Bristol is well known for celebrating art on the city’s walls, but local business Graft Workshop are increasingly bringing street style murals to the great indoors. Run by husband and wife team Rob and Sophie Wheeler since 2012, Graft have been commissioned to spray numerous homes and business walls around town and they also teach graffiti skills to those who fancy giving it a go themselves. Interior design and street art may not at first be obvious bedfellows but of course this is Bristol, where anything goes.
Just like designing an interior scheme, putting a mural together requires more skill and careful thought than you might at first think. From taking a brief and researching sources of inspiration like local history, pattern design, architecture and other cultures to planning the composition, scaling up designs from preliminary sketches and perhaps preparing stencils, there is a lot that goes into a finished piece of work. I’ve always admired graffiti artists and rebellious interior designs, so I caught up with Rob to find out more about Graft Workshop.
How did you get into graffiti?
I was always drawing, from comics, from 80s colour saturated adverts, from life, and eventually from the early graffiti pieces I was seeing in magazines. My first attempts with a spraycan weren't too successful though - a can of car paint on a porous board in my parents' back garden somehow didn't turn out quite like the New York train pieces I'd seen!
Do you always use spray cans or do you use brushes or markers as well?
In my work I always use spray-cans. It's important to me that I'm making that connection with the original graffiti scene and techniques, especially while rendering a pattern inspired by a nineteenth century wallpaper! In workshops we teach people how to use markers as well as spray-cans, as they're great for the small name boards we get people creating.
What do you teach in your workshops?
We usually start with a guided tour of some of Bristol's amazing pieces, sharing a bit of background to the scene and some lesser known stories. We then get them thinking about a graffiti name, and playing with lettering styles to create a name board with paint markers. Then it's on to spray-can techniques, and having a play with freehand spray-painting as well as stencils. It's all about building self-esteem - lots of people think they can't draw, but it's a level playing field, whether it's a team of lawyers on an away day or a group of young people with learning difficulties.
How / when did you start to bring your street art style to interiors?
I had a few commissions early on for different organisations, cafes etc, but it's only since we launched Graft as a business in 2012 that I've really started to explore the potential of graffiti murals as an interior design element. I take a lot of inspiration for the Arts and Crafts and Aesthetic movements, and I love referencing designers such as William Morris (and many more!), adapting elements to reflect the history, geography and cultural heritage of the site, mixing those influences with the art of the spray-can.
If someone was to commission you for their own home / biz, what would they need to consider first?
Above all I think it's important to make sure you like the style of the artist you're commissioning, and that it chimes with what you want for your space. We have had some unusual enquiries which don't really fit with what we do! I would then ask the client if there are any elements of my other murals they particularly like, before discussing concepts and colours.
Like me you are a fan of Bristol's answer to William Morris, E. W. Godwin. How did you first hear of his work and what do you most admire about it?
I first learned about Godwin through the PRSC (People's Republic of Stokes Croft) and their campaign to save the Carriageworks building which was designed by him, and have it developed in a community-centred way. Chris Chalkley of the PRSC is a huge Godwin fan and let me pore over his Godwin library! When Milk Teeth cafe was opening at the address Godwin once lived at on Portland Square, I approached the owner Josh and proposed to paint a Godwin-inspired mural in the cafe. He loved the idea, and I'm really pleased at how it turned out.
Where else can people spot your work around Bristol?
I've recently painted commissions in Nutmeg restaurant on the Mall in Clifton, the downstairs bar of Zaza Bazaar, Easton Community Centre, St Werburghs City Farm, St Barnabas Primary School, and of course Milk Teeth.
Anything else you would like to add?
Everyone's home has a wall which could benefit from an original mural - whether it's that big white wall in your garden, one wall of the dining room, or even in your bedroom. Arts and Crafts wallpaper is hugely popular at the moment - but how many people have a lavish damask design painted by hand in spray-paint, in colours they've chosen?!
That is indeed pretty awesome Rob! Bespoke murals really are a fantastic way to add a truly unique element to a Forever Home, and unlike famous street art pieces there is no danger of someone chipping it off the wall to nick it, tagging it, or chucking protest paint all over it!
If you like the idea of owning an art wall you can commission one, or learn how to create your own smaller scale piece on a board. Just head to https://www.graftworkshop.co.uk to find out more. To visit the E.W. Godwin mural at his former home in St Paul’s head to Milk Teeth cafe