By Jeffrey Rindskopf
Any unremarkable sidewalk in Seattle might turn into an inexplicable work of art when the rain starts pouring. Water turns the dull concrete a deeper shade of gray, but some areas miraculously remain dry and then, slowly, spell out a message: “Stay dry out there!”
“We consider that to be our first real Rainwork,” says Peregrine Church, “because it was the first one we made that was totally invisible.”
Church is the founder and CEO of Rainworks, a Seattle company that creates temporary works of street art that only reveal themselves when the surfaces they’re painted on become wet. Each one is created using their Invisible Spray, a particular kind of hydrophobic coating that is both environmentally-friendly and totally invisible when dry.
“Our goal with Rainworks is always to make somebody smile, or to at least make their day a little bit more interesting,” Church says.
The idea originated with Church’s interest in super-hydrophobic coatings. After brainstorming ways to put the material to creative use, he decided upon stenciling hidden images on public sidewalks but was unable to create the desired effect no matter what brand of hydrophobic coating he used.
“They were all visible when they were dry, which kind of ruined the magic,” he explains.
After posting pictures of their initial efforts online, a Belgian chemical manufacturer contacted Church and volunteered to send a free sample of their own hydrophobic coating, specially designed to protect concrete from water and algae. It worked—Church achieved the magic he was shooting for.
For a year, he and his team quietly enriched the streets of Seattle before a YouTube video about the project created by a friend of a friend went viral. Suddenly they were flooded with emails from people around the world seeking to buy their Invisible Spray and make their own Rainworks.
“We never even considered turning Rainworks into a business or selling the spray until we had thousands of people asking if they could buy it from us,” Church says.
In response to the enthusiasm, they launched a Kickstarter that reached its funding goal only seven hours before the campaign’s end. As a result, anyone can now purchase Invisible Spray and create their own covert sidewalk art using instructions on the Rainworks website.
Now Church and his team are no longer the only ones creating Rainworks, just as Seattle is no longer the only city to have its gloomy days brightened by their positive messages. An interactive world map on their site allows artists to mark the location of their own Rainworks, so others can go in search of them the next rainy day.
While their first successful Rainwork – “Stay dry out there!” – is no longer visible, as each Rainwork lasts only two to four months, Church and his team are always in the process of planning their next piece. They continue to create illustrations around Seattle in between larger commissioned works, like this educational installation in Park City, UT, or the mandala at Indiana University, which was installed by four people in the span of 11 hours and measures 32.5 feet in diameter.
“We love giving people a reason to adventure, and giving people a reason to create, and we want to inspire people to keep doing both of those things,” says Church.