There are endless ways to create art out of even the most mundane of things. See how you can make stunning masterpieces from the simplest of manhole covers.

On your daily commute, you may notice graffiti art plastered onto brick walls or large murals painted on the sides of buildings. But have you ever noticed any intricate art that sits beneath your shoes? 

A manhole is an opening to a deep shaft or vault that provides workers with access to public utilities like sewer systems. Over the top of this manhole is a removable metal covering that protects passersby from falling into the shaft. Despite its mundane usage, many people have seen these coverings as not only a public safety measure but an opportunity to decorate city streets with vibrant colors and designs. 

In major cities, manhole cover art has taken the creative community by storm, providing artists with a means of expression through the transformation of something seemingly so ordinary. Japan, especially, has served as one of the main sources of inspiration for the community. The country’s manhole cover designs are rich with its twinkling cities’ cultural and touristic appeal. 

While manhole cover art is often done over municipal sewer drains, private property owners with a manhole cover on their land can partake in this beautifying activity. In this article, we’ll browse through some of the most intriguing examples of manhole cover art that you can use as inspiration for your next home DIY project. 

The Meaning Behind Manhole Cover Art

Manhole cover art is more than transforming a hunk of metal into a brilliant masterpiece. Not only do manhole covers provide protection for people walking over sewer drains; they also provide opportunities for both simple and complex art projects that enhance visual and cultural attributes of cities around the world. 

In bustling cities like Tokyo and Budapest, manhole covers are viewed as potential to feature elements of a particular location or culture. In Takasaki, a city 60 miles northwest of Tokyo, manhole cover art designs may characterize a landmark, special event, or an official cultural attribute of Japan. As such, mascots from local sports franchises, popular cartoon characters, and commemorations of local festivals are frequently found on the streets of Japan—a tourist attraction in itself. 

Although many manhole covers are created with deeper meaning—to embellish a location with corresponding characteristics—some manhole cover artists view the round chunk of aluminum as merely a canvas for their artistic expression and creativity. This can range from a basic geometric pattern to colorful pictures of popular icons, animals, and much more. 

In particular, the manhole covers of New York City display subtle art designs that feature fascinating geometric patterns, coupled with company names, logos, and the year it was made. Other countries, like Canada, frequently showcase intricate designs like floral motifs. Manhole cover art is universal and not characteristic to one city or culture. It is an art form often expressed by people with a desire to tell a story, whether it is through tidbits of history, clever advertising, or color and interpretation.


How to Make Art Out of Manhole Covers

Whether you are an established artist or a private property owner looking for ways to enhance the aesthetic appeal of your land, transforming a manhole cover could be your next big project. With a few splashes of color and some sketched-out designs, any old manhole cover could become a work of art. 

Manhole cover art is typically made by carving out patterns and pictures into the iron or aluminum to create a design. However, glass tiles, stones, or paint can also transform a manhole cover into a statement piece or even blend it into your landscaping without blocking access to the manhole itself. You can do this by creating a beautiful tile mosaic to match the colors of your garden or by painting with aluminum-safe paint to add eccentric colors and images.

Printing Pirates

Other forms of art can also be made from already-carved manhole covers by transferring the designs onto fabrics and textiles. This practice is largely undertaken by people who call themselves “Printing Pirates”—a community known to find interesting patterns and designs around local cities to use for their own artistic projects. 

Using a simple paint roller and paint, both experienced and aspiring artists can roll paint onto a manhole cover and lay their desired fabric onto it to transfer the design. Once you find a manhole cover design that fits your interests, this two-step process can reward you with a fabulous covering or T-shirt to wear.

Types of Manhole Cover Art

With the right drive and artistic prowl, anyone can create a fabulous art project out of a manhole cover. From subtle motifs to designs rich in floral arrangements and geometric patterns, the possibilities of manhole cover art are endless. Here are a few design ideas that you can use to transform your backyard manhole cover from plain to captivating in a few easy steps.

Simple Geometric Designs

Simple doesn’t have to be boring. Rather, it can be unique and subtly charming. For the private property owner that wishes to spruce up their land in a way that doesn’t take away from their casual and simple aesthetic, having a professional carve out an interesting geometric pattern into your property’s manhole cover or decorating it yourself with tiles and stones could be a great solution.


Floral and Nature Designs

In places heavy in concrete and stone, a touch of nature and floral design on a manhole cover can transform dreary concrete jungles into artsy city streets. For your next art project, use inspiration from the natural wonders around you to create a masterful piece. If you are working on private property near trees and flowers, consider matching the manhole cover to its surroundings with a creative landscape design or decorating the metal with painted floral images.


Cultural Designs

Cultural art is seen all over the world in a variety of ways, and manhole covers are one of them. Representing your culture in a unique way on your property allows you to share pride for your heritage with visitors and onlookers. In Japan, this is done by etching out pictures of geishas and historical architecture. On your property, you may choose to create something meaningful from your own culture by painting your manhole cover with colors that represent your country’s flag.


Which Design Will You Create?

With so many possibilities to create intricate art by etching fascinating designs into hunks of metal or simply decorating with tiles and paint, anyone with access to a manhole cover should be excited to undertake a plethora of new home DIY projects. Not to mention, there is potential to generate unique fashion pieces and other art forms from manhole cover designs. From beginners to the most experienced of artists, there is something for everyone to reap and enjoy. 

If you are looking forward to your next manhole cover art project, start with ensuring your safety by reading our blog post on safe work practices for manhole coverings.

By Jeyree Everly
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