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How to Paint a Traffic Box

Home > Brisbane > Art | Outdoor | Street Art | Unusual Things to do
Published August 22nd 2016
Do you have an artistic streak?
painting a traffic box

Painting a traffic box has been on my bucket list for several years now. Recently I was able to design and paint a traffic box in Mitchelton near Brookside Shopping Centre and tick off this goal.

The first thing you need to do is apply to be on the mailing list with Urban Smart Projects and wait for a round of traffic boxes to be released. I must admit I had to wait many months before I received an email. After the traffic boxes are released you must select the location from a designated list of one which you would like to paint.

painting a traffic box

I was fortunate to select one near where I live and I recommend you do the same when you select your traffic box.

Designing the Box

I had to read the instructions and submit my design for approval. My first design was rejected as there were too many large blocks on plain colour, which could be the target of graffiti. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise because I used the wrong template and discovered that my traffic box was a large one with a top box. My second design was more interesting and colourful and it was approved with some minor comments.

painting a traffic box

I researched the local history of Mitchelton as a way to inspire my design. However, in the end, I decided to focus on my favourite place in the suburb which is the Brisbane City Council library. It was the city's first green library with a community garden. The theme of my artwork includes books, CDs, DVDs, bees, butterflies, birds and trees.

Next time I design a traffic box I would aim for a light coloured background and avoid using lines and text. It's good to have a search on the website and see what designs other people have come up with.

painting a traffic box

Painting the Box

The painting of the box was the ultimate test of my confidence in my artistic ability. I've never completed a piece of artwork larger than a poster and I've never painted in house paint creatively before. To be able to paint well outdoors in a public space, you need to get into the zone and block out the noise of the traffic and ignore the pedestrians. The buses and trucks can be distracting, and once I dropped paint over my design when a bus next to me beeped its horn.

We used a roller to do the undercoat and this worked well. I used coloured chalk to sketch the design onto the traffic box. I found that baby wipes wiped off the mistakes and were useful to have on hand.

We tried to use masking tape to divide up the background but this didn't work so well. I didn't use the strong tape and left it on too long, so when we pulled it up several days later some of the undercoat came with it. We used a simple cardboard stencil for the round CDs and DVDs with a sponge and this worked a charm.

In total, I spent around eight solid hours painting spread over four sessions. My husband assisted with some of the painting and he spent around six hours. You could easily spend more hours depending on how much detail your design has and how much of a perfectionist you like to be.

painting a traffic box


Once you have registered on the Urban Smart Projects website you'll find lots of detailed instructions on health and safety and general advice. I would recommend not wearing good clothes as I was lying and kneeling on the ground. I got paint everywhere especially over my shorts and legs.

It nice to take some before photographs and some in progress shots, so you can see the difference you made to the neighbourhood. You'll need to take photos of your completed traffic box and submit them to the website.

I found it easy to make mistakes but the paint is quite thick so you can wait and paint over the error. Alternatively, baby wipes remove little drips and smudges.

The best time to paint was Sunday when there is less traffic on the road. Try to avoid painting in the middle of the day when it's hot outside as the heat dries out the paint quickly. Also it is best to avoid dusk when it's hard to tell whether you have mixed the right shade of colour.

Want to brighten up your city?

Head over the Urban Smart Projects website and register to paint a box in your city.

The major street cabinet painting project in Brisbane is called Artforce - (managed by Urban Smart Projects). Artforce began in 1999 when Council realised that traffic boxes were their most graffitied asset. 1,834 artworks have been painted on traffic boxes in Brisbane since then. It's possibly a world record. Most traffic boxes with artwork (84%) do not suffer from graffiti.

It feels satisfying to design and paint a traffic box which will be seen by the public. One lady who walked passed said she didn't even realise there was a traffic box there before, but she was glad we were painting this one because it was next to an abandoned building. A cheeky guy drove past us and yelled out 'make it nice, guys.'

painting a traffic box

I hope we brightened up a little corner of Brisbane with our painted traffic box and made it nice.
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Why? Paint a traffic box in your city
When: Your own time
Phone: 00 61 (0)7 3211 7178 or 1300 872 022
Where: Brisbane and various other cities around Australia
Cost: Some paintbrushes
Your Comment
Great job, Emma - love the colours you used! I was always of the impression that one had to be an artist to paint a 'box', but after reading your article, it appears not - am I right?
by Elaine (score: 3|7671) 1526 days ago
What an amazing idea...I could see this as a school project too! ;)
by SocialHummingBird (score: 3|1396) 1525 days ago
Wow, that looks great!

Thanks for sharing :)
by KJ (score: 1|88) 1524 days ago
Great article, I've always wondered you paints these boxes. We have heaps in Sydney of which some I photographed and put in a Street Art article a while back.
by Irenke Forsyth (score: 3|2277) 1525 days ago
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