This Hamilton festival lets you 'paint' a mural on your phone — and the crowd favourite will go up permanently

Festival co-founder and mural designer Scott McDonald says painting is part of the festival's bigger goal to "show what public art can do."

Concrete Canvas fest shows off first-of-its-kind augmented reality mural

Passersby can use a QR code to paint Scott McDonald's peregrine falcon mural on the York Blvd parking garage in Hamilton. (Cara Nickerson)

The Concrete Canvas Art Festival, which kicks off July 8 in Hamilton, will have most of the things we've come to expect from a street art festival: graffiti writers from around the world, artists from other mediums trying mural making for the first time, musical performances — in this case '90s hip-hop legend Masta Ace and Canadian-born producer Marco Polo. But Concrete Canvas also has something new: an augmented reality paint-by-numbers mural. It's like the paint-by-numbers kits you get at the craft store, but on a grand scale and harnessing the power of technology.

According to Scott McDonald, the co-founder of the festival and the mind behind the paint-by-numbers mural, this is the first time something like this has ever been done. And he's checked. 

"We've been [looking] everywhere," he says. "We beta-tested it at the Festival Mural in Montreal and everyone's comments were like, 'This is amazing and it hasn't been done.' So we're the creators."

The mural works like this. The paint-by-numbers stencil — a picture of one of the Peregrine falcons that nests on top of Hamilton's Sheraton Hotel — is pasted to a wall. Participants can point their phone at the wall and "paint" the mural using a QR code, then submit their painting to the festival. On July 22 and 23, those paintings will be projected onto the wall using a 30,000-lumen projector. Festival goers will get to vote on which version they like best, which will then be put on the wall permanently. 

McDonald says that the idea came to him while he was working on a project with Canadian artist Burnt Toast at Art Basel in Miami. (Burnt Toast will also be doing a mural for Concrete Canvas.)

"We did some projects with Snapchat with our murals where they kind of brought them to life," he says. "It just got my mind thinking on what the possibilities were with augmented reality and murals."

"I was talking to a couple of friends of mine who do coding and I was like, 'Do you think it'd be possible to do a kind of paint-by-numbers, where I just draw the outline of it and the phone could recognize it and paint the image that's on there?' And they were like, 'Well, no, yes, no.' And I kind of bugged them on it; my friend Jonah started doing some research and he was like, 'Yeah, OK, we can do this.'" 

McDonald adds that he's already working on his next, bigger paint-by-numbers mural project.

"We're already working on doing a live version. So at a music festival, people can use a Bluetooth and they can paint it in real time and as they're painting it on their phone, it's projected on the wall," he says. 

McDonald says that ultimately, his goal for Concrete Canvas is to bring art to the people of Hamilton, and if they can help make it, even better.

"I want to really showcase what public art can do and how it can resonate with people instead of having it in our galleries, where it's taken away from people," he says. "We want art to be public and we want to keep growing."


Chris Dart

Web Writer

Chris Dart is a writer, editor, jiu-jitsu enthusiast, transit nerd, comic book lover, and some other stuff from Scarborough, Ont. In addition to CBC, he's had bylines in The Globe and Mail, Vice, The AV Club, the National Post, Atlas Obscura, Toronto Life, Canadian Grocer, and more.

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