To learn a bit more graffiti history check out the World’s Top 20 Most Famous Graffiti Artists
Learn how to draw graffiti letters here
The necessary graffiti lingo, jargon or slang words you need to know, excluding everything that will make you sound straight out of a 1980s break dancing video.
All City When a writer is known and their work is visible throughout the entire city.
Action A European term for a graffiti mission.
Back Jump When a train is stationery for a few minutes at some point during its daily service and possible to paint.
Bomb/Bombing The act of painting illegal graffiti in the streets.
Biting To directly copy another writer’s style and letters.
Blackbook A graffiti writer’s sketchbook.
Buff To clean or remove graffiti.
Burner A really good graffiti piece.
Cap The nozzle on spray-paint, different caps give different thickness of line, there’s lots of different caps out there, the two main categories are fats and skinnys. (Cap can also mean the same as going-over)
Clean Train An American term for passenger trains.
Crew A group of friends or a collective of writers that paint together. Normally named with a two or three letter acronym.
End-To-End A train carriage with graffiti going from one side of it to the other.
Fill The interior base colors of a piece of graffiti .
Flicks Photos of your handiwork.
Going-Over (also referred to as taking-out) Painting over another writer’s work.
Handstyle The distinctive and unique style of an individual writer’s tag.
King Someone who is recognized as being a master of graffiti through consistent years of painting high-quality pieces, panels, straight letters, throw-ups and tags. Kings don’t crown themselves.
Lay-up A railway siding where trains are parked.
Lean-Over A roller piece or tag painted by leaning off a roof.
Mop A homemade pen with a large round nib, usually made from a shoe polish dispenser filled with ink or paint. Will often explode all over your hands at the exact point you don’t want it to.
Outline The line that forms the shape of your letter, painted on top of the fill.
Panel A piece on the side of a train.
Piece Short for masterpiece, a painting with multiple colors and fill patterns, background, shadow or 3D.
Roller A large, simple piece of graffiti that uses emulsion paint and a paint roller.
Runner A train the goes into service with graffiti on, that isn’t taken straight to be cleaned.
Scribe/Scratchy A tool like a drill bit, stone or key that’s used to scratch a word into a surface.
Stock Cap The standard cap that comes with the can of paint.
Straight Letter A simple, legible piece of graffiti that anyone can read. Usually a single color fill.
Tag The simplest way a writer can get up, a single color, one stroke version of their name. Can be painted, marked or scratched on a surface.
Throw-up One up from a tag, an outline which is very fast to paint with a single color fill-in.
Top-To-Bottom A panel that goes from the bottom of a train carriage to the top.
Toy A beginner graffiti writer or someone who is bad at doing graffiti, generally used as an insult, here’s some tips to avoid being labelled a toy
Trackside A piece painted on the railway tracks.
Up When a writer is up it means there is a lot of their graffiti in their city and they are well-known.
Whole Car A piece of graffiti that covers an entire train carriage.
Whole Train A train where every carriage is a whole car.
Wildstyle A complex style of graffiti with lots of letter connections, extensions and arrows. Learn how to draw graffiti wildstyle here.
Window-Down A panel painted below the windows.
Writer Someone who paints, or writes graffiti.
Yard A train, subway or metro depot.
I hope that helps.
Toy is a word that gets thrown around a lot in the graffiti world. Here’s how to speed up the painful process of being a graffiti beginner.
Paint more, sketch more, try harder. The more time you spend actually doing graffiti the faster you’ll improve.
Don’t walk before you can run. As tempting as it might be, avoid drawing over-complex wildstyle pieces with loads of connections. Get the basics locked down and your simple letters and handstyles looking really nice. Knowing your history will help this a lot.
Your going to get some negative critics, take it on board if it’s constructive advice from a friend, if it’s just an insult, ignore it. People who are worried about what others think never accomplish anything because they are too scared to break the mold.
Graffiti isn’t about wearing a five-panel hat, North Face jacket, vintage Polo Sport and New Balance 420s.
Have some mystery about yourself, don’t go telling every writer in your city and all over the internet what you write. Keep it between you and your friends, those memories you gain are what you’ll appreciate in years to come.
