You Can Accomplish This Before Your Effing Head Explodes: Kid’s “Subway” Art

We’ve all see those lovely large wall hangings that are designed to look like “Subway Art.”

For a while, I was positively lusting after them.

But now they seem to be ubiquitous and I feel like they are rather predictable.

Not to mention, professionally crafted imitation subway signs are EXPENSIVE and even the DIY versions often require a lot of photocopying, stenciling, or special tools.

While I was sorting through some items in the basement a week or two ago, I came across a bunch of vinyl repositionable stickers.  What the eff did I buy these for in the first place?

I didn’t really want to part with them. . .But I didn’t want them hanging around much longer either. . .And as we all know, I MUST finish projects RAPIDLY, lest they linger for years. . .

So I stewed. . .

I had been itching to paint something fast and simple.

So one afternoon while Mac was napping, and I was preparing dinner, I drug an 11X14 inch canvas plus a few brushes and a few tubes of brightly colored acrylic paint from the basement to the kitchen where I could paint while keeping an eye on dinner.

Using subway art, this tutorial by the adorable and talented Elsie Larson (I modified her steps and materials), and one of my own fond memories of childhood:  Peter Pan as inspiration, I managed to create this wall hanging for Mac’s room in a matter of a few minutes over a couple of days.

Here’s How:

1.  Cover a canvas with a solid color of acrylic paint and allow it to dry.

2.  Randomly paint designs on the canvas using a variety of colored acrylics.   Do not be worried about how the canvas looks at this point.  Just make sure the layers of colors dry a bit before you apply the next one so you don’t end up with “mud.”  I painted swirls, circles, dots, etc.  If you are really uptight, try writing your name – or any words – in cursive at various angles on the canvas.  Trust me, the end result will be just perfect.

3.  Allow the entire canvas to dry well for at least 48 hours.

4.  Take the repositionable adhesive letters/stickers and arrange them on the canvas.  You can use any words you wish. . .Just make sure the sticker letters are proportionately sized to your canvas.  I didn’t bother with a straight edge or anything else of that nature. . .I just eyeballed the spacing of the letters and the arrangement of the words.

5.  Here’s what I discovered – although you might not have the same experience – The letters do not bond tightly enough to the paint covered canvas. However, they need to stick to a certain degree so you have relatively clean edges.  So I took a craft glue-stick to the letters and placed them more firmly on the canvas.  Work rapidly so the glue doesn’t fully bond to the canvas.  Also, be sure you are using a glue that dries clear.

6.  Once you have all your letters/words in place, carefully use gesso to cover the canvas.  Use a light hand so some of the original paint peeks through. . .and so you can monitor how well the lettering is holding up.  Because Mac’s walls are a taupey-sand color, I tinted my gesso just slightly to beige.  All you have to do is mix a little paint into the white gesso to tint it.

7.  Allow everything to rest for a minute or two and start peeling off the sticker letters.

8.  You could finish with varnish if desired.


The whole project probably took about 30 minutes over the course of several days.

This is a project an older child could do with your assistance.  Allow them to paint the canvas and then help them with the letters and top coat.

You could also go with a more “Traditional” look by using fewer colors or more black and white.  If you’re really picky, use a straight edge and ruler to perfectly space the letters.

If some of the gesso top coat bleeds around the letters, use a small detail brush and the colored paint to carefully clean up the edges.  However, as I’ve mentioned before, I kinda’ like the less than perfect fuzzy edges and slight imperfections.  Before you make yourself nuts, perhaps place it where you plan to hang it.  Depending on height, light, etc. those fuzzy edges might not be nearly as noticeable.

You could also use this technique on other surfaces – tables, chairs, decorative items, notebook covers, etc.

If you make something fabulous, please send me an email or shoot me a comment so I can check it out!  Have fun!


3 thoughts on “You Can Accomplish This Before Your Effing Head Explodes: Kid’s “Subway” Art

    • Ha! Thanks! Let’s save our praise to see what I get done when the kid decides a 2-3 hour daily nap isn’t working for him any longer. . .or there’s more than one kid. Ha!

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