Sticker artist, Old Broads is turning City Center in Philadelphia into an outdoor gallery for her beautifully hand-drawn old ladies. If society has a tendency to treat older women as invisible, Old Broads is shining a bright spotlight on elderly women. Her whimsical characters peek out of newspaper boxes and hangout on traffic signs conspicuously showing off their bodies while adopting metaphysical yoga poses.
Old Broads agreed to sit down with me to talk about her characters and her thoughts on street art in Philadelphia. Here’s our conversation:
Can you tell me the idea behind Old Broads? It’s a humorous comment on how we avoid the elderly in our society. Also a lot of times women in street art are portrayed as hyper sexual, unrealistic creatures and that gets boring. I can open any magazine or look at any ad to see that. I find old women fascinating to observe, they have a lot of character.
How long have you been putting work up as Old Broads? I’ve only been doing Old Broads for six months, but I’ve been doing street art since 2006. I had a previous character called, A Little Birdie – it was a female-bird hybrid. Can you take me through the evolution of Old Broads? It seems like you started out with very recognizable characters. I was working as a dog walker and I was walking around the city a lot more and I missed putting work up. I noticed that all the recognizable female characters were young and very voluptuous. I thought, why don’t I draw them old? It will make me laugh and it will be recognizable to people. But then, it kind of bothered me to be copying someone else’s art. So I drew my own old ladies. Are there a lot of female street artists in Philadelphia? Not that I know of – I can only think of two right now, but hopefully that will change.
Do you have a favorite character that you’ve done so far? Not really, I think that’s why I’m different from some of the other sticker artists. I’m never really satisfied with my character, so I keep changing it. A lot of people are okay just doing the same one and varying it a little bit, but I can’t do that. I have been doing one that’s very similar recently. She has a huge hunch and I like that her, but she’s not perfect yet. It seems like Philadelphia’s street art is very sticker based. There is a very strong sticker-scene here. It’s more hand-drawn than other cities, like when I go to New York, I mostly see printed stickers. But there is a pretty strong community here. I’ve met most of the people who do it. We hang out. We’ve become friends and I think that’s why it’s so good here.
Do street artists normally trade stickers with each other? Yes. I feel like recently, a lot more people aren’t doing it for free. But it used to be huge. I would spend a lot of time making stuff for here, and half of the time I spent making stuff to trade with other people. It took all my free time – it was hard to be social because I had all these things to make. Can you tell me about the collaboration pieces between artists? Well, we meet up in the city and draw, but people collaborate through the mail too. So you can work with sticker artists from all over, which is really fun. I’m not crazy about doing it because sometimes when I send people collabs they just keep them and they don’t put them up, so I’m not really big on trading. I like to collab with people here in the city. Some of us will discuss ahead of time ideas and one of us will start it off at home – I have a pretty good crew here and we do a lot of collaborations together. The people who are buying your stickers, do you know if they are putting them up? I don’t think so. And that’s why I started selling them. I never used too. Like I said about trading, I don’t really like to trade with people if I don’t know that my stuff is going to put up. But if someone is paying for them, I don’t really mind. You can do whatever you want with them.
On Instagram, you’ve posted several watercolors and a large canvas piece. do you want to take Old Broads into gallery spaces? Yes. We have an upcoming show and a bicycle and skate shop at the end of the month. I’d like to make a little money so I can afford this hobby because it is kind of expensive, but I don’t want to transition to galleries and stop doing street art. Would you ever like to put up and Old Broads mural? Yes. I would like to get into spray painting, but I’m not good at it. It would be great to find someone to teach me because I’ve gone out and tried but it was horrible. I’m not good at graffiti. I’m much better at doing characters.
Do you consider your work graffiti? No. I think there is a huge difference. Graffiti is totally different from street art and stickers. For me is street art is wheatepaste and stickers, Graffiti is its own different thing. I think everything comes from graffiti, but not everything is graffiti. I would never tell anyone I was a graffiti artist. Do you primarily put your stickers on newspaper boxes? I put I lot up on those. I put up on signs. I try to stay away from private property. I would never put something up on somebody’s house. Unless it was abandoned – then I feel like that’s fair game.
So do you have any rules, like will you start a wall? Well there is a debate on whether there are rules. I personally think the only rule is to be respectful of other artists – like don’t put up over other people’s work. You should be nice and encouraging to other people – whether you like their work or not. There are people who have been doing this longer and feel like there are very specific rules about placement but I don’t really agree with them. It seems like someone is deliberately scratching out faces of some of your Old Broad characters – yeah someone is systemically destroying my work right now and I don’t know why. Maybe I offended them or something, I really don’t know. But there is some territorial beef or something happening. I would never go and destroy someone else’s art, I’m too busy trying to get my own stuff up. What draws you to street art? It breaks up the monotony of my walks. I walk around the city and I see trash everywhere. But then I see a little piece of art and then I think it’s not so bad. I can ignore the trash because there is a little piece of something that is interesting. It gets me out and noticing more things in the city. It becomes a reason for me to go to a neighborhood that I’ve never been too.
When did you get the desire to put your work up on the street? I was in art school and a bunch of my friends where getting into stickers. I had been doing stencils for a little bit and it was fun we would fill flasks and walk around – we were underage so we couldn’t go to bars, so we would just walk around put stuff up. And some of my friends who were really good artists said they were going to make stickers so we would go to the post office and take a ton of stickers and spend hours hanging out and drawing, so it was like a social thing. People would notice it and that was exciting. And years went by and most people stopped doing it, but I kept on. People have been so encouraging – people from all over the place – people I don’t even live in Philadelphia would see it and like. So that kept me going. Is Old Broads up in other cities? Not currently. There are some in New York, but that’s just a drop in the bucket. Every time I go there, I’m so overwhelmed. But I would like to spread it out to other cities. Like my old character – I had stuff all over the world. But, I was doing that for years. I do want to come to Brooklyn in the Spring because I think there is an audience for it there. How long do you spend on a piece? Hours sometimes. I draw pretty fast, but the coloring takes a long time. like with the water colors – I do that on water-color paper and I then I go to staples and print them to get that effect. Because I’ve tried water coloring on sticker paper, but it ruins the paper. So its pretty involved. Do you feel like you get really attached to any of your characters to the point that you don’t want to put them up? Sometimes with the collaborations I feel a little attached to them, but then I just make copies and I’ll copies for myself. I don’t really get attached any more because of the internet. Everything is documented. There a couple of people in Philadelphia who go around and take pictures of everything. Like recently I’ve been bummed about whomever is destroying my stuff, but usually someone gets a picture before it gets destroyed. In terms of your identify, do friends and family know that you are Old Broads? I don’t general tell people. But my boyfriend tends to tell people because he’s proud of me I guess. But most of his coworkers know, and his family knows. BUt I don’t tell a lot of people. I like to be slightly anonymous. I would rather my friends saw it and liked it, rather than wondering if they like because it was me. Have you had any legal issues? No, I haven’t. That is a concern, but I don’t even look around for cops when I’m putting stuff up because I assume they aren’t going to think that I’m up to anything bad.
You have a ton of stuff up in Philadelphia. What does it feel like when you come across your work? it is really thrilling to see my work on the streets. Even when I’m riding in a car – my work will catch my eye and it makes me happy. Sometimes I get a little frustrated by all the destruction my work suffers but it’s kind of flattering that someone is spending so much of their time to rub my work out. I must be doing something right.