Be adventurous, explore your city, no one ever found glory by painting the same spot every weekend. Push yourself to your limits right from day one.
Find your own spots, lie low, don’t go causing problems for yourself early on.
It’s not because you’ve got the wrong German Mark II Skinny Cap. A good writer can paint something burning with two colors of cheap hardware store paint and stock caps.
We all love painting and when you start out extra enthusiasm is natural, but don’t be the guy who rocks a t-shirt with his favorite writer’s throw-up on it and does online sketch battles/sticker swaps.
Stick with spray paint for the first few years, use a Pilot marker now and then. With no credibility already earned, stickers will make you look like you lack courage and ambition.
The longer you write the more you learn that the only people who use the word toy are other toys. Even if you’re just starting out and someone calls you a toy whose graffiti looks the business to you, chances are it looks the business because you don’t fully understand why it’s so bad.
Toy is a word used by the insecure and jealous. Graffiti writers who are content in their own accomplishments and have been writing for a long time have no interest in insulting graffiti writers below their standard or having an opinion on their graffiti- it’s the equivalent of laughing at an ant because it can’t read.
Put the internet down, the more time you spend thinking about graffiti and looking at what others are doing, the less time you are having your own mega LOLs.
Whether you’ve got 2 months or 20 years experience, graffiti is the most fun you can have with a can of paint, so don’t worry and enjoy being toy.
Don’t write blog posts telling people how not to be a graffiti toy.
Learn the basics of how to draw graffiti letters here
DISCLAIMER: PAINTING ON PROPERTY THAT DOESN’T BELONG TO YOU WITHOUT PERMISSION IS ILLEGAL. NEED SOME REASONS WHY YOU SHOULDN’T DO GRAFFITI? CLICK HERE
Do you know someone who might be a graffiti toy who could do with some kind words of advice? Tell them to stop painting bad paint pen canvases in their bedroom and share this post with them.
Whether they’ve reached the top as a result of their artistic ability, sheer quantity or a knack for self-promotion- if graffiti is a fame game these guys are winning.
He might not be a king of style, but Boris has a lot of fun painting and makes sure you know it. With his impressive abilities in social media marketing, product development and a complete disregard for his own privacy he has found recent fame and is arguably becoming the king of the internet. Check out The Grifters for more on the antics of him and his friends.
This duo were an active part of the US subway painting renaissance in the early to mid-2000s and have since travelled to many different corners of the world. They were arrested on returning home after a trip through Europe in 2009 and their story caught the attention of the national media who described them as “the ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ of graffiti”. You can see their blog here.
With a graffiti career that’s spanned three decades and several continents, Egs has had a major influence on the European graffiti scene and inspired many younger writers. Originally from Helsinki, Egs was one of the earliest members of the graffiti InterRail movement; where writers would travel across borders to explore new cities and make new friends with their shared interest in painting trains and walls. His unusual, ever-developing style and his ability to make connections worldwide has made a lasting impression on the scene.
Katsu has adapted his graffiti for the digital age, reproducing his iconic skull tag in a variety of different ways. He has developed his own mobile app, pioneered remote control graffiti drones and doctored photos and videos of him vandalising Picasso’s ‘Girl Before a Mirror’, the White House and the Great Wall of China. Katsu’s work has outwardly criticised the way the internet is developing for profit at the cost of the privacy and freedom of the general public.
Another graffiti duo, the pair have been well known throughout Europe during their careers due to their original concepts. They rose to global fame with the release of their book International Top Sprayer, which tells the story of their mission to paint 1000 panels in 1000 days. These two have managed to achieve quality and quantity in their train painting, a rare feat by today’s standards.
With a unique style that’s reminiscent of early cartoons and his relentless dedication to painting the streets of Paris, Horfe has received recognition from writers and the art community alike. In recent years he has ventured into different mediums including tattoos, acrylics and animation. You can see more of his work over on his blog.
Originally from Houston, Nekst gained international notoriety for his great drive and lack of fear when it came to painting. Throughout his life he painted many subways, rooftops and freeway spots in cities all over the USA with his bold style. Nekst tragically died in 2012 and artists payed their tributes to him worldwide.
