What is a silo?
Travelling through the wheat fields in the countryside of Australia, particularly in South Australia and Victoria, you may well pass some amazing artworks on the fronts of giant silos. These silos can be found in country towns near crop farms. Silos are large, tall towers for grain storage, traditionally next to a railway line as the trains carried the grain to locations where it was processed or shipped off for use elsewhere.
Why paint on silos?
The first silo art I saw was in Coonalpyn, a town on the main highway from Adelaide to Melbourne. These silos are still operational and tower 30 metres above the road. The artwork aims to reflect the community spirit, culture and local identity depicting some of the children from the primary school at that time. This small community hoped to rejuvenate the township through art. Well, they certainly seem to have done that! Completed in March 2017, three new businesses have opened due to travellers now stopping in the town rather than just driving through. This has created new jobs and meant the town now has a place in many people’s itineraries. It has improved their feeling of community, building relationships and developing possibilities for festivals and other social events. You can find out more about this particular project here.
Where are they?
The first silo art in Australia was created in Northam, Western Australia in 2015. If you’re interested in seeing a series of these artworks, you can follow the silo art trail. This link will also take you to further information about these artworks and how they have helped other rural communities. The most recent example I have seen is in Karoonda, South Australia - this was only completed in 2019 and is the photo I have shared above. The orange droppers on the map in this link, show the locations of silo art across Australia and also other large scale artworks, on water towers.
How do artists do this?
Guido van Helten is a large scale mural artist. Born in Brisbane, he was a graffiti artist in his youth. He created the silo art in Coonalpyn and his work is now world-renowned. His website shows examples of other projects he has been involved in around the world. It's fascinating to learn about the skilled artists who have been responsible for the many works of art on our silos across Australia. It blows my mind that they can create something so big and so beautiful. How can they draw something that is bigger than themselves? How do they do it? Well, it seems they use a process involving the initial construction of a giant grid. They obviously need what we call a cherry-picker, or similar, to reach the heights of the silo, then lots of spray paint - 200 cans for the Coonalpyn work!
Kids can create their own large scale painting
* A large sheet of A2 paper or as large as you can get (link to paper sizes)
* Colouring-in tools such as paints and brushes
* Grid construction tools such as a metre ruler
* A marker that won’t show when the painting is complete (eg pencil)
* A photo or picture (needs to be a copy or one that is OK to draw lines across for the grid)
1. Create a grid on the photo by drawing horizontal and vertical lines
- You might make these 1cm apart to limit the detail in each square
- Or maybe 2cm apart to include more detail in each square
2. Create a grid on your large, blank piece of paper
-This needs the same number of horizontal and vertical lines as on the photo or picture being copied. But these lines are a greater distance apart. If the original picture has a grid which is 8 x 9 squares then the grid on the large sheet must be 8 x 9. If the larger sheet is 42cm x 59.4cm then the vertical lines will be 5.25cm apart, with extra, unneeded space vertically. Not every element of the picture being copied needs to be reproduced so the outer squares on the larger sheet may have paint but no specific detail.
3. Start filling in detail for each square.
- If you are right handed, start in the top left corner as you might need to sit on your work to reach the top (or at least lean on it). Start top right if left handed. Or you can start in any square as long as you count the location of the square on the photo, both horizontally and vertically, then locate the square in the same position on the larger sheet.
- Observe the elements in each square of the photo, sketching the main lines into the corresponding square on the large sheet.
4. Add colour.
- When all the main lines have been drawn within each square, you can try colouring it in (realistic or abstract, detailed or scant).
5. Remove visible lines.
- When finished, remove any grid lines that have not been painted over.
How does it look?
How well have the details in each square been transposed to the large worksheet? Time to place the artwork in a prominent place at home or in the classroom. Stand back. These large scale drawings are meant to be observed from afar, to catch the eye of the unsuspecting passerby, to draw their attention. As the artist, this viewing from a distance can help guide any modifications and fine tuning needed to 'smooth' the joins, to draw the squares together as a whole. Hopefully the artwork is impressive!
Perhaps there are large scale artworks in your community or perhaps the wider area? What was their purpose? Maybe you could let us know where they are or share a link.