‘This is How I Can Give Back’: Philly Artist Transforms Sidewalk Poles into No. 2 Pencils

Nate Walker has been painting street bollards as pencils since June 2018.

Nate Walker

One artist in Philadelphia is using an unusual canvas.

Nate Walker turns bollards — those short, streetside poles meant to keep cars from diving up sidewalks — into something we are all familiar with: No. 2 pencils.

Walker, a 29-year-old artist in Fishtown, got the idea to paint pencils when he was teaching after-school art classes to students at the North Light Community Center in Manayunk.


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"It was a great opportunity to give to the community I lived in for several years," Walker said.

In June of 2018, when he was painting a mural outside of the community center, he noticed how rusty and unsightly the bollards on the sidewalk looked.

He started to ask community members how he should paint the bollards. Some suggested barber poles, but Walker ultimately decided on classic No. 2 pencils.

"I really thought this was something everybody could relate to. Everyone had to use a No. 2 pencil as a kid, whether they wanted to or not," Walker joked.

Now, his pencil art is popping up along streets throughout Fishtown and Manayunk.

Berks, Blair, Belgrade, Carson and Hewson are among the numerous streets with bollards painted as No. 2 pencils.

"It is 100% worth it to me to see my community look a little nicer," Walker said. "And this is how I can give back."

Walker was overwhelmed with the positive response from the community, which encouraged him to continue painting the pencils.

"I have people come up to me and tap me on the shoulder saying they like what I’m doing,” Walker said.

Part of Walker’s design incorporates the use of the sun to create a type of "3-D shadow art." When the sun hits the bollards at different times during the day, it makes the pencils look like they’re writing with their shadows.

With some paint brushes and acrylic paint, Walker transforms the bollards with money out of his own pocket.

He’s even talked with some police officers who he said were completely on board with the pencil project.

"I intend on continuing in my neighborhood, or at least until I run out of paint,” Walker joked.

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