A Sign of the Times: Getting Creative Indoors & Out

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We’ve grown accustomed to doing our job in unpredictable conditions: polar vortexes, heatwaves, shootouts (yeah, that happened once). It all comes with the territory. But what happens when out-of-home is no longer home sweet home?

On March 22 we were elbow-deep in another dope display of Adult Swim weirdness when the government started taking action against COVID-19. Social distancing, stay-at-home protocols, corporate shutdowns. As a media company, we were deemed essential business and allowed to keep working. But with so many unknowns we also had to take action, especially with the safety of our crew and integrity of our clients as top priorities. So we packed up our brushes, lowered our lifts, and started problem-solving. 365, right? All days, always is still our mantra, ain’t it? Hell yeah, and we’re always up for a good challenge.

We gave Adult Swim a head’s up that production had shifted and new ideas were brewing. We’ve got history together: Nearly ten years of creative partnership and three permed walls that have resulted in dozens of attention-grabbing campaigns. The wall we were painting, in Williamsburg at N. 11 and Wythe, has been in the Adult Swim family for three years and is known to bring crowds (like the time Taylor Swift and her fans descended on the wall). With history, loyalty, and commitment in mind, we were driven to deliver against all odds.

Our partially completed wall for the show Three Busy Debras still needed the smiling faces of its namesake characters. Choosing to remain indoors, we found a socially responsible solution that also honored our craft and its past. We cut-out the portrait silhouettes onto plywood—a labor-intensive, time-consuming project—and braced them against a wall at our shop. Then we got to work with our usual process: rolling out the pattern, arranging colors, big brush blends first, finer details next. Shortly thereafter the photo-real portraits joined the rest of the wall for what is now a flawless canvas.

This was a first for us—working inside for a project that lives outside—but there’s a lineage to this method. As Liam McWilliams, our head of paint and production, puts it, “We went with boards to harken back to old billboard painting that happened in a warehouse before being installed outdoors. Back in the day, a billboard was installed or added to a structure. Painted walls were usually super-simple one-offs. Our approach to this Adult Swim wall mixed both histories and techniques to get the job done.”

Not only was grade A execution on our mind, but we had to make sure that our crew was next-level safe under new CDC guidelines. Interestingly enough, this change in work-flow is also reminiscent of the hand paint days of yesteryear. Our painters stayed more than six feet apart, wore gloves and masks, and had their own scissor lifts. There were no TVs or refrigerators on Colossal lifts, like the ones guys outfitted their perches with in the mid-20th century, but the isolation and independence that defined hand paint billboard crews was back in full swing at 1109 Metropolitan Ave.

These are unpredictable times. We’re all working in a storm we have never weathered. For our team at Colossal, coming back to our craft has been a way for us to stay positive and purposeful. Even better, it’s a way for us to partner with clients to brighten up our communities during these dark times. 

The future may be uncertain and the lengths we have to go to protect ourselves at work may be more complicated than ever, but we’re up for the challenge. We’re committed to our craft and to our community. To our clients and to our partners. Together we’ll stay safe and get creative for the greater good. 

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