore and Hancock Street in North Philly

YBB and FOD paste 'Smoke Show' on a wall at Cecil B. Moore and Hancock Street in North Philly

MAGGIE LOESCH / For Billy Penn

After cutting, rearranging and pasting all the pieces together, the women behind SCRAPS will scan the work into the computer and use Photoshop to touch them up. They then print both postcards and larger posters on 9” x 12” paper, the latter of which is then pasted up.

YBB has had a lot of experience in picking out where to install the works, and in the two years since she began pasting, she has not yet run into problems.

YBB (back) and FOD paste a series of five prints from the SCRAPS collection on a wall near Cecil B. Moore and Hancock in North Philadelphia

The artists often post series of prints together

MAGGIE LOESCH / For Billy Penn

Good places to post are usually where other people have already been, she said, and that art hasn’t been torn down or painted over — called getting “buffed” in the street art world.

“I make a point to try not to disrespect anyone’s property… Usually my go-to is to put stuff up where there already is something,” YBB explained. “We’re just trying to make the city look nice.”

Wheatpaste drips down 'The Look' as FOD pastes it on a building near Cecil B. Moore and Hancock in North Philadelphia

Wheatpaste drips down 'The Look' as FOD applies the sealing overcoat

MAGGIE LOESCH / For Billy Penn

To put the work on walls, the pair makes wheatpaste out of boiled water and flour, and uses a stiff-bristled brush to apply it first to the wall, then again over the poster on the wall to “seal” it.

Putting the work out into the world is the final step, and one of the most important.

Madouh Moheb, 58, looks at a newly-installed piece from SCRAPS collection at Girard and Hope as he smokes a cigarette. He said he did not understand the work's message — of which, for the artists, there is none

Madouh Moheb, 58, looks at a newly-installed piece from SCRAPS collection at Girard and Hope as he smokes a cigarette. He said he did not understand the work's message — for the artists, there isn't one.

MAGGIE LOESCH / For Billy Penn

“When you turn a corner and see an art piece on a wall, it kind of feels like you like discovered a little hidden thing,” FOD said. “I like contributing to that, and seeing people’s reactions.”

YBB (right) and FOD look at their previously-installed work next to the Percy Street Project in South Philly

YBB (right) and FOD look at their previously-installed work next to the Percy Street Project in South Philly

MAGGIE LOESCH / For Billy Penn

It’s an important to both artists to make art that is accessible to the public outside of museums and galleries.

Like other Philly street art, their work also enjoys a “home” of sorts at South Street’s Tattooed Mom. Said proprietor Robert Perry, the bar’s owner of 21 years, “You don’t have to look over your shoulder here.”

Artists Yuengling Bling Bling and Fresh Off the Desk talk with Tattooed Mom's Robert Perry. Tmom's weekly 'Sunday craft' for September will be collaging, and the artists are helping coordinate and advertise it.

Artists Yuengling Bling Bling and Fresh Off the Desk talk with Tattooed Mom's Robert Perry. Tmom's weekly 'Sunday craft' for September will be collaging, and the artists are helping coordinate and advertise it.

MAGGIE LOESCH / For Billy Penn

SCRAPS plans on producing a set of work each season; they’re currently finishing pasting the summer collection and working on creating the fall one.

Artists Fresh Off the Desk (left) and Yuengling Bling Bling pose for a portrait in front of their freshly-pasted posters

Artists Fresh Off the Desk (left) and Yuengling Bling Bling pose for a portrait in front of their freshly-pasted posters

MAGGIE LOESCH / For Billy Penn

When it comes to advice on how to interpret their work if you happen to come across it, FOD and YBB offer a simple missive: Just appreciate what you see, and “don’t think too hard.”

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