Recipes for disaster: asphalt mosaics (2023)

We've just reprinted our classic instant action book,Recipes for disaster.You can request a copyhere. To celebrate, here's one of the first chapters, a guide to unlicensed tiling on paved roads and parking lots.

Over the years of research devoted to the book, our contributors have experimented with a wide range of tactics—some stemming from protest movements, others from fringe art. Some of the most inspiring participantsRecipes for disasterhe reformulated the process by which a mysterious street artist in his area placed enigmatic tiles on the streets. At the time, almost no one had heard of these "Toynbee tiles". The next few years happenedmythical, inspiring an ensemblemythology.

After we unveiled the method in 2004,other tilesbegan to appear all over the country. Others eventually created their own pop cultureguidesin the art form; in 2011, onefilmappeared above the original artist. However, we have yet to see the asphalt mosaics being rolled out.

So, just in time for summer - which softens the asphalt, to get the best out of your mosaics - we offer the following how-to guide. We also added oneaccountwhich is later than the book. Follow these instructions and send us photos of your work!

This is a method for making colorful and permanent mosaic installations on asphalt roads and lots. Like glass, asphalt is amorphous, somewhere between liquid and solid. This means that a pattern pasted onto it with more asphalt will eventually settle in and become part of it. We owe our awareness of this technique to an anonymous mystic whom we have never met personally.

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We saw the first one in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We were walking down a downtown street when we spotted a piece of colorful text embedded in the asphalt of a pedestrian crossing. It was clearly made of vinyl flooring - but how was it secured? We found the photo on the left on the corner of Smithfield Street and Oliver Avenue. As we walked, we saw more versions of the same design. Although confused by the message, we admired the technique and eagerly discussed how it could be replicated. But a few blocks later, miraculously, we found the Rosetta Stone, a similar piece of the same material and text… except that it contained an additional block of smaller text: instructions! The words were old and badly damaged, but we could barely make out the crucial sentence: “…I USE FILLING ASphalt…” We set to work.

The next time we came through Pittsburgh, we were on tour. Part of our program was the sharing of tarmac decoration skills and we had already left a respectable trail of colors across the country. After our workshop, we ventured downtown to visit the original pieces. When we got there, we found most of it - but the crucial piece, the one with the instructions, was gone. It had been buried under a new asphalt slab. We found it just in time.

In later research on the Internet, we found that the same text was found all over the world, although mostly in North and South America. There even seems to be a fan club. According to one post, an article in New York begins with the same text as Toynbee and adds: "Kill all the journalists, I beg you." Well, we'd never be so rude, but between that and the polite instructions provided in Pittsburgh, it's clear where the DIY media artist stands.

So, in the spirit of the inventor who was thoughtful enough to declassify his technique, we present the findings of our reverse engineering efforts. Now,go make and stick tiles!! You!!! Like the media!!!

So-called "Toynbee Tiles" are made from two types of floor covering material: vinyl composite tile and real linoleum.

  • vinyl composition tile: The text is a vinyl composition tile, also called "VCT". VCT works because its color is solid so when worn it still looks good. What won't work is the self-adhesive tile variety, called "linoleum," sold at hardware and tile stores. The surface of these tiles, whether colored or faux marble, is veneered with thin paper. When it wears away, it reveals its white substrate. For God's sake, don't even use it on the kitchen floor!

VCT is cheap, even new. It sells for less than sixty cents a square foot in hardware stores. The problem is that color selection is often limited to a few bland options when you only buy individual tiles. They come in interesting colors, though, and if you want to order a case, you can get pretty much any color you want. However, a cabinet is expensive and you're unlikely to need forty-five square feet of any color, so we have a few other recommendations.

Many cities today have warehouses of salvage construction materials. They are generally non-profit and community based. These are a good place to start as they often have a few boxes in different colours. We have also had good luck calling and stopping by flooring stores and/or installation contractors. We asked if they have any partial cases in their storage that we might have for an artwork. Sometimes they are generous, sometimes they ask for a little money. Another method that has worked well with other materials is a classified "want ad" in the local paper. If someone were redoing their kitchen floor, they might have a partial bin that they couldn't get rid of, but they don't really need it. People love to donate this kind of material to starving artists.

