Heaven Spots: Drones Go Where No Writer Has Gone Before

By - Thursday, December 3rd, 2015

“Presented my Intel”

The best works of art, in our opinion, are the ones that make your jaw hit the floor. They leave you speechless, and if they are really good, bewildered as to how someone could actually pull it off. Whether it’s the size, scope or placement of a piece of work, it’s that reaction that every street artist loves to see.

From the beginning, street artists have always been resourceful in figuring out how to put up their names. First they co-opted the spray can, then it was bucket paint, postal stickers, wheat pastes, installations. The list goes on. All of that innovation is the result of competition; the competition to create the most impressive and impactful piece, and think bigger than anyone else.

As the tools and technologies have improved so have street artists’ ability to create compelling pieces. Even the simplest innovations, like the introduction of fat caps, can shake up the entire game and change the way street artists approach their work. With a history of innovation and pushing the boundaries, it should come as no surprise that street artists would eventually turn to more high-tech solutions to creating and displaying their work.

An artist that is going above and beyond in this pursuit of new tools and mediums is KATSU. Raised as a graffiti artist, but recently transitioning into the fine art world, KATSU has found a new means of creating art with a spray can. It’s one that doesn’t require him to hold the can at all, and in fact doesn’t even require him to be in the same room. In a brand new and cutting edge form of street art, KATSU has begun using drones to create his work. 

Over the past few years, drones have become increasingly popular. What was once a high priced tool meant only for surveyors and the military has become a hobby and pastime. It’s not uncommon to see people flying drones over parks, much like they would a kite. As owning a drone became cheaper it became easier for the common person to experiment with them, which is exactly what KATSU did. It took some slick engineering and custom 3-D printing, but KATSU was able to produce a drone that can fly through the air and spray paint onto canvases with interesting results. Watch below as KATSU plays in his studio creating pieces for a recent show.



But, don’t think we’ll be seeing this new method catch on right away. Not only are drones currently out of many street artists typical paygrade, they have always been difficult to handle. In an interview with Wired, KATSU acknowledged as much saying, “Seventy percent of the concentration is in maintaining this equilibrium with the two dimensional surface while you are painting.” While the interaction between the drone, the user and the wall is part of what gives KATSU’s work its particular aesthetic, it doesn’t work as well for creating clean and consistent lines.

But technology is quickly catching up, making drones smarter, smoother and more aware. Intel in particular has made huge strides in drone technology, and has partnered with several companies on the cutting edge of drone production. With Intel RealSense technology and an Intel processor inside of them, some drones now have the ability to fly on autopilot, with pre-programmed routes and spatial awareness. At the rate that the technology is evolving it’s not premature at all to begin to think of the practical uses for it within street art.

And, KATSU is doing his best to encourage his peers to hop on the drone trend. Beyond just demonstrating their capabilities, he also produces the machines, and shows others how to do so as well. Named ICARUS ONE, KATSU’s drone is still really just a prototype. The instructions and programming are available at icarusone.com, and qualified customers can apply to have one built for them, though that’s really just for family and friends. The openness with which KATSU approaches this new technology suggests that all he really wants to do provoke and inspire street art culture to consider every medium and tool at its disposal, just as they have been doing for the last 50 years.

The future for drone technology is bright indeed, and their utility in street art extends beyond just the execution of the work. Many photographers and videographers are using drones to document street art and graffiti in ways that was never thought possible. Rooftops spots that were once photographed from the street can now be seen up close. Below is a video that demonstrates the amazing visual opportunities of drone footage.

Filmed in an abandoned factory in Detroit, the use of a drone as a unique perspective to viewing the street art. There are factories just like this one all over Detroit where street art and graffiti grows like weeds. The video begins at an eye level, setting up the scene and showing what you might expect to see from the ground. When exploring them on foot you get to take in wall after wall, and piece after piece of the best street art around. But when the camera takes to the air you finally understand the scope of the infestation. Street art is everywhere you look. The building is crumbling and decrepit, and in fact is probably unsafe to explore by foot. Good thing you have your drone with you to take it all in.



Imagine that in 1976 you told Seen or Dondi that one day they might be tagging from remote controlled helicopters. Even 10 years ago the idea would have been ridiculous. But drone technology has advanced far and so fast that today nearly anything seems possible. The things that drones are able to do are expanding everyday, and with more investment and further research who knows what the future could hold. One things certain however, it’s clear that drones have found a place in street art.

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