An Open-Source Guide to Help You Build Your Own Graffiti Drone

KATSU's drone in a NYC subway. (via
Katsu’s Icarus One drone in a New York City subway. (via

Artist Katsu has been working hard at extending the language of public mark making, and his latest experiments have been drone-based. Long known for his distinctive, large-scale fire extinguisher tags that trail across whole walls, his spray-painting flying machines are the latest evolution of his interest in “things that can make marks,” he tells Hyperallergic.

Icarus One (via
Icarus One (via

“It must come from a childhood spent drawing, making my own fireworks, trespassing, and living in video games,” he says. “Like the video game, the drone offers an unusual flesh-and-blood experience. It feels real, it feels right. Like an expansion pack for my body. It probably has a little to do with the looming singularity. Drones will replace us in the physical space. They’ll make art and get high and fix the environment. I hope.”

Named after the Greek mythological figure who flew too close to the sun with wings made of feathers and wax, Icarus One is the “world’s first open-source paint drone.” A page of instructions on the project’s website offers schematics to 3D-print your own parts, links to places to buy necessary elements, and even the option to buy one fully assembled.

Katsu's Dronescape at Coney Art Walls (photo courtesy the artist)
Katsu’s Dronescape at Coney Art Walls (photo courtesy the artist)

The artist most recently used his specially designed drone to paint a “dronescape” at Coney Art Walls in Brooklyn’s Coney Island neighborhood. The result is a simple and moody landscape on a handball wall that consists of a lightly dusted blue sky and hazy green hills. “The series of paintings I am making now reflects this very short period of time before drones are able to paint like printers,” he says. “It’s the beauty in simplicity and crudeness. Like the beauty in a child’s drawing.”

Katsu foresees a central role for drones in the “new post-human art” environment. “These are our new limbs, the internet, the smartphone, the drone …. It’s only in its infancy but the Icarus drone will eventually open the doors to precision drawing and painting on a scale and speed like we’ve never experienced.”

Icarus One painting the Dronescape at Coney Art Walls (image courtesy the artist)
Icarus One painting the Dronescape at Coney Art Walls (image courtesy the artist)

He sees his work with drones as a type of “daydreaming with technology. A weird subconscious space where vandalism takes you. The euphoric feeling of marking things …. For me the drone raises the issue of authorship and anonymity in art and graffiti. A feeling of privacy. Imagine drones anonymously drawing abstract works on walls around the city. Or vandals using them with programmed missions. Drones that are untraceable to owners. Drones without identities. Cyber crimes in the physical.”

A detail of Icarus One painting on a wall (image via
A detail of Icarus One painting on a wall (image via

He’s already working on the next generation of Icarus with his friend Maddy Varner, which, he explains, will have “eyes.”

The implication of the Icarus drone is that the function of the artist will eventually be automated after the right program or algorithm is created to propagate her or his ideas and designs.

“[The drone project] hasn’t changed me as an artist. It has however mutated my perception of self,” he says. “I see my reflection phone in hand, drone in hand (or on back). I feel I have reach. My drone paintings can take larger form — 100-foot, shit, 300-foot-long paintings.”

You have to wonder if Katsu’s evolving family of drones, like their namesake, will overstep their limitations. The Greek legend recounts the tale of a giddy Icarus who, overcome by hubris, flew too close to the sun and melted the wax of his wings before plunging into the sea to his death. Considering the illegality of graffiti in most cities and increasingly stringent regulation of drone usage, it’s not hard to imagine the penalties that spray-painting drones could rack up.

“The drone paintings are a look into the science of painting, the logic of it,” Katsu says. “Drones are used as expendable replacements for people. I think that this project gives them a new meaning. It gives them a certain warmth you can commend. It also gives them a warmth you want to beat, arrest, and punish.”

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