  • Canvas: The bottom of Toynbee tiles is made of linoleum. Like VCT, linoleum is all solid color. But beware - the word "linoleum" is also used generically to refer to any non-ceramic floor. True linseed oil is a specific product made from flax fiber and linseed oil. You must use the real one. Like carpet, linoleum mostly comes in rolls and must be cut and clipped into place when installed. For this reason, it is very likely that you can get cheap or free cuts from an installer or salvage lot.
  • asphalt crack filling: Asphalt Crack Filler is an acrylic-based liquid bitumen manufactured to fill cracks in asphalt pavements. It is available at most hardware stores, especially in the summer when it is best applied. Comes in one gallon jugs. We found many brands, but only two main types. The normal strength material says it will fill cracks up to half an inch. The maximum strength product says it will fill 3/4 inch cracks and last longer. Both work, but for the minimal price difference, we're leaning towards the heavy stuff. It costs about $7.50 a gallon. One gallon is good for a dozen or more one-square-foot projects.
  • cardboard or plywood: For a space as large as your design, in good condition and flat, without creases or dents.
  • canvas
  • waterproof wood glue
  • I make, I do(with many blades as they fade quickly in VCT)
  • Metal ruler or straight edge
  • Stapler or tape
  • Heat gun(optional, but useful)

You have two options for creating your design. Can you domosaics, or you can do what we'll calltoynbee styleplaces where your text or image is placed on a solid background.


The advantage of the mosaic approach is that they can only be done with VCT. You may find that VCT is easier to obtain than linoleum. Because of its brittleness, VCT is difficult to cut into precise shapes, such as small letters, and large pieces of VCT can break as the road changes with temperature and pressure. Mosaics overcome these problems by joining small pieces of tiles randomly cut to form a pattern.

First, you need to turn the whole tiles into pieces. We have developed a method to produce durable irregularly shaped pieces. Using a knife and ruler, mark a line 1/2 to 3/4 inch from the edge of a tile (figure 1.1). Now work smoothly from one end of the line to the other, bending the strip away from the score line. The crack will get deeper and deeper until it finally breaks. After removing the strip, score it crosswise to make smaller pieces (figure 1.2). It is better to make a wide variety of shapes: squares, rectangles, rhombuses, triangles. The more variety you have, the easier it will be to assemble your image.

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Next you need a flat surface. It's best to work on a flat piece of plywood or thick cardboard so you can move your piece around as needed. Cut a piece of tar paper larger than your design and tape or secure it to your work surface. The tar should be flat and smooth. tears or wrinkles will mess things up.

Rub the surface of the tar paper with an even layer of waterproof wood glue. The glue footprint should extend an inch or two past the edge of your project on all sides. Allow the glue to dry thoroughly.

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Prepare the surface for layout. With a cloth, spread a thin layer of glue over the dried glue. This will make the letters stick to the surface of the glue.

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Outline your design on the glue-coated tar paper (figure 1.3). If the glue dries before you remove all the tile, add a thin layer of fresh glue. Arranging the tile pieces will appeal to your compulsive side. Lay them out on the floor like a puzzle, custom shaped pieces if needed. Aim to maintain consistent 1/8 inch spacing between tiles. since the tile itself is 1/8 inch thick, you can use a piece of tile as a guide (figure 1.4). If the tiles are too close together, the tar will have trouble flowing between the tiles. if they are too far apart, the tar will fill the gap, but it will be a weak point. A consistent layout will also make your design more readable.

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Keep your design at least an inch away from the edge of the plastic, staples or tape.

If you use text, place it upside down. This is easy to forget! What you see when you draw your image will actually be the bottom when installed.

Allow the second layer of glue to dry completely. Before proceeding with adding bitumen, make sure that no pieces of tile are loose. If one is loose, glue it back.

Shake the bitumen filler jar well and pour it over the design (figure 1.5). The ideal consistency of crack filler is like honey. If the brand you are using is too thick, place the pitcher in the sun to drain better. you can also try adding some water. The important part of this step is placing the bitumen between the tiles. The tile surfaces do not need to be tar free, but you should be able to see the shapes and some colors of the tiles. When the entire design is covered, add a 1/2-inch tar border beyond the edge of the tiles.

