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How Billy Barnacles Turned His Art Into A Scavenger Hunt Across New York

This artist is turning the entire city into his canvas.

Introducing Billy Barnacles

Meet Billy Barnacles, the street artist behind one of New York’s very own art scavenger hunts. Not one to sit idle, Billy has been building and creating for ages. He took to woodworking, gardening, making furniture, working with miniature models and finally, resin work. Over the years he has been able to cultivate his many skills into his current art projects today.

Billy now creates “barnacles” that he plants across NYC. These barnacles consist of little art pieces made with resin that he scatters across the city on posts, fences, street signs, etc. He has even turned his barnacle work into an interactive experience for New Yorkers to embark on a hunt and locate his work. 

He originally began making his barnacles simply with flowers and resin. Occasionally throwing in some paint pens, he began to expand his materiality as time went on. Experimenting with other material, he began inserting miniature animals into the resin and working with glitter and alcohol inks. From there, Billy created his own plastic molds or sculptures out of clay and started using shoes that people left out on the street! At one point, Billy even turned an old motor he found into a robot! Now he keeps a bin of miscellaneous items for future barnacles he intends to make. 

Creating Barnacles

Creating the barnacles consists of an entire process. Billy noted that resin takes the longest due to the time it needs to cure. Some barnacles could be completed within 24 hours while others can take up to three days. 

He likes to work on multiple barnacles at once to stay busy. Normally, 48 hours is approximately the quickest it will take Billy to make the simplest of barnacles. Talking in more detail about the process, Billy said, “if I want it to be as clear as possible I would use a resin that takes longer to harden. I would then add the bolt and wait 24 hours for it to set. Then sand the outside of the barnacle working my way down from a course sandpaper to a fine paper. Then spray it with a clear coat. It’s a long process but it looks so pretty in the end.”

3-D Street Art

Billy first came up with this idea to leave his barnacles across NYC when he began to spend more time with other street artists. He would help them put up their work and in turn better understood how New York street art operated. “I felt like there was a lack of 3-D street art in NYC,” said Billy. “I started looking at ways that I could create my own, I found that resin was a good way to make something that will last when it is put up on the street. It helps protect against weather as well as people trying to take them down.”

And that’s precisely what makes 3-D street art so unique: it’s more permanence. Billy prefers to use bolt ups to keep his art withstanding, stating “it’s a lot harder to rip down a bolt up than if you glue it to a wall.”

Barnacle Map

Before he started mapping his barnacles for other people, he mapped them simply for himself. Billy wanted to keep track of where he placed his art so he could check up on them from time to time and see if they remained in their placed location. 

After people began coming across his barnacles, they would ask Billy where he put certain ones. After sending people mapped locations he decided it might be best to make his personal map public. 

What’s nice about using google maps Billy mentions is that “[he] can add or take away Barnacles and it will instantly update it. If [he goes] out on a weekend and put[s] a bunch of stuff up people can look at the map later that day and see where.” This keeps a close dialogue between him and his following to constantly be up to date on any of his new additions. However, Billy discusses a certain downside to the map’s accuracy. “It’s hard for me to know when Barnacles are ripped down. I try to update the map periodically so that people aren’t looking around for a barnacle that is no longer there.”

Barnacle Location

When choosing where to leave a barnacle, Billy said “I found that there are certain areas of the city that people go to when they are looking for street art. There are certain walls and doors that are constantly being renewed with new art. I started out by picking those areas to put my barnacles.” This included neighborhoods like the Lower East Side, Soho, West Village, East Village. As for Brooklyn, Billy found Williamsburg and Bushwick to be the largest street art areas in the borough. 

Once he hit those initial hotspot areas he expanded into other neighborhoods. People even request their specific neighborhoods directly to Billy for a chance to get a barnacle located there.

Scavenger Hunt

Billy mentioned that the idea to turn his barnacles into a scavenger hunt took inspiration from other 3-D artists who had left their work for the public to encounter. He referenced Shooters Street Art that notably puts on art hunts around NYC. Billy basically expanded on that idea in a time of much distress.

With the pandemic everyone was holed up inside. Billy wanted to make an inclusive hunt that didn’t make people have to travel outside of their borough to join in on the fun. This in turn led to his decision in scattering his work across all five of the boroughs. 

His most notable hunt was the unicorn hunt done citywide. He had made 45 unicorn barnacle magnets. Working in collaboration with @captain_eyeliner @queendomny, it took the trio 18 hours to set up every magnet. They released a map of each magnet’s location and people were encouraged to share all of their finds on social media. 

The unicorn hunt turned out to be a major success. People posted photos enjoying themselves on the hunt and parents even took their children out in search for a fun and safe outdoor activity. Billy Barnacles was recreating the way to entertain in a COVID dangerous world. 

To further promote the street art community, when placing the unicorn magnets across the city, the trio ensured to place them by surrounding street art. This helped raise awareness and exposure to other artists in the community. 

Artist Collaboration

Upon discussing collaborations with other artists, Billy said “it’s beneficial for everyone, something new and different is created.” When questioned on how he finds other street artists to collaborate and connect with Billy responded that “everything runs through social media. You end up seeing a lot of art while you’re putting stuff up. I take a lot of pictures of other people’s stuff and follow them. Sometimes we will meet each other at different street art events.” 

Specifically for Billy, he oftentimes looks for other 3-D street artists. “There are few in New York but there are several people all over the world. Most of the people I’ve done collaborations with have been outside of New York…I end up putting their stuff up in New York and they end up putting my stuff up where they live.” 

Next on the Map

As for what neighborhood you can expect to find Billy’s newest barnacles, he said “where I put things up in the city is constantly changing. If I am putting up pieces with other street artists it’s typically whatever neighborhood we decide to meet up in.” Yet, if Billy is on a solo mission he is most likely to pick a neighborhood he hasn’t visited in awhile. He noted that he’d like to put some new barnacles up in the Bronx as well as some Brooklyn areas like Flatbush, Crown Heights and eventually hit Coney Island. 

He hopes his barnacles brightens the days of many as they pass by. “Seeing people’s reactions on social media lets me know what barnacles people like and don’t like. It’s always surprising how some people react to certain pieces,” said Billy. 

As for the future, Billy wants toexpand people’s concepts and thoughts about street art. Street art is a raw un-curated form of art that anyone who is willing can participate in. It is something that I think should be celebrated and encouraged. I would like to show people new and different ways that they can create street art. That it’s possible to take things that are found tossed on the sidewalk and make them into something fun for people to enjoy.”

Here’s a map to Billy’s Barnacles!

featured image from: Instagram @billy.barnacles

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