Just Add Water

In cities like Seattle and Boston, artists are creating temporary sidewalk designs that are only revealed when it rains. With winter in our sights, let’s have our own rainy day fun.
In Seattle, Peregrine Church stencils letters and images that only appear on rainy days. Photos courtesy of Rainworks.

The Idea
In 2014, a young Seattle artist named Peregrine Church discovered a water repellent liquid—a superhydrophobic coating, if you will—while watching viral videos about the mixture, and came up with his own biodegradable and eco-friendly formula, which he began testing on surfaces such as concrete and wood. He was wowed by the results. [Watch a video of the process below.]

Wherever he sprayed the solution, water would roll right off, creating a contrast in colors that he immediately wanted to exploit. Along with some artist friends, Church started applying it to sidewalks and other concrete surfaces in his rainy city to create “rainworks” with words of inspiration for passersby on otherwise dreary days. “Our first rainwork, Stay Dry Out There, was placed right by a bus stop, and hit the No. 1 spot on Reddit after we posted a photo of it in May 2014,” says Church. “The positive feedback helped motivate us to keep making more.”

A former graphic designer, he often uses stencils to spell words intended to elicit smiles from the faces of wet pedestrians. Other messages include “Today’s Weather: Rain” and “Error 404: Sun Not Found.” The images last two to four months before water and foot traffic diminish them. After a successful Kickstarter fundraising campaign, Church launched his company Rainworks, which offers a starter kit with his Invisible Spray for $29.

Rainworks has since partnered with Seattle Parks and Recreation and King County Metro Transit “for the purpose of enriching local public spaces.”

Elsewhere, a poetry group in Boston purchased Invisible Spray to render rain-activated verses around town in association with the city’s poet laureate and the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture.

Also, the Kimball Art Center in Utah commissioned Church to create an educational rainwork about water usage in that state, while some folks in Seattle even created Pokémon rainworks in sunny July that could be exposed when water balloons were thrown at them.

If managed right—i.e., no commercial uses—artists and poets could instantly enliven the streets of Sacramento and beyond with moments of whimsy once our rainy season kicks in.

The Players
The Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission is a natural to take the lead on this, with its network of local artists and experience in managing public art projects. Downtown and midtown Sacramento, as well as downtown Davis, are ideal areas because of heavy foot traffic.

The Bottom Line
As previously mentioned, a starter kit that includes a 2-ounce bottle of Invisible Spray—which might be enough for one or two rainworks—is only $29, and a 16-ounce bottle is $160. With some creativity and a little superhydrophobic coating, our wet winter months might just have an unusually dry sense of humor.