The Business of Street Art

The Business of Street Art I spent my Fourth of July with a friend at Fisherman’s Wharf, and on the way home, we passed a few different street spraypaint artists doing their thing. If you have seen one, you know what I’m talking about:

A guy wearing a gas mask is kneeling on the ground with a box of spray cans next to him and a crowd in front of him. To the rhythm of blasting hip hop and techno music he turns a blank piece of card paper a beautiful work of art in front of everyone’s eyes, using just the spray cans, and some ordinary objects (spray can covers, frisbees, strips of paper). The video below is a good example of the painting process.

I started talking to my friend, a management consultant, about the business aspects of this endeavor - and I eventually decided to write a blog post about our experience and my further thoughts.

  • Product: These guys are selling much more than just a piece of art. They are selling an experience. When you buy one of their paintings, (which in my opinion look absolutely incredible and better than a lot of CGI type stuff) you get more than just a cool thing to hang up in your house, you get a story. “I got this painting on the 4th of July in San Francisco. The guy made this on the spot for me!”
  • Competition: There were 3 groups of guys we passed, and my friend thought they were all part of the same team. Turns out, after asking one artists “promoter”, they were all different groups. Which made sense to me - if I were to run 3 such operations, I’d either put them all in one place, or spread them out over the entire area.
  • Revenue: One group was advertising the paintings “that are normally $30 for $15” because they were packing up to leave. Another group, with a smaller group, advertised their paintings for $10 a pop, but also took donations for the live performance, something the other two did not do.
  • Cost Structure: Their per artwork costs are pretty low - spray cans usage, card paper, a $25/month permit to do 7 “shows”. The start up costs are a bit higher - gas mask, plastic shield that protects audience from spray speakers to blast music, cost of learning how to do this work.
  • Consulting case-interview style analysis of profits: If they do 15 sessions a month and 4 hrs of painting per session (these things have got to get tiring), and each painting takes about 8 minutes to make + 2 mins downtime, then they could make 24 paintings a session. If they sell 40% at full price ($30*10) and 40% at half price ($15*10) = 300+150 = 450/session * 15/mo = 6750 a month.
    If they spend $1 on card paper + $3 on spray = $4/paint * 24 paint/sess * 10 sess/mo = $960 a month. If you factor $150 gas mask, $100 for plastic shield and $300/yr for random supplies + $300 for a years worth of permits, you are looking at profits of:
    (6750-9600)*12 - 850 = $68,630 a year or around $34k per person in a 2 man team. Not too shabby…
  • Training: This is not work you can just “pick up”, like caricature drawings or juggling or something. Part of the appeal is the amazement of how these incredible paintings are made without any special tools. There are a ton of “tricks” that the artists use to create the paintings, and I figured that it would be an apprenticeship model, where a younger artist would learn from a master. But the promoter told me “You just learn it on your own. You can youtube this stuff and find lessons”. I couldn’t find any free lessons, but there are definitely some paid DVDs for learning to make this stuff.

Bottom-line: this was just a fun look at some of the non-standard ways of making money that are not normally analyzed in business terms. Hope you found this interesting and perhaps a little insightful.