Paint > Vinyl

In an age where media preferences are in a constant state of flux, one traditional medium has experienced a recent revival. Hand-painted murals have been springing up all over the country by surprisingly hip brands in surprisingly hip places. Once a standard channel for advertising, murals went out of fashion in the 1970’s due to technological advancements that made it cheaper and less time consuming to produce out of home ads. Murals, from production to finished product, create a buzz among consumers that is often hard to achieve with traditional billboards.

The brainchild of two Brooklyn-based graffiti artists, Colossal Media has become the country’s foremost authority when it comes to hand-painted advertisements. Seen in 18 cities, Sky High is growing exponentially; not bad for a couple of guys who based a business around arguably the most expensive and least sustainable form of large-scale advertising. Co-owner Paul Lindahl notes that real estate is a crucial piece of this very complicated process.

“The market will dictate how much a location costs, so something that costs $10,000 in New York might cost $6,000 in Austin Texas, or $4,000 in Portland, Or. It’s really about being super aware and knowledgeable about what a market can bear. There’s no handbook on how to be a successful hand-painted advertising company, because, as everybody knows… it wasn’t successful. It pretty much died because there are easier ways to do things.”

The revival of hand-painted ads rides on the heels of street art’s induction into mainstream media. The signs turn building exteriors into outdoor galleries, offering a less-overt alternative to traditional billboards. Although sign painting has been around for over a century, its recent rebirth is due to younger brands such as Redbull, Vans, Comedy Central, Adidas, Virgin America, and countless beer and liquor businesses. There is a certain guerilla feel to a hand-painted ad in an unlikely location; which makes brands appear livelier and more avant garde.

Lindahl believes it takes a decade to become a truly great sign painter. Creating photorealistic pieces for the masses does not come easy, and artists work tirelessly to gain a genuine command for their craft. Emphasizing quality over quantity is something we can appreciate at R/West. It’s not always the easiest or most efficient method, but if it tells a unique story and reaches the right audience, it will ultimately cut though the clutter.

For more on this craft check out Malcolm Murray’s beautiful documentary Up There that chronicles the history, tradition, and grueling process behind hand-painted signage.


Written by: Paris Hughes