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Anyone can become a street artist. A street artist is simply someone who does or displays art in public spaces. Often there is an element of the subversive in street art. Street artists are often involved in groups that stage political protests, but street art is not always political. A street artist may be motivated by promoting free expression, provoking thought, humor, or drawing attention to something.
A street artist’s work may be illegal, or it may be commissioned privately or publicly. Some cities are known for their thriving street art scenes. Some street artists attain commercial success as artists and designers based on their earlier street art, but in general, it is difficult to make a living as a street artist.
A street artist can work in many different mediums. A traditional type of street art is graffiti, which is done with aerosol spray paint. Graffiti, unless done by request on privately owned surfaces, is usually illegal. Graffiti artists are well known for working under the cover of darkness, in spaces that are difficult and dangerous to reach. Murals, or wall paintings, are another type of street art. Because murals take a lot of time and effort to produce, they are often commissioned artworks.
Pavement or sidewalk art is often drawn with chalk on public sidewalks. Chalk street artist Julian Beever, for example, recreates famous paintings and complicated 3D drawings in public spaces. One benefit - and disadvantage - of chalk street art is that it washes away in the rain.
Other types of street art include stickers and wheatpasting, which involves pasting posters or other emblems in public places. Stencils are often used by street artists, as well as mosaic tiles and video installations. A street artist may also stage performances, or organize “flash-mobs,” spontaneous gatherings of people that perform specific acts. For example, a flash-mob in San Francisco involved hundreds of people converging over the course of several hours on a downtown plaza to pillow fight.
Street artists often have local networks you can tap into if you want to learn more about your local street art scene and meet other street artists. The internet is a good resource for this, as are local art schools. Some cities, such as New York, USA; Melbourne, Australia; Bristol, UK; Berlin, Germany; and Sao Paulo, Brazil; are known internationally for their vibrant street art scenes.
Some forms of street art are illegal, and this fact may be an important element of the art. If a street artist does not want to break the law to display his or her art, however, it is worthwhile to look at the city or town’s municipal codes regarding vandalism and what is permitted in public spaces, as these vary widely by locale.
@Engelbert makes a good point; you can employ a lot of the practices of street art but you don't necessarily have to vandalize anything and break the law. I've gotten good results from making stencils and spray painting on canvas.
To make a stencil, go to a scrapbooking or craft store and pick up an x-acto knife. Make the image you want to convert into a stencil in software like Adobe Illustrator and print it out. There are a lot of different types of card you can use to make a stencil, but personally I've found the clear sheets of plastic your high school teachers would have used for drawing on the projector to be the easiest to cut through while still being resilient. My mom is a teacher, so she gets them for me. Tape your printed stencil to the plastic and cut away. The rest should be self explanatory.
Even though it's illegal, there are some famous street artists who have managed to make the transition from street artists to respected contemporary artists in their own right. Some notable ones include Shepard Fairey who designed the "Hope" poster for the Obama '08 election campaign and the infamous English artist Banksy who just made his first film about street art called Exit Through The Gift Shop.
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