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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.