Pasting up one of the pride squirrels in the northeast DC. June 2023.
What the heck is a pride squirrel?
The Pride Squirrels are a street art project I did in June 2023. The project consists of a series of spray-painted squirrel designs I pasted up around Washington, DC during pride month. Each squirrel character is accompanied by a unique positive affirmation for the LGBTQ community. The process was both fun and therapeutic and challenged me to literally put my art out there. After pasting these up, I started getting tagged in Instagram posts and even received some messages from folks who said it made their day. That was the goal all along.
Left: Rough sketches of the squirrels. Right: Digital mockup of one of the final three squirrel characters.
Where did the idea come from?
I love to anthropomorphize animals when I doodle and Washington, DC has a large black squirrel population. One day I was doodling on the front porch and saw black squirrels running around in a tree. I had my eye on one squirrel who kept stretching its hands to the sky, trying to reach something on the branch above it. I sketched that squirrel, and then a few others, and next thing I know the squirrels in my notebook are holding megaphones, banners, and signs. They’re proclaiming that trans rights are human rights, dykes rule, and that queers are magical.
I’ve always enjoyed the posters I saw pasted up around the city and living in DC you see a lot of posters advertising rallies and marches, posters with calls to action, posters calling out politicians and local officials, etc. Back in 2018 I designed a poster for environmental group Friends of the Earth that called out then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt for his corrupt dealings. Friends of the Earth had 300 of them printed and pasted up around Capitol Hill. It was a huge hit and was thrilling to see the art everywhere. Since then, I’ve always wanted to paste up something on my own. Since squirrels exist in the outdoors, I thought it would be fun to place my drawings of them outdoors as well.
I wanted a message to accompany each squirrel. 2023 has been an especially difficult year for the LGBTQ community, with a record number of anti-lgbtq bills being introduced. I felt the need to use my art to uplift my community so the pride squirrels were born.
From left to right starting with top left: Image of a squirrel stencil cut by Cricut machine, spraypaint chaos in the backyard, two spraypainted speech bubbles, a group of completed squirrel designs, writing messages on the speech bubbles, filling in facial details of squirrel, all completed designs ready to go, pasting up a pride squirrel onto an electric box.
After I sketched out a few squirrels, I narrowed it down to three and brought the sketches into Adobe Fresco to trace over and digitize. The end goal was to turn these sketches into stencils that I could spray-paint on. Because of this, I had to rework some of the details of the drawings to be able to work as a stencil.
Then I brought the digitized drawings into Illustrator to simplify and vectorize. From there I uploaded the vector images into the Cricut workspace and had the Cricut machine cut out my designs onto cardstock. And voila! A stencil! I did the same process for all the speech bubble stencils.
The next step was to spray-paint as many of these stencils as possible. I thought I’d be able to spray-paint the facial details onto the the squirrel bodies as a separate stencil, but that proved to be too messy with mixed results so I decided that after spray-painting all the squirrel bodies, I’d go back to each squirrel and use a white acrylic marker to add the facial features. I often incorporate light grunge textures into my digital design work, so it was fun to be able to do it in real life. I like that each squirrel has small imperfections where the stencil bled. There’s something sweet about the imperfections reminding you that these were handmade.
Once the squirrels were finished, I had to create messages for them to share. I used Posca acrylic markers to handwrite affirmations on each speech bubble. Finally, I made my wheatpaste using a 1:4 flour to water mixture and grabbed an old paintbrush.
The only thing left to do was to paste these up. Check out a compilation of the designs in the video below!
One of my favorite squirrels because I pass it on my way to work and it makes me smile.