One of the most notorious inter-railers in the history of graffiti, Banos has left his mark on subway systems all over the world and had a particularly large impact on the London and Amsterdam metros (and their security). He’s painted more panels than most writers have had hot dinners. In 2007 the documentary Reasonable People was released detailing some of his adventures.
Claw began writing graffiti in New York in the late 1980s painting her iconic claw symbol all over the city. Since then she has used her graffiti style as the branding for her fashion label Claw & Company which has become popular with celebrities including Kanye West, Nicki Minaj And Rihanna. She has been commissioned by many well know brands including Calvin Klein, Nike, Mountain Dew and My Little Pony .
Saber is best known for painting what was the largest piece of graffiti in the world on the Los Angeles river bank. The piece was 250 x 55 feet and could be seen by satellite. He has exhibited and collaborated with many different artists including his crew MSK, and the art collective Seventh Letter. Saber’s solo show at the Opera in New York was a huge success and sold out.
These twin brothers from São Paulo started painting in the late 1980s when hip-hop culture exploded in South American cities. They are best known for their yellow figures depicting the people of Brazil and its culture, but both continue to paint traditional graffiti. They have been commissioned to paint several large scale public murals in their home city and all over the world.
Eine first found fame in the London graffiti scene in the 90s by painting his unusual throw-up all over the city and was featured in the televised documentary Kings and Toys. By the mid-2000s he was well known by the public by painting his recognisable alphabet letters on shutters all over East London. In 2010 British Prime Minister David Cameron gave Barack Obama one of Eine’s canvases as a gift on a visit to the US. Eine has had several gallery shows and his work is highly sought after by art collectors.
Twist a.k.a. Barry McGee was active on the San Francisco Bay Area graffiti scene in the 1980s and 90s, and was best known for the distinctive handstyle of his tags. McGee is also a successful illustrator and now tries to disassociate himself from his graffiti past; at the same time avoiding the ‘street art’ label as he has made his move into the galleries. McGee has received good publicity from his solo exhibitions, installations and also his collaborative work with his co-creator Amaze.
Revok has painted Los Angeles consistently since 1991, and as a consequence has received a lot of negative attention from the city’s Sheriff’s Department. In 2011 he was arrested at LAX on his way to Ireland and issued with the highest bail for vandalism in history, at $320,000. The courts sentenced him to six months in prison. This hasn’t deterred Revok and he continues to create his artwork and exhibit in galleries. He currently lives in Detroit where he can escape his police troubles.
Taking advantage of public perceptions of graffiti, Espo used to paint whole shutters of disused shops in the middle of the day dressed in tradesman clothes. One of his greatest contributions to graffiti was his book The Art Of Getting Over: Graffiti At The Millennium which describes the subculture eloquently and offers advice to young writers. Powers now focuses on his typography and sign-writing. In 2005 he organised The Dreamland Artists Club which was an art collective that re-painted signs of the Coney Island fairground rides and kiosks. He currently works out of his studio Icy Signs.
‘This is it! This is it!’ Even today, more than 20 years after his most active time painting, Iz is still one of the longest-standing kings of New York graffiti; painting every lay-up and yard on every line of the city during the 1970s and 80s. Iz the Wiz sadly passed away in 2009.
Commonly known as ‘the Godfather of Graffiti’, Seen was not one of the first on New York’s graffiti scene, but he has remained active one way or another since he started in 1973. He first gained recognition for painting the subway, including dozens of whole cars, some of which are featured in Subway Art. Seen has used various mediums throughout his career including canvas, 3D sculpture and tattoos.
Blade is known for the highly experimental concepts of his whole cars and the sheer quantity of trains he’s painted, which he counts at around 5000. At a time when style was rapidly evolving, it’s clear to see in his work that his inspiration truly came from within.
As the pioneer of many elements of modern wildstyle, a lot of today’s graffiti culture has been shaped in Dondi’s image. Dondi was another who was active during the 1970s and early 80s, and continued to paint the subway when New York had it’s clamp down with police investigations and added security in the yards. His whole car series Children of the Grave has become part of graffiti history and his name will continue to be remembered for decades to come.
