Unsavory encounters with strangers aside, one of the last things you want to happen while you’re waiting at a bus stop is for it to start pouring rain. Along one bus route in Seattle, however, commuters now have the chance to be pleasantly distracted while waiting in the rain for the bus.
Several stops along the city’s newly expanded RapidRide C Line, which stretches from suburban West Seattle to the busting-out-of-its-seams downtown neighborhood of South Lake Union, are now home to the singular street art creations of Rainworks. Founded by artist Peregrine Church with the simple mission “to turn rainy days into something to look forward to,” the start-up specializes in works of now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t sidewalk graffiti that's best described as a rain-activated hybrid of sidewalk chalk stenciling and those Invisible Ink activity books your parents used to keep you preoccupied during long childhood road trips.
Using stencils and a super-strength nontoxic hydrophobic coating that's not too dissimilar to the “spray back” paint applied to walls in San Francisco to deter public urination, Rainworks’ has been gracing the sidewalks at city bus stops with only-visible-when-wet art for over a year now. The temporary installations — they only last two to four months before fading away depending on foot traffic, weather conditions, etc. — along the C Line, however, are the first to be officially commissioned by the Seattle Department of Transportation.
Explains Rainworks on its Facebook page:
This was our first time working with the City of Seattle in an official capacity, after making rainworks 'guerilla style' at bus stops for years, and it was a real treat for us. We hope that the local commuters will see these rainworks and smile, and feel pride for their awesome public transit system!
Playing into the extended bus line’s “C” theme, the art itself, which magically materializes right before commuters’ eyes (or under their feet) only after a good drenching, consists of illustrations of disembodied sea creatures — mostly octopus tentacles and an errant crab or two. Accompanying the ephemeral illustrations are “positive messages” that beckon weary, umbrella-clutching commuters to hop on board: “All aboard, C creatures” and “Ride on, C Creatures.”
Rain-activated tentacles grace select stops along Seattle's RapidRide C bus line. The street art was commissioned in celebration of the line's extension to the South Lake Union neighborhood. (Photo: Seattle Department of Transportation)
Also excellent are Rainworks’ numerous non-city-approved installations that have popped up across the Emerald City over the past year or so including a hop-scotch board, a Pacific Northwest-appropriate passage from Dr. Seuss' “The Cat in the Hat” and the title of this writer’s second favorite Roxette song.
While Church and his collaborators could easily use the medium to broadcast divisive, naughty or overtly political messages, the art/messaging is largely upbeat and PG-rated with plenty of inspirational sayings, lovey-dovey sentiments, ecological-themed slogans and no shortage of Seattle-centric meteorological branding. I’m still waiting for a sidewalk portrait of Shirley Manson, however.
"I like that you can take the same thing that causes seasonal affective disorder and use it to make people happy," Alaska-born, Seattle-raised Church explained to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 2015. While Seattle is no doubt a fine place to stencil weather-reactive messages into sidewalks, it's actually not that rainy of a town. In terms of actual precipitation amounts, Seattle doesn't even come close to cracking the top 10. It is, however, one of the dreariest, dampest and drizzliest places in the Lower 48 for about, oh, nine or so months of the year — take it from a native. Basically, there's not a ton of actual rain in Seattle, just a whole lot of rainy days.
According to Rainworks, the art is legal per the Seattle Department of Transportation as it is temporary, isn’t advertising anything and doesn’t harm the actual sidewalks.
Outside of Seattle, rain-activated street art has started to reveal itself in cities across North America (and in locales as far away as China) thanks in part to Rainworks Invisible Spray kits.
Made available earlier this spring following a successful 2015 Kickstarter campaign, each DIY kit — they’re $30 a pop — includes a spray bottle of the biodegradable hydrophobic coating and pre-printed stenciling materials. “Please note that Rainworks Invisible Spray will not make you invisible,” cautions Rainworks in the product FAQ section.
Good to know.
Users are encouraged to add the location of their own unique masterpieces to an interactive map on the Rainworks’ website so that “rainy-day explorers can go out and find them." Adds the start-up: “We want to turn the world into a big rainy-day scavenger hunt.”
Sounds great. But for those who don’t feel like wandering around in the rain staring at the sidewalk like a crazy person, there’s always a few bus stops in Seattle worth checking out …
Inset photo: SDOT