Two decades have passed, and he remains an enigma, cloaked in secrecy, yet renowned across continents. His work sells for tens of thousands of dollars, some even being cut whole from walls in the street to be auctioned.
Who is Banksy? Nobody knows!
He could be the guy riding next to you on the train into the city, or your barista by day and a masked crusader at night. Banksy is everywhere and nowhere. He is the Jack-the-Ripper of street art – wanted by the law, but unable to trace.
The fact is, we don’t even know if Banksy is a man or a woman, but the consensus seems to be that he is one very cool guy. In summary, here is what we do know.
A furtive James Bond figure, with the wit of Mark Twain, Banksy’s political and social daring produces powerful visual statements that linger in the memory.
He cuts razor-sharp political jibes or sweet romantic images with a flick of his stencil knife. No one can walk away undisturbed, or unmoved. Indeed, he can never be ignored, and he is right on brief every time.
Quote attributed to Banksy, on his ever-changing website, but is it really Banksy’s website?
He is also a sculptor of some note, and an installation artist. In 2015, he created his most ambitious project to date on the seafront at Weston-super-Mare in the UK. ‘Dismaland’ is 2.5 acres of poignant pieces, peculiar rides, and activities in a parody of Walt’s famous fun fair, except this is like a walk through a bleak, muddy pond, not a place of happiness at all.
His movie, ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’ was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary, but who would have turned up to collect the award? It's not a film about him, but it screens as ‘A Banksy Film’. He does make an appearance, as a silhouette in a hooded cowl, with his voice tuned to sound like Darth Vader with an English accent.
Banksy’s style (If it can be defined)
Banksy has many techniques, but he is not erratic, rather he uses visual styles to place the emphasis on the message, not the art itself. He is joyously flitting from one color palette and font guide to another, like a stone skipping across a lake. He is at moments a fine artist, at others times he becomes a lonely genius with a handful of words and a single can of spray paint.
Quote attributed to Banksy, whoever that is.
His style is almost impossible to pin down, except to say that it is vivid visual poetry.
So, if the task was to create a realistic style guide for Banksy, what logos, fonts and colors could we possibly use in his design style guide? What is Banksy’s tone?
The answer is: ‘Whhaaat? Just one style guide?’
Remember, this is not a Corporate Design Guide; this is a style guide for a talented artist who is constantly inventing new methods to propel his philosophical, political, and social messages.
Could You Replicate Banksy’s Work?
What would he leave in himself, and more importantly what would he leave out of his style guide?
His artistic flexibility, from a graffiti scrawl to quirky, sophisticated realism, could only be caged in a series of separate style guides. If you could ever find him, and asked him outright for a style guide, you would get a rap on the knuckles for being a silly fool. Banksy has many styles, and all are incessantly evolving into new styles.
If we could somehow create a single style guide to cover all his work, and if you had enough clever wit, you could follow the guides and elements to create a personal Banksy on your living room wall. Good luck with that!
But hey, let’s delve as deeply as possible into his magician’s cave and uncover the elements that could be part of an imaginary Banksy style guide.
So what could we possibly include?
Truly, no matter how deep you dig, it’s hard to find repeating elements in his work. About the only constant is: ‘Use your mind before you use the computer.’
Fact is, a Banksy style guide is outside the realms of style guides as a genre. Bringing it down to basics is about all we can do.
An attempt at a Banksy style guide
- Tone of Voice: You must tell a visual gag with a barbed point, or be so politically incorrect it’s chilling, like an image of the Queen’s Palace Guard urinating against a wall. Your fun topics are police officers, rats, the Queen, refugees, terrorists (with flowers or bananas), monkeys in every impossible place, painted elephants, and balloons in heart shapes or like black holes stenciled onto the wall. The most important thing is to have something relevant to say.
- Corporate strategy: Be an opportunist. See something that someone else might never see, and when a quirky twist of fate happens, just turn it into a piece of art.
- Imagery: The key technique is stencil. The cutting process must take hours for per piece, and guidelines and a concise process for creating these stencils are technical, and easily explained, but this is a no holds barred contest. You may use the spray can in any way you can imagine.
- Logo: Oops, no logo? There’s a bit of a problem. How do we know it’s a Banksy? Well, we all just know, because no other street artist seems to be able to make art with such panache.
- Color palette: Use black in abundance, and spot colors on occasion. I would suggest you follow the colors available in spray can paint. Black silhouette features strongly, and as much as possible there are no words unless words are absolutely required.
- Font: Choose a typeface from the infinite universes of fonts but make sure you mold the character of the message into your typesetting. You can do this online, or create your own font.
This is about all you can do in drawing up a Banksy style guide. He is elusive, not only in evading the law but also in evading any single description of his work.
Back here in the corporate world
Constructing a style guide in real life is a much easier project. There are mandatory logos, consistent typefaces, and exact measurements and places for elements on all collateral materials. There are also defined color schemes, and set standards for imagery, UI, and UX.
You know all too well that putting all this together into an effective style guide is very hard work.
As a designer, you are not only asked to create a map for others to follow, but you have a whole team, plus the client behind you, pushing, checking, managing, and often interfering. And you’re the one in the center of the whirlwind.
Here’s an easier way to manage the madness. For free.
Frontify puts the entire process online, so that all stakeholder can access the guide while it is being developed, no matter where they are, and make comments in real-time.
As a web-based style guide Frontify has placeholders for all the elements you could ever need to include, and when completed can be professionally printed for the more traditional clients, or accessed online by anyone in the organization anywhere at any time.
If Banksy was forced to follow the man and create a style guide, we like to think he’d use Frontify. It’s free and saves time. Imagine an army of Banksy's all replicating his work throughout the word after consulting his style guide?