Name: Benjamin Shanklyn
Age: Late twenties
I do artistic vandalism. I go to abandoned buildings. We call them “bandos” because we’re too lazy to say, “Let’s go to an abandoned building.” I paint graffiti. Typically stylized letters.
I first got into graffiti when I was thirteen and on a train to Boston. All the walls were covered on the way there. There was also a bridge on 84 I used to drive under on the way to my mom’s house. One day it got completely wiped over, completely bare, and the next day it was smashed with paint. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world.
So I was probably about fifteen when I started. I took a brief hiatus after some legal issues. It was about a ten-year break and I have been actively painting graffiti for the last three years. I got really bored and started drawing again. I realized I still love letters.
I carry anywhere from twelve to twenty-four cans, maybe more if I’m feeling frisky that day. Typically for backgrounds, I use Rust-Oleum because it’s cheap, but the valves suck and make my hand hurt. If I can use Montana’s, I’ll use Montana’s. They’re awesome. They’re professional paint, they don’t hurt, and they last longer than Rust-O.
I love purples and pinks. There’s a color called Surgery, and it’s a teal/blue-green color. It’s sweet. It’s supposed to be like the scrubs color for doctors and shit. I tend to stay away from yellows, oranges, and reds because they’re hard to work with. Royal Purple is not the best name for a purple, but it’s a fire color. Wizard’s pretty good. Good Times is a nice, magenta pink. Snow White and Black are essentials for my bag. They’re good for details or outlines or glowing highlights.
I have these caps that look like everyday spray paint caps from the nineties—not these new little ugly things that are on Rust-O, but the old-school caps. They’re called “Lego caps.” They’re yellow, look like Lego-dude heads, and are hybrid caps. They’re like skinny caps but can also be fat and used for filling stuff in and outlining pieces. Then I have the same kind in white called, “New York Fat.” Those are just fat. You use those to blatantly vandalize or fill in large areas in your piece. Then there’s “Boston Fats.” Those are meant for Rust-O adapters. You can’t put them on normal cans or paint will shoot out the can, out the top, out the sides. It doesn’t matter; it’s going to destroy it. Then there are “Universal.” They’re German-made and are super soft outliner caps. They take off a lot of the pressure, so it’s easier to use. Those are fun.
Because if you inhale all those fumes all day, you’re going to pass out at some point or another. Or you’re going to get all fumed out, go outside, and be like “What the fuck is going on?” It makes you pretty light-headed. I was wearing an N95 mask before they were cool. It’s just a respirator. I tried to get an N99, but they were expensive, so I was like, “Screw it. I’ll just breathe in 5% of the chemicals.”
Getting tetanus sucks. Getting cut and falling on stuff sucks. You’re in an abandoned building, so you need one.
Gotta stay hydrated. Can’t be passing out from inhaling fumes and asbestos and whatever else. A lot of places used to be old mills so they used like crazy chemicals. If you read the names, you’d be like, “What the hell is that?”
Sometimes I have snacks. Uncrustables are a way of life.
For blatant vandalism. Just letting you know I was there. It’s like writing “Jerome was here” if your name was Jerome. But fancier. I write it on poles, windows, and small surfaces that I can’t spray paint.
I have my pocket-knife, and then I bring another knife with me too. That’s strictly for popping cans that I leave. I don’t want to have the ball rolling around and rattling. If I have to run, that’s kind of a dead giveaway. So, I pop the bottoms, and I leave them so some kid can’t pick it up and destroy my piece I just spent five hours painting.
I have this on me in case I have to run. Keys, wallet, and a knife. Screw the paint. You can get more paint; you can’t easily erase a criminal record.
Painting can be pretty ruthless. Other graffiti writers will start problems with you because you painted the slightest bit over where you’re supposed to stop. I mean, if you blatantly take out like a quarter of their letter or half of their letter, you’re a dick, but if you go over the tiniest bit—not even enough to notice—people take that shit to heart. If you can’t do better than it, don’t go over it. If you’re gonna go over it, cover the whole thing as if it was never there.
Shayna Shattelroe is a Blue Muse Staff Writer.
Photos by Shayna Shattelroe