Artist Tyler Kennedy Stent surprised by controversy around his Ed Sheeran mural

The artist behind a controversial street art mural of English singer Ed Sheeran is surprised by the criticism his work has received.

Tyler Kennedy Stent was commissioned by Enterprise Dunedin - the marketing arm of Dunedin City Council - to paint the giant watercolour image.

But the $8350 project attracted criticism from residents and other groups as a waste of ratepayers' money, with the Taxpayers' Union saying it reflected "a culture of waste" at the city council.

Stent said the negativity upset him "a little bit", and feels that critics are missing the point.

"Just because it's Ed Sheeran doesn't mean that it's not art, and that everyone can appreciate it", he says.

"That's the beauty of street art. Everybody who walks by can enjoy the fact that this street is now colourful, and there's a bit of character to it."

Stent spent the weekend working on the giant watercolour artwork in Dunedin's Bath Street. On Monday, he was finishing the piece off with three different coats of varnish to protect it from the rain and from graffiti vandals.

But he says he's been listening to the recent criticism and has tried to take into account some of the drama.

"Because of all of Ed's crazy tattoos I was able to incorporate, I suppose, Dunedin into his tattoos", he says.

"There's the Dunedin logo, an All Blacks flag, and a heart for [TVNZ presenter] Hayley Holt on Ed's right forearm, because maybe the hate isn't mutual."

The Dunedin-based artist has just held his first major exhibition and says he enjoys working with watercolours, because they're so unpredictable.

He also likes listening to music while he paints - including a certain English singer.

"I'm definitely an Ed Sheeran fan. I probably started painting seriously when his first album came out."

Stent understands Sheeran has seen his original watercolour sketch on Instagram.

The singer is set to play three concerts in Dunedin over Easter, and on the off-chance he does come to see the wall, Stent has created a special piece of artwork to give the star.

"Usually I ask someone's permission before I paint them, let alone paint them 5x4m on public property.  So I'd probably apologise if I met him, then say 'Here's my version', and chuck him a painting," he laughs.

Enterprise Dunedin commissioned the street art mural out of its marketing budget and hopes it will help encourage visitors to promote the city on social media.

It's also spending another $160,000 on associated events around Sheeran's three southern concerts, which are expected to pull a total of more than 110,000 fans.