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Cut a piece of tar in the shape of your design and, while the tar is still wet, press the tar paper into the tar. If the paper starts to curl around the edges, do something to hold it down. Once the tar paper is flat, spread another layer of tar on the back of the tar paper so that it is completely covered with tar. This second layer of tar should be no more than 1/16 inch thick.

I'm referring to "Completion and installationbelow to complete your project.

Toynbee style drawings

The Toynbee method is labor intensive, but looks fantastic and produces installations that are by some accounts more durable than mosaic tiles. For our example, we'll assume you're using text, although you could use an image.

First, cut your text from VCT or linoleum (figure 1.6). It is worth using a very sharp blade for this. Both linoleum and VCT become soft and easily cut if left in the sun. if you're doing something complicated, a heat gun makes the material cut like butter. If necessary, you can make difficult letters in more than one piece.

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Then trace the text (figure 1.7). Place a piece of linoleum (not VCT) and arrange your text on it. Using a fine-tipped permanent marker or dark pencil, trace near each letter, or place all the text on the linoleum at once and use a light coat of spray paint to precisely transfer the letters to the background. If using the spray paint method, place the text upside down so the paint is on the back of the tiles.

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Now, cut out the negative space. Use a sharp blade and make sure the linoleum is hot. Cut out the engraved letters as precisely as possible (figure 1.8). Save the spaces in the letters like "O" and "B" to restore them. Keep the letters you cut out. you can use them with a different color background for your next design. Toynbee-style pieces do not require an 1/8-inch gap between pieces—in fact, the tighter the fit, the better.

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Staple or glue a piece of tar paper to a flat portable surface - cardboard and plywood work well. Cover the tar paper with a thin, even layer of waterproof wood glue. Spread the glue so that it covers an area larger than your design by at least two inches on all sides. Then place the design. Place the linoleum backing onto the wet glue so that the legible side is attached to the tar paper. Snap each letter into place (figure 1.9). Thoroughly remove any adhesive that has seeped into the side of the tiles not facing the tar paper. When everything is in place, weigh the piece down with a board and wait twelve or more hours for the glue to dry completely. it takes much longer than usual because there is hardly any airflow.

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After the glue dries, we spread the tar. Press some tar into the center of the design and use a piece of card to roll it out to 1/16 inch thickness. Add a 1/2-inch perimeter of tar around the edge of the entire design.

Cut a piece of tar paper in the shape of your design and press the tar paper into the wet tar as you would when making a mosaic design. Once the tar paper is flat, spread another layer of tar on the back of the tar paper so that it is completely covered with tar. The second layer of tar should be no more than 1/16 inch thick.

Allow your piece to dry.In hot sunlight, most crack fillers dry adequately in eight hours. in shade indoors, it can last up to twenty-four hours. When you feel it is safe to handle your piece, detach it from the board. The side facing the board is the top of your tile. Cut the tar paper on the top so that it is half an inch longer than the tar paper on the bottom. The layer of tar paper over your piece will remain until washed or worn away.

Prepare the bottom surface of your piece.Different tar products dry to a different consistency. If the tar has dried like tire rubber - pliable but dry to the touch - use a paper towel to spread a very thin layer of fresh tar on the underside. The goal here is to create a sticky surface, not a layer of wet tar! If your tar has dried and become pliable and sticky, it is not necessary to add fresh tar.

Find a location.Asphalt crack filler only adheres to asphalt used to construct roads, sidewalks, and paths. Does not work on concrete, brick or cobblestones. Find a location with high visibility. We recommend crosswalks, as your section is likely to be sized for pedestrian viewing: pedestrians will be able to appreciate your work as they cross the road, and passing cars will help crush the section into the asphalt. Also, in their capacity as stupid and dangerous moving objects, cars will faithfully prevent anyone from kneeling down to get their piece. Yes, only this time, the cars work for you!

Don't let your masterpiece be silenced in the prime of its life just because the road needed repair. Your tile can last ten years, possibly longer than its asphalt host. Place your place on the freshest asphalt you can find which is also a good spot. Also, the new asphalt is softer and stickier and therefore more receptive to your decorations.

