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Interviews with Street Artists: Hunting for the Purrfect Canvas with Sixteen Cats

July 1, 2018

Post/interview and photos by Streets Dept Contributor, Eric Dale.

Stickers are popular among street artists because they’re inexpensive to obtain, easy to write or draw on, and inconspicuous to put up. If you want to get your work or your name out on the street, stickers are probably the fastest way to do so. But some artists are redefining the medium by creating their stickers in more labor-intensive ways.

​​​​​​​​​​Sixteen Cats, new to the Philly sticker scene, is one of them. She’s using her X-Acto knife to slice out a cat-shaped niche for herself: stickers made from actual painted canvas! I met up with Sixteen Cats for a chat as she searched a South Philly thrift store for new canvases to cut up.

Streets Dept’s Eric Dale: Hey, Sixteen Cats! Thanks for doing this interview!
Sixteen Cats: Yeah, of course!

SD: I have to say, it’s always a treat to spot one of your cat stickers around the city. When did you start making them?
SC: I started in August 2017, but I’ve collected terrible paintings for years now. I had too many of them, and I kept trying to figure out what to do with them, and came up with this concept.

SD: Can you walk us through your process?
SC: Yeah! Basically, I like to collect the canvases that are made at those paint and sip nights. They normally have a lot of color on them, and they weren’t made by someone who put their heart and soul into them, so I don’t have to feel bad about ripping them up. They’re normally pretty bad, which I love. Sometimes I’ll even get two of the same series, which is really exciting because the cats end up similar but still very different.

SD: What do you mean “the same series”? How can you tell?
SC: They’re obviously made by two people on the same night. They’re like… EXACTLY the same. One time I found seven in a pile that were all the exact same scene. And I bought all of them! Anyway, I collect those paintings so I won’t have to feel bad about ripping up somebody’s actual art, and I’ve designed the cats so that exactly 16 of my stencils will fit on the canvas. I actually put them on the back of the canvas, so I don’t really control what they will look like. They just kind of appear! I’m never disappointed.

SD: Do you look for anything in particular when you’re hunting for canvases?
SC: I look for really bright colors and some bold lines, but not too many bold lines, or else the cats come out kind of… scary-looking? And a nice amount of white space is really helpful. They can’t be too busy. Sometimes I’ll embellish the canvases if they have a big swath of plain area, but I don’t do that too much.

SD: How long does it take you to go from canvas to 16 cat stickers? And why 16?
SC: It takes me about two hours, which is why I don’t trade that much. I’m like, ‘guys, it takes me forever!’

SD: Haha! Yeah, you’re taking sticker art in the opposite direction of how it started. It’s supposed to be quick and easy, and you’re like ‘no, I’m just going to spend hours and hours doing this.’
SC: And then it will immediately get ripped down because it’s made out of canvas! Haha. I picked 16 because I wanted to have a squared number, but 25 would be ridiculous. So then I made these 16 cats that are in a jumping motion. If you look at all of them in a row, each number correlates to where they are in the jump.

SD: That’s amazing! I had no idea.
SC: Yeah, the numbers are actually important: it’s a series. I like to think about the canvas as a kind of journey that the cats are on, where the first cat is just starting the journey and the last cat is finishing it. Sometimes when I give people cat stickers, I’ll choose ones that correspond with something I think is meaningful. If they’re just starting something, I might give them number one out of 16, because it’s the beginning of this journey for them; or if they just finished something that was kind of difficult, then I might give them number ten out of 16, because it’s the one where the cat is touching the ground after the jump.

SD: Do you have a favorite?
SC: It moves. I’m currently really enjoying number four, because it has a lot of energy behind it, but it has its feet fully planted on the ground, and I just like that concept. But I’ve fallen in love with a few different ones in the past. I really like 16, and 11 is also one of my favorites. But right now I’m really into four!

SD: Do you feel like that’s where you are in your life right now?
SC: I think so. I think it has a lot to do with where you’re getting your energy.

