Painting The Town Painting The Town

Reviving the art of hand-painted ads, Good Looking Studio have done much to transform the walls of Poland since launching in 2008. Co-founder Karol Szufladowicz talks about his work…

WI: Wall murals cost way more than standard billboards, so why are advertisers falling over themselves to hire you guys?
KS: When something is 100% hand-painted by a group of artists then of course it’ll cost more than some vinyl material digitally covered in ink. A large-scale mural might take a week or more to complete, while a standard banner can be printed in hours… but ask yourself, would you stop to watch a normal ad being erected? I certainly wouldn’t. But in our case, people stop to see what we’re painting and watch us work. They smile, point at us, clap their hands or show their respect and appreciation. And, of course, they take photos that end up all over the internet. That’s the difference between hand-painted murals and normal adverts – they strike an emotional angle, and that alone makes this form of advertising very successful. Moreover, the media love it which further builds PR and strengthens an ad campaign. It’s not so easy to achieve the same results with a standard billboard and that’s why advertisers are willing to pay more for our services.

What makes a successful mural?
First, you’ve got to ask what the objective of a particular mural is – is it being created to sell a product, to beautify the city or to inform the public about a social problem? Once the reason is identified you need to choose the content and the right visual language. Further, the context of the mural is key – if there’s no relationship to the surroundings then it’s impact becomes smaller. And, of course, it needs to be executed by highly skilled artists that know how to paint the image in question: otherwise, even the best ideas won’t work if they’re not painted properly.

What’s the process behind creating a mural?
On average, a large-scale wall will take between four to seven days to paint, but that’s actually the shortest aspect of our work. It takes a lot more time to gain the required permits and design a good layout – though quite often we’ll execute projects that have already been designed by a client. Project management is crucial as careful preparation can save a lot of time and money once it comes to the execution phase, and that’s especially true when we’re working on a few murals simultaneously. Depending on the layout, each project will then be painted by a team of between two to five artists. Imagine painting ten big walls in a month, each wall being approximately five floors high, and each mural featuring about 30 different colors: that’s a hell of a lot of paint – like a big truck or two. Mixing all that paint takes a lot of time.

Tell us about your painters…
Wall painters are known around the globe as wall dogs – their safety harnesses are attached to a scaffold or lift, so they’re basically like leashed dogs. They don’t have an easy job – they’re out there whatever the weather: minus 10 or plus 30, it doesn’t matter, so they need to be strong, both physically and mentally. There isn’t room for compromise in the ad industry, so we work 365 days per year to keep as competitive as we can – our team understand that and they’re ready to make those sacrifices. Our wall dogs are mostly qualified artists with a degree, but having a bit of paper to your name definitely isn’t enough to join us. Painting a large wall is something you learn with time: it’s completely different to working on a canvas in a comfortable studio.

Are there any works you’re especially proud of?
Many! Actually, what’s really helped us develop is our determination to break boundaries and push our limits. Sometimes that can just mean landing a contract with a big international brand that we haven’t cooperated with before. Other times it’s the size of a mural and a perfectly executed design. We also love non-standard projects, for example, video-mapping or producing the biggest ecological mural in the world (made by aiming a high-pressure water jet at the dirty wall of a massive dam). This month we also painted two murals with UV paint so that they glow at night. We love being the first to do these things in Poland, and that motivates us to keep pushing onwards.

Where’s the industry headed?
It’s still developing. Our work is in huge demand, so while it’s neither digitalized nor standardized it is modern in its thinking. Because so much around us is machine-made or computer-generated, people are yearning for a return to handmade things. That’s what we offer and that’s why brands want us to work with them – we do tailor-made projects that are highly individual.

What have you learned since you started?
My business partner, Bartek Leśniewski, and I, started Good Looking Studio ten years back. In the beginning we were strictly a ‘garage company’, just the two of us with one table and a couple of computers. But we believed in our idea. It took us a year to paint the first mural, so what we learned was that nothing comes easy. You either move on an idea quickly, or someone else will beat you to it. Most of all, we’ve learned that if you really believe in something, then never give up. Keep on going even when the wind is blowing the sand in your eyes!

For more on Good Looking Studio, see: goodlooking.pl

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