Home > Chicago, Graffiti, Shellie Lewis' Art, Uncategorized > How To Remove Graffiti on Trees

How To Remove Graffiti on Trees

Gang tags and gangs territory marking graffiti is something I detest.  I am down with public graffiti as a mode of self assertion, murals for self-expression, art that is democratic and non-monetized, graffiti as a form of protest and graffiti as a method of people resisting corporate dominance over the visual spaces of our city by directly engaging in a struggle for power on who owns public space.  Respectful painters avoid using private property, public art and trees as their canvas.  Unfortunately, two trees near me were gang tagged.

Nearby residents and the nice restaurant across the street were very unhappy with the trees having been vandalized.  The restaurant was setting up their summer outdoor patio seating area, and two gang tags right across from their seating space would have been in direct line of sight of the customers.  This is where I come in: yay for color theory lessons and decent brush work.  Round up your nearest painter and art student for the repair.

Here is how I handle graffiti on trees:

  1. Scrub the spray paint with acetone and a rag.  This may lift some of the paint.  Tree back is coarse and absorbent, so this usually has minimal effect.  Get up what paint you can.
  2. Use outdoor grade acrylic paint.  Outdoor latex can work also.  Adding more paint is not going to hurt the tree anymore than the spray paint already on it.  I used a decorative craft variety of acrylics that is used to paint lawn decorations.  It is high adhesion and UV fade resistant.  Look closely at the bark, the colors of the bark and any attached moss or lichen.  Match the colors as closely as possible to the tree bark.  Trees can have twenty hues in their bark easily; they are never an even shade of brown or gray.  If you have a really bright color of spray paint to hide, try to neutralize it with a shade of gray before going to painting the cover up.
  3. Work in layers.  I let one tree dry while painting the other one.  Mottle you brush strokes, skip colors around, like you are making a sort of camouflage pattern.  Layering and mottling go a long way.  Even if I can see where I painted on the tree, the average person won’t give it a second glance and it lookes even better from further away.
  4. Softly blend out the edges of the area with the vandalism being over-painted so they transition well to the unmodified bark.  If you feather the edges well, it will look like a natural shift in the hues of the tree and not like like a bandage painted on the bark.
  5. Bark is textured and can very very rough.  Dry brush small amounts of highlights and mid-range hues.  Dabble in moss or speckles as they appear on the bark.  Retouch areas that may have dried lighter than you wanted.


Probably not my best work, but it got the job done.  I was rushing and can go back to retouch as needed.  All the better if idiots come to believe spray paint cannot stick to a tree and leave them alone.  Extra thanks to Sue for bringing me a cup of pink lemonade on ice!  I love pink lemonade.

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