Lee painted whole cars, and almost nothing but. At a time when so many kids were painting trains in New York, Lee pushed things that little bit further and his awe-inspiring pieces have given him the title of the most influential graffiti artist ever. Lee truly showed the world what was possible in terms of artistic ability and scale, paving the way for generations of graffiti writers to come.
Graffiti fame checklist:
Anyone else you think deserves a mention? Leave your comments below!
Like the warning label on a packet of cigarettes this article will tell you why you shouldn’t make your mark on society.
Graffiti takes a massive amount of determination and time, if you focus all that energy on something else you might find yourself on the Forbes rich list or getting a Nobel Peace Prize. From skipping school to staying up late chances are you’ll get to a point where you realise this amazing talent doesn’t earn you squat and your future possibilities are limited. If you really can’t resist take up street art instead and you’ll be rolling in cash.
Sure, when your a teenager girls will think your dangerous and cool, let’s face it your way more interesting than the guy who spends his life playing football or trying to do a kick flip. Just wait until your a full grown adult, that cute hobby is now an immature cry for help and she’ll drop you for a doctor or a street artist. Girls who paint graffiti have a few extra years of guys thinking it’s hot.
If you commit enough crimes you will get arrested, no question about it, this isn’t down to your ability to evade the law it’s just a matter of odds. If you continue to break the law after you get arrested you will get arrested again. Most writers have rap sheets longer than their arm. This sucks for things like insurance or if your thinking about going on holiday; countries don’t like crooks and visa restrictions are getting tighter and tighter, so no inter-rail or breath-taking mountain scenery for you.
Get arrested enough times, or for an act of vandalism that’s deemed worthy enough, and you’re looking at jail. There are lots of writers out there who have been to jail for graffiti, whether they found the experience a living nightmare or pretty bearable they’ll all agree that it’s a complete waste of time, you can never get that back.
See all that paint on the wall? Half of it is in your lungs, it also gets absorbed through your skin and your eyes; and it’s not very good for your nervous system, kidneys or your brain.
“I would trade it all back for perfect health, every drop of fame, every drop of glory, every magazine I was ever in, every movie I was ever in, I would give it all back in a heartbeat and have my health.”
-Iz the Wiz (RIP)
Graffiti is dangerous, you take stupid risks to get to the best spots. There’s hundreds of ways you can make that terminal mistake, such as getting hit by a train, electrocuted by a live rail or falling to your death. The funniest, kindest and wisest guy I’ve ever had the pleasure of calling a friend would still be here today if he never painted.
Stay indoors and play video games instead.
In this article you will learn how to draw graffiti letters for beginners step by step.
When I started painting graffiti fifteen years ago I struggled to find any kind of information on how to develop my skills in such a secretive art form. The only way to learn was making (lots of) mistakes and meeting other graffiti writers, which can be a very slow process. It usually takes an individual several years to be able to draw or paint to a standard that other graffiti writers would admire.
Today there are a lot of tutorials online made by people who have no real experience painting graffiti, and they are pretty misleading.
Graffiti can take a lot of perseverance but it is well worth it.
I have traveled all over the world, met some really good friends from many different countries, had lots of adventures and been paid a lot of money by big businesses who want that urban look.
Luckily for you I’ll help you skip the hard learning curve and avoid the mistakes most people make when they start out. By the time you’ve finished reading this graffiti tutorial we’ll have covered all the basic drawing skills you need, then with practice you can go on to develop your own style.
Below are some examples of different artists styles from all over the world.
Before putting pencil to paper the best way to gain a good understanding of how to draw graffiti is to know a little bit about it’s history. The more you know about the early days of graffiti and its origins the bigger the advantage you have when it comes to style and skill. To check out our graffiti timeline infographic click here.
Subway Art is the book about the beginnings of graffiti and has paved the way for different artists styles all over the world. Graffiti artists often praise this book and refer to it as their bible. I don’t know a graffiti artist who hasn’t read it and most will have a copy buried somewhere in their home.
Another great resource is the documentary Style Wars (made by Henry Chalfant, one of the authors of Subway Art) that covers the lives of some of the artists in the book. It’s a really vibrant account of a time when the New York subway cars resembled a public art gallery.
The most credible writers today all have elements of early style in their work, so know your history.