Install your artwork.You should install your project when the weather is warm, when the asphalt is warm, soft and dry. If the forecast calls for significant rain in the next few days, wait until it passes. Bring a small brush to remove sand or road debris. Place your part by simply placing it on the ground, from the asphalt to the street. Now walk, jump, jump and run all over the place to make sure you are well planted. The top layer of tar paper will serve to camouflage and stabilize your piece in the first few weeks when it is most vulnerable as it begins to join the road. Eventually, the top layer will wear away or disappear, revealing your masterpiece.

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You can give your tile more time to set to the asphalt by adding extra layers of tar paper over the design. Before you leave, cut two pieces of tar paper a few inches away from the tile all the way. Rub the pieces of tar paper with a generous amount of glue and stick them side by side with glue. This will prevent them from drying out or sticking to things on the way to the installation site. After laying the tile and walking on it a bit, separate the two pieces of tar paper and stick them - one on top of the other - over the tile.

Brightly colored tiles look best on asphalt. colors like dark green tend to be invisible unless used effectively with other colors. Make sure there is a strong contrast in color or tone between your figure and its background, especially if your design includes text.

Try other ingredients! You've probably seen pennies, clips, and brake light pieces embedded in the asphalt at intersections. Thin pieces of metal, mirror or plastic will also work.

To make cutting easier, heat your VCT or linoleum with a heat gun or in a superheater. make sure the area you are doing this in is well ventilated.

Like stickers and stencils, pizza boxes are great for transferring pieces to designated locations (Figure 1.10).

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This technique has a lot to recommend it over standard graphite and wheat welding: it can be more permanent, it uses a medium that has not yet been used creatively, it is still almost unknown to the authorities and therefore it can be extremely easy to use. get rid. with.

Here's a challenge: make asphalt mosaics as popular - and unpopular - tomorrow as spray murals are today!

The following is fromreportin CrimethInc, 2007. convergence.

In August 2003, after joining CrimethInc. convergence described in "under the helicopters,” my barnstorming crew made one more tour stop – Athens, Ohio. At that time, after an unplanned march turned into a riot and then a media frenzy, there was an APB and cops waiting for us wherever we went.

Our last night of presentations and workshops went smoothly. We closed each event by teaching people how to make the asphalt tile mosaics described inRecipes for disaster, then posting one on a street as a sign of our demise. We briefly debated whether we should attempt this unorthodox act of vandalism under the watchful eye of the police, and ultimately decided—as we always do—that we should go ahead and let the outcome unfold. A loose scene ensued such as one might see in a European comedy: imagine us running across the campus chased by police and onlookers, trying to escape the former and place our mosaic of tiles in front of the latter. In the end, we managed to install the mosaic, but the police followed us to the house where we intended to stay and we had to leave the alley to sleep elsewhere.

Months later, unbeknownst to us and against all odds, the mosaic remained in the parking lot - somehow the police never bothered to remove it. Long before we met, the person who is now my lover and partner would pass a colorful heart embedded in the asphalt every day on the way to class, wondering how it got there.

Fast forward almost four years to the end of July 2007. The mosaic tiles our barnstorming tour laid have been laid and the passionate friendships that held our team together have cooled. All of us are now involved in new projects and friendships - for example, I'm back in Athens, in a forbidden parade at the end of the sixth CrimethInc. convergence, surrounded by hundreds of costumed maniacs. Some of them shoot fire. Others play improvised percussion, including a giant drum pressed into a shopping cart. Still others have just removed a huge roadblock marked ROAD CLOSED from a construction site and are moving on. Among the swirling dancers and veiled faces, in the haze of excitement and joy, I can make out a few people who were here with me four years earlier. We covered a lot of ground in that time.

My partner calls me at a point on the road. There, embedded in the asphalt, fresh and bright as the day we laid it there, is a heart of colored tile.

When experiments like these work, they connect us to spaces and each other in a magical way, giving our lives back the narrative meaning that capitalism drains from everything. They may not immediately overthrow the government or abolish the private ownership of capital, but they give us the networks, experience, and sense of our own power needed to fight these monstrous windmills. Separated from our ongoing struggle for liberation, they are meaningless, but they are not only useful as incremental steps towards liberation - they are alsothey arethis liberation as we reclaim our lives, moment by moment, from routine and obedience.


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