Thistle Street: Art On The Street Event

9 May, 2018

Chris talking to Thistle Street visitors about his epic Tam o’Shanter mural.

Bringing Art to Thistle Street

Recently I was approached by the Thistle Street Residents Committee to help with ‘Art on the Street’, a new public event celebrating the central Edinburgh street. Planned in 1767 as part of James Craig’s design and named after the national flower of Scotland, Thistle Street’s current residents and businesses wanted to create a unique Bank Holiday Monday experience that showcased all that the Georgian street has to offer.

Visitors walking past the Hogmanay mural installed on Thistle Street.

For me, Thistle Street seemed like the perfect place to show a selection of my Scottish-themed murals. Some of these paintings are so big that they need an extremely large wall space in order to appreciate them, and the long stone walls of Thistle Street offered the perfect opportunity to do this.

The Porteous Riot mural installed on Thistle Street.

A Hook for Bank Holiday Monday

At an early planning meeting it was clear that residents and businesses alike were excited at the prospect of a vibrant new event on the street. Plans were afoot to bring music and art to the event, but as a dad myself, I felt that content and activities for children was a wee bit lacking. In order for families to want to visit, I knew that there needed to be a “hook”, and with this in mind, I came up with the bright idea of a colouring event for the children. I have a lot of previous experience working with kids on large scale projects, and so I came up with the idea of having them chalk the streets, but with enough structure and focus that the drawings were appropriate for the event.

Chris applying washable chalk spray paint to one of his large scale transfers, which children could colour in later.



I designed some large scale Celtic shields – massive stencils that I could apply to the street with temporary chalk spray and which would create a long border down the road. We then successfully trialled it at an open studios event at Custom House, using the alley behind our studio and coaxing young visitors to take part.

Single board painting “Cannon” outside Thistle Sandwich Bar on Thistle Street.
Grassmarket Penny Farthing painting adding atmosphere to Thistle Street.

On the morning of the event I lined the street with a number of my board murals. We were blessed with extraordinarily gorgeous weather and no wind, so we took advantage of this with metres of murals placed against the Georgian stone buildings.

The epic murals are dwarfed by the Georgian stone buildings of Thistle Street.

My Tam o’Shanter mural (which consists of 8 boards measuring a total of 22 metres long by 2 metres high) and the massive Hogmanay mural (the entire image is 22 metres long by 2 metres high) were put at either end of the street to set the scene. In the middle of the length of Thistle Street I curved my Maggie Dickson mural like a small stage, and throughout the day I told Maggie’s lurid story to interested passersby. Peppered along the street were other counterpoint murals, including the 1736 Porteous Riots, and several pirate paintings.

Chris installing his Maggie Dickson mural on Thistle Street in the morning. The double-sided historical mural can be exhibited in a variety of ways, creating an amphitheatre-like set up, perfect for storytelling.

The chalk colouring project was a big success with waves of children getting stuck in (while their relieved parents enjoyed a seat on the sunny side of the street) and the cobbled streets looked resplendent by the end of the day.

A view from one of the upper flats on Thistle Street showing the temporary chalk murals created by visiting children during the event.

As well as me, the street was filled with other artists and their work. In particular, the nearby Edinburgh Drawing School set up shop and had a live drawing class where visitors of all ages could get some hands-on teaching in the sunshine.

Children working on the street murals with large sticks of chalk.
Visitors enjoying the sunshine and interactive art projects available during the Bank Holiday Monday event on Thistle Street.

There was also a range of live music filtering through the street, which provided added further ambience, and the passersby, visitors and residents alike thoroughly enjoyed the pop up mural trail and the day in the sun.

Piper James MacDonald Reid playing Czech bagpipes during the Thistle Street event.
Chris telling the lurid story of “Half-Hangit Maggie” Dickson to Thistle Street visitors.

Categories: Art, Murals, Scotland

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