It starts with a squiggle on an abandoned building, then another, and another, until the once-blank wall is transformed into a mural. A tag from the author marks the final touch.
Eventually, this makeshift canvas will be wiped clean, restored to a mundane white wall, so the process can begin again. It's the nature of street art: spontaneous, public, fleeting.
Inspired by graffiti's transient nature, Peter Ferrari said he went through a Banksy phase at age 15, referring to the British street artist known for his subversive and polarizing street exhibits. Banksy spurred the young Ferrari to begin spray painting garages with colorful aerosols.
"Back then it was more, 'Screw you mom and dad, I am going to draw on walls.' Back then it wasn't about the artistic side," he said of his youthful rebellion.
The 31-year-old, known across Atlanta as the artist PLF, is hesitant to call himself a graffiti or even a street artist. The former Montessori schoolteacher, whose sprawling murals are found across Atlanta walls and commissioned by both private companies and individuals, instead sees himself as a public artist. Because of his use of spray paint, people around the city still call him a street artist. But what's the difference, anyway?
"Well, graffiti is illegal for one thing ... but it's a true art form," Ferrari said.
What started as a subculture on the streets of New York in the 1970s has gained popularity in the decades since. Graffiti, often used synonymously with street art, has become aesthetically trendy in many places across America.
Dave Betts said graffiti is celebrated in his Brooklyn, New York, neighborhood of Williamsburg. "There are even art appreciation tours that include some of the street art," he said.
Street art is a culture in Brooklyn. "I appreciate the capability and expression of the street artists in the area who have transformed streets that were considered common industrial sites," he said.
"What impresses me most is that graffiti can't be bought," Betts said.
Although graffiti was introduced to American street culture in the 1970s, Ferrari said the technique was around before then. "Graffiti in its current state has been around for decades. It is probably one of the largest art trends to last," he said.
"Think about pop art, it only lasted for 20 years, and it was one of the biggest trends. I mean, even cave paintings can be considered 'graffiti,' " he said.
What is graffiti?
"Graffiti is an affirmation of the individual," said Sara Cochran, curator of modern and contemporary at the Phoenix Art Museum. "The idea of graffiti has a lot to do with raw energy and authenticity."
In the realm of public space, street and public art are often indistinguishable.
Sometimes, what was once viewed as graffiti becomes pricey art. Cochran points to Banksy as an example.
"Banksy came from the streets and now has gallery shows and auctions," she said.
Despite Banksy's rise into the high-end art world, he still hides his identity, she pointed out. There is more to street art than who creates it, Cochran said. "Like Banksy, who is socially and politically driven, graffiti is driven by almost a communal pride," she said.
Street art is considered rebellious in nature and illegal in practice, while public art is commissioned by cities or property owners and is considered culturally enriching and socially acceptable.
Artists have used public spaces to showcase themes and bring awareness to issues. Marilynn Shcolnik was captivated when she saw blue trees in Seattle's downtown area.
What Shcolnik saw was "The Blue Trees," part of a public art installation by Australian artist Konstantin Dimopoulos. Dimopoulos covered the trees in a natural water-base pigment. The purpose of the piece is to bring awareness to global deforestation, according to his website.
Like Dimopoulos, Ferrari sees public space as a canvas and public art as an avenue to bring his aerosol-inspired artwork to a larger audience, further blurring the lines between street and public art.
'Weird divide between highbrow and lowbrow'
But does blurring the lines mean selling out?
Ferrari said he doesn't think so. In fact, he said he has been hoping to enter the realm of public art for a long time. He sees being a public artist as an opportunity. "Every time you do mural work, it is like another advertisement of yourself," he said. "And this is the year for me to get into bigger galleries and publications."