So we thought it was only right that we searched for some in our home city. Always on the look out for activities that are unique and give back to the community we discovered a tour that combined a workshop where we got to design and cut our own stencils and spray them ourselves.
Alternative London offer original walking and bike tours around London’s east end as well as workshops. Their aim is to give a deeper insight into the history and spirit of the local community as well as the artists who work in the local area and a meaning into their work. What we love about street art is it diversity and history. What makes an artist scale a wall in the pitch dark, risking life all in the name of subliminal messages? We wanted to find out.
If you sign up for the four hour tour and workshop, you’ll be taken on a street art walking tour where you’ll see some of the world’s finest street art before heading back to the Alternative Headquarters to design your own stencil. This is the tour we opted for!
Alternative London team will teach you how to draw, cut and create your own stencil and build a unique piece of street art. They also show and teach you spray can techniques. Don’t forget to take some cash with you as for a small extra fee you can paint your artwork onto a canvas bag or t-shirt to take home with you.
Alternative London is a social enterprise that invests in its local community by offering workshops to local kids so by signing up to this tour, you get to help too!
How far and where
Starting out from the old goat at Spitalfields market, we walked 2.94km in 1 hour, 59 minutes and 25 seconds! It wasn’t strenuous and we walked at a leisurely pace.
Because the art scene is permanently changing you wouldn’t go on the same route we took but here’s a small map of where we walked.
Graffiti Vs Street Art
What’s the difference between graffiti and street art? The beholder!
Simple as that, if you like it it’s street art, if you don’t like it, it’s graffiti. For me, tagging is graffiti. I think it’s shit, it’s ugly and for me it’s meaningless but that juxtaposition between what we appreciate and dislike in the art scene is what makes the east end so vibrant. There’s just so much to see and mostly we’d walk past oblivious to it.
How do artists do it?
The billion dollar question and I am no expert but there are a variety of techniques artists use.
Whether it’s stencils, free hand, print ups, spray cans, pens, tile art, painted broccoli or even bronze sculptures – there’s a huge array out there that’s bound to delight you. Or maybe even provoke you?
The beauty of street art is the eye of the beholder, every experience is different and prompts a unique reaction. Some pieces left me cold and shrugging my shoulders whilst other pieces blew my mind and rendered me speechless.
Our tour guide
By some fate of magic we were gifted Gary, the founder and owner of Alternative London who is an artist-musician, a community activist who has a wealth of knowledge about the global street-art scene.
What we liked about Gary was his context of the art and how he explained the reasoning behind it. The depth of explanation gave the art more of a cause. He was really knowledgable about the local area as well as the artists who came to work on the walls.
Some of the art work in the east end has been commissioned and you can see this from the sheer scale of the pieces, whereas other art is artist led.
Traipsing the streets
The hardest part of this tour was walking down the ‘curry mile’ and not stopping for samples!
When I say there’s something to see on every wall, I’m not lying. You could spend hours every day looking at more and new pieces.
Video from Pedley Street
Shortly after I visited and went on this tour, I came across this video from British artist Dan Kitchener (link opens in new tab) who spent New Year’s Day painting ‘Ghost Cities’ on Pedley Street which is just a short distance from Brick Lane.
Dan is a world renowned street artist who has been painting on a global scale for the last eleven years. You can see his work across the world from Tokyo to Pittsburgh and from Spain to Kazakhstan, although he spends much time painting in London where he is based. You can commission him to paint your interior walls or even purchase original paintings via his shop (opens in new link).
Having the opportunity to create something of your own is a genius conception on the part of Alternative London. If you’ve got a creative big kid who’s looking for a new challenge this is the perfect idea. It would be great as a birthday present or just a way to kill a Saturday morning.
There’s some knife work but it’s nothing too difficult – obviously depending on what you choose to design. If you struggle, your guide is on hand to help out.
Spray painting something other than kitchen unit doors was a novelty (yes I bought the wrong coloured doors!) and it was far more difficult than I had imagined. My fingers kept getting in the way, I’d accidentally move the stencil and the paint would bleed outside the area it was supposed to.
I certainly have a new appreciation for the artists’ process!
How to book
If you’re interested in experiencing a morning on the streets of east London head over to Alternative London’s website and book yourself onto a tour. They not only offer art tours but pub tours and cycling tours and more.
We definitely recommend it as we had a whole lot of fun and got to explore an area we wouldn’t necessarily have visited.
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