Painting Trails by Bicycle

This is a recipe for leaving trails of paint on streets and sidewalks. These can lead to buried treasure or secret rendezvous points, chart surprise parade routes, or outline figures and characters that can only be made out by people willing to track the trails on a map—believe us, it happens!
You will need ( tools or supplies ): 
bicycle
bucket
two-by-four
waterproof glue
screws
washers
tubing
standard-size milk crate
cable ties
cork or plumbing valve
paint
drill
screwdriver
sandpaper
Step

Get a bucket. I found a great one—the same diameter as the standard five-gallon, but shorter. You can use a five-gallon bucket and cut it down to a reasonable size, but you’ll have to find a way to seal the top so paint doesn’t slosh out. Remember to poke a small hole in the lid so a vacuum won’t build up.

Step

Cut a square block from the two-by-four.

Step

Slather the top of the block with a generous helping of waterproof glue—construction adhesive will work nicely.

Step

Fasten the block to a flat place in the bottom of the bucket, off center, by screwing through the inside of the bucket into the block. Drill pilot holes to avoid splitting the wood, and use washers so the screw heads won’t pop through the plastic.

Step

Get some tubing. After a lot of trial and error, we settled on white plastic tubing that was flexible but hard. We got it in the plumbing section. A half-inch inside diameter provides a good rate of flow—producing a stream of paint about a quarter inch wide when you bicycle at approximately seven miles per hour—but you could go bigger.

Step

Drill a hole in the bottom of the bucket, through the center of the block of wood. The hole should be the same diameter as the outside of the tubing you have chosen.

Step

Use coarse sand paper or a rasp to rough up the surface on the outside of the top two inches of your tube.

Step

Coat the inside of the hole and the outside of the tube with plenty of waterproof glue, using a brand that sticks to plastic and wood. Stick the tube into the hole until it is flush with the inside of the bucket. Let this dry thoroughly before you move it.

Step

Mount a milk crate very securely to your bike rack. Cut out a part of the bottom of the crate to accommodate the block and tube. A five-gallon bucket fits perfectly in most milk crates. Attach the bucket to the crate firmly—paint is heavy!

Step

Use cable ties to fasten the tube in place. We fastened a steel rod to the seat-stay to guide the tube to just above street level and hold it firmly behind where the back wheel touched the road.

Step

Your savage street smarts should tell you not to start or finish your line right in front of your secret hideout. Stop up the end of the tube with a custom-shaped cork or piece of rubber; you should duct-tape the cork into place, because all that paint will apply a lot of pressure. If you feel tricky, add a plumbing valve to the end of the tube—of course there’s one made to fit your tubing. If you really want to impress, make a control for it that allows you to stop and start the flow on the fly.

Step

Paint the tube black and do something to disguise the bucket. Make it look like a bag of groceries with celery and French rolls sticking out.

Step

Use any old paint you can get. Stores have mis-mixed paint for cheap. Many cities maintain an old paint exchange, because it is so expensive to dispose of it. Take out a classified ad asking for paint donations for your art class. If the paint you get isn’t brand new, mix it well and filter it through panty hose—otherwise, gummy paint and dried bits will clog your tube immediately.

Step

Since completing the testing and development for the original version of this recipe, we’ve discovered that one can easily dumpster multi-gallon detergent containers that have a built-in spigot at the foot of one side; these might offer quite a shortcut. Come to think of it, you can get water in similar containers, though those are generally transparent and perhaps less durable. Low-tech pedestrian re-mix: pierce the bottom and top of a can of paint with a large nail, and—quick!—go for a walk.

Step

Here's an account of a time we tried this... The street arrived as a liquid; it was poured and mashed into place. Asphalt may seem solid, but it yields, listens and records. Here, parallel black streaks run past a stoplight and into the intersection; it’s a recording of tires screeching between some moment of reflex and impact. Someone died here and it was noted with a smudge of rubber—unless I’m reading it wrong and he just peeled out in a blaze of glory. Over here the asphalt is ripped open by a weed with a tiny flower screaming, “Orange!” There is a splash of windshield in the gutter, and a slick greenish stain; when cars get hurt, they bleed. And just a few feet away—thanks to that speed bump, a gallon bucket must have tipped over in the back of a painter’s truck. Now a thin trickle of robin’s egg blue follows her halfway home forever. We follow, too, until the trail turns to drips and vanishes. “It’s a starting point,” we think. Six days later, we are perched proudly on our own writing implements, a little fleet of bicycles carefully designed to leak paint. On a map of Montreal, we have drawn human figures, the outlines following streets and sidewalks; from the map, we’ve converted our drawings into written directions, and in following these we drip out drawings ten and fifteen kilometers long. An hour into our second picture, we are overtaken by flashing lights. Oh shit! We double back onto a side road then roll into the safety of a little park. Only then do we see that our pursuer was a truck, a truck painting lines! Hearts in our throats, we watch the groaning beast lay down a thick yellow no-passing zone. It is a river beside our trickles of yellow, red, and blue, but we are unabashed. Everyone works at the scale they can afford; tonight, we spare no expense.

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