SD: I love how much thought you put into these cats that we don’t really see once they’re out on the street. What else is going on behind the scenes that we should know about?
SC: Well, I have a very complicated water-proofing system… Basically, I either put a glue-type substance on top and wait for it to dry, or I can spray it with water-proofing spray. If I don’t, it will peel, or get really heavy and fall off.

SD: So it’s not that the colors will fade, it’s that the sticker will physically deteriorate?
SC: Yeah, there’s a reason other people don’t make canvas stickers… But some of my really early stickers have held up a lot better [than more recent ones], so now I’ve gone back to that way of doing things.

SD: What changed?
SC: I wasn’t being picky enough with the quality of the canvases I was using. The more porous they are, the more they just deteriorate. I really think it comes down to the actual canvas. And I’m testing this idea of bigger cats [she gestures about two feet long], but they get really heavy in the rain. That’s currently my issue: weight.

SD: All of your cats have beautiful names, like “Mountain Sunbeam,” “Ocean Grass,” and “Morning Dew.” How do you pick their names?
SC: At the Barnes Foundation, the names of many of the paintings are quite literally a description of the most notable part of the painting. You see a couple on a hill? The name will be “Figures in Landscape.” Seriously, go to the Barnes, look at a painting, and guess the name. See a painting with four squirrels in it? Don’t overthink it—the name is “Four Squirrels.” I don’t know if Albert Barnes renamed his paintings or if this theme was common when he was putting together his collection, but I fell in love with the idea. So now I name all of my canvases after what is literally in the painting!

SD: Sometimes your cats almost look like they’re trying to camouflage into a cluster of other stickers on a street sign. Is that intentional, or am I imagining that?
SC: Since they’re such weird shapes, I can sneak them into really weird places. So I’m not bound by a lot of constraints that other artists are. I can say ‘number one wouldn’t fit here, but I can use a slimmer cat.’ Number seven is a very difficult cat to put in, because it takes a significant amount of room! But I don’t necessarily try and camouflage them. If anything, I’m trying to get better at making sure that I don’t pick canvases that are either gray or blue, because they just completely disappear [on the backs of metal signs].

SD: You’ve started collaborating with some other sticker artists—can you tell us how that came about?
SC: I saw all of this great art that people were making, and I really wanted to… uh… cut their stuff up into cats? Like, ‘hey, can you please give me art for free and I will destroy it?’ It’s apparently something that people are willing to do!

SD: You also do “forced collabs”?
SC: Yeah—I found this pile of stickers where someone had done a collage and it had completely fallen off, wholesale, so I took it. It was all female artists, so I’m super supportive of that. It was super gross, covered in hair and dirt, and I spent way too much time cleaning it up and trying to salvage them. But I salvaged most of the stickers, and then I put them on a new back and cut them into cats. I don’t think there can ever be enough cats in this world.

SD: Do you have a cat of your own?
SC: I have one cat. I always have to specify—I have a project called “Sixteen Cats,” and then I also have… one cat.

SD: What’s your favorite thing about the Philly street art scene?
SC: I like the fact that it’s always changing. We’re actually right across from a wall that they tear stuff down from so fast, and yet every time I’m here, it’s a completely new thing. I really enjoy that—the fact that it’s not permanent and it’s always changing. You have to roll with the punches and say ‘it’s probably not going to last that long but I’m going to put it up anyway.’ I like the impermanence of it.

SD: What advice would you give to an artist just starting out in Philly?
SC: I would say ‘just do it!’ Just commit to it. Put your all into whatever the idea is. Not everyone is going to enjoy the fact that you like this very niche thing, and that’s ok. What matters is that you’re going to put it out in the world, and a few people who really really like it are going to find it. What matters is that you have pride in your craft and are enjoying yourself.

SD: Thank you again!
SC: Thanks.

Read previous Streets Dept Interviews with Street Artists here: AvizBlurInphltrateDarkmeal!

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