Monday 25 September 2017

Stick 'em up! Some very arresting wall decal decor

Wallpaper and a few pictures are so passe. Eleanor Flegg looks at what’s new in the world of wall decal decor.

Banksy images will make any room more interesting
Banksy images will make any room more interesting
The quirky designs from Binary Box are not expensive.
The Beano and its colourful characters come to life
Birdy cushion
Pop art Sparrows

Eleanor Flegg

Back in 1975, I was a card-carrying, badge-wearing member of the Dennis the Menace fan club (there were two badges – a metal one of Dennis himself, and a hairy badge of his dog, Gnasher, with googly eyes).

Yes, I was an eager 'Beano' reader, just like my mother before me. In her day, the 'Beano' and the 'Dandy' were published on alternate weeks because of post-war paper shortages.

The love affair with the decidedly non-PC comic became a family tradition. Decades later, my sons had the 'Beano' on order at the local newsagent. Once again, the comic was a highlight of our week. We chuckled at the anarchic antics of Billy the Whizz and the Bash Street Kids.

Imagine my excitement, then, when I discovered that DC Thomson, the publisher behind the 'Beano' and the 'Dandy', has gone into partnership with Surface View, a company that creates high-quality wall decals.

'Decal', by the way, is the posh word for a sticker. You can now get a vintage 'Beano' front cover from 1975 (showing the 3p price tag!) blown up to cover a whole wall.

A 300 x 240cm mural will cost about €475, while smaller murals cost about €73 per square meter. Poster-sized prints cost around €67, depending on the finish, and can either be mounted or stuck directly on the wall.

Well readers, it seems all decals of cartoon characters are not at pocket money prices.

"The 'Beano' front covers make epic posters," says Tom Pickford of Surface View. "They do appeal to kids, but I suspect that the driving force often comes from the bigger kids in the family."

Until relatively recently, the 'Dandy' and the 'Beano' were drawn by hand. Despite their slapstick humour, the drawings are both detailed and skilled, from the fountain pens of renowned 'Beano' artists like Leo Baxendale, Ken Reid and David Sutherland.

"We're giving the illustrations a new lease of life by turning them into something that can inject fun and colour into a room," Pickford explains.

There's a strong element of nostalgia about rediscovering the comics that you grew up with, but the reinvention of the classic graphics as wall decals depends on 21st-century technology.

"We've re-mastered the images to such a standard that you can choose a small section of the image and enlarge it to cover a whole wall. People are using the old-fashioned comics in a very contemporary way, playing with scale and creating interesting crops," says Pickford.

Surface View has also designed collages from the hand-drawn sound effects from the 'Beano' (Wham! Crash! Pop!). Isn't this all a little nerdy?

"There is something of the nerd attached to the avid comic reader," Pilkington admits, "but I don't think that it's anything to be ashamed of and I suppose we're guilty of that too."

Even the company's founder, Michael Ayerst, began as a stamp collector.

"It dawned on me that I could collect images like I used to collect stamps, and use our state-of-the-art print technology to create unique interior products based on our wonderful pictures," he explains.

Now, I have childhood memories of bubbly vinyl stickers that peeled at the edges, and smaller paper stickers that clung resolutely to any surface no matter how hard you scrubbed. When they finally came away, they took a layer of paint or varnish with them. Sticker technology has come on a lot since then, says Rob Etchells of the Binary Box, a company that specialises in removable wall art. "Decals are a really good alternative to wallpaper," Etchells explains. "They're perfect for rented accommodation because you can remove them with a hairdryer and they don't leave marks on the wall."

The quirky designs from the Binary Box are not expensive. The 'Cut of Beef' decal (95 x 55 cm) costs around €25 and shows an outline of a cow divided into sirloin, rump etc. Vegetarians may not find this as funny as I do. Other designs are more ambient. The 'Three Grey Trees' pack (€97) includes the silhouettes of three trees, four birds, and an assortment of green leaves that you can place wherever you want (does anyone remember Kalkitos transfers?). Nicely positioned, the composition would fill an average wall. Or you can have 'Pop Art Sparrows' (€30), realistic drawings of birds in pop colours (from 17 x 23cm to 48 x 25cm). The key here is in the placement. Putting up the stickers is relatively easy – you use a squeegee to eliminate bubbles – but getting them into position takes quite a bit of skill.

This would be a good time to invite your local fine-art graduate to tea.

Decals, once in place, look as though the image is stencilled on the wall – and the Binary Box has played on this by reproducing classic graffiti motifs from the legendary street artist Banksy.

I asked about copyright issues. There aren't any – all Banksy designs are open source.

How cool is that? Stickers don't only belong on the wall. Surface Skins (from around €16), made by Blik and designed by the American artist Rex Ray, also work well on desks and tables.

They include cut-out sections so that the surface below shows through and becomes part of the design. This is arty and colourful stuff, but is best protected with a glass top, as spilled water damages the decals.

Give the technology another few years and it'll probably be waterproof too.

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