With a bit of research you’ll learn the graffiti art movement is a sub-culture with it’s own lifestyle, jargon and values. It’s worth acknowledging modern graffiti culture is very different to how it was when it began in the 1970s and 80s, it’s not as fashionable to walk around finger-clicking in your custom all-denim outfit today.
For further inspiration it’s a really good idea to seek out art on the walls of your local area and take some photos. In most cities or large towns there are legal walls where artists can paint with permission, usually you’ll find a high standard of graffiti here because artists can spend many hours there without fear of being arrested. There is normally a pretty high turnover of paintings as people paint on top of previous work.
Legal-walls is a great website that allows you to locate these walls in your local area.
In the age of the internet it is easy to search online for photos of graffiti from all over the world, but if you look around your own city you’ll see recurring themes in different artists style. I personally think it’s good for writers to maintain these trends as it gives each city it’s own unique contribution to the movement. If you do graffiti with a group of friends, a.k.a a crew you might find that you all develop similar styles.
Don’t copy another artists style directly, this is known as biting and makes you look uncreative and a bit of a fraud. Most people will do this to some degree when starting, maybe even unintentionally, (whether they’ll admit it or not) but don’t claim someone else’s style as your own.
What separates a really innovative artist from a mediocre one is their ability to develop ideas for their letters outside graffiti; from illustration, comics, art and the world around them. You can get inspiration from anywhere.
Ok, so now it’s time for the action. In this lesson we will cover how to develop letter form and draw the outlines of you’re letters, so you will need some tools:
The foundation of graffiti is typography. Typography is the basic art of letters, even the font your reading right now was originally drawn and designed by someone. Graffiti writers have a good understanding of typography and often go on to successful careers in graphic design and other creative fields.
We’re going to quickly look at the most basic alphabet style, sans-serif. Sans-serif letters don’t have any serifs (sans is French for without) which are the extended strokes on the ends of letters.
Let’s look at an alphabet made up of capitals, as the majority of graffiti pieces use capital letters because they are normally more interesting to work with and look stronger.
Here is a sans- serif alphabet:
Sure you’ve seen one before.
The letters are made up of bars, some straight and some curved, all of equal thickness and with even gaps between them.
Have a look at the bar structure of the letters
Practice drawing some of the letters from the sans-serif alphabet, concentrate on the equal thickness of the bars, the angles, symmetry and the spacing of the gaps in the letters.
When you start drawing graffiti use bars to build your letters. After time you’ll have a good idea of your own style and letter structure and you wont need to keep this up (which means being able to paint much quicker).
So now you have a basic understanding of letter structure I’m going to share with you the most important secret to style.
A friend of mine once described this perfectly by saying how writing a tag, the simplest form of graffiti, is like doing a dance. Often when people start their style looks really deliberate and forced.
The reason graffiti appeals to the human eye is because the letters have energy and movement that resemble life and this evokes emotion in the viewer.
This is why the use of arrows is common in graffiti; they are a symbol of direction. So it figures that if the symbols we call letters could really move they would have arrows to indicate their direction.
The movement in your letters also comes from the way they’re painted. Unlike many other methods of drawing or painting when you do graffiti you use your whole body. When you sketch your outline on the wall with spray paint you stretch and sweep your arms, you lean, you bend your knees; also, due to it’s inherently illegal nature graffiti has traditionally been painted at speed, and this is why the lines and strokes in graffiti look so dynamic and fluid.
Remember when drawing, your letters have to give the impression of movement and life.
Here is an example of how a simple letter can evolve to have more character.
If you look at the second image in from the left you can see how just by giving the vertical bars of the letter a natural looking curve it instantly gives it a bit more energy and personality.
Often a writer’s own personality can be seen in their pieces, the guy with the constant new wardrobe who just wants to fit in will always have the latest trendy graffiti style while the quiet guy with eyes like daggers will have letters that look like they could eat you alive. Try and put some of you in your work.
Pick your graffiti name, or tag.
Some writers change their name over time as they get better or bored of the letters, others stick with the same name throughout their graffiti career.
Lots of beginners go for names like ‘FLAMER’, ‘ACE’ or ‘LAZERCAT’, which have all the attitude of a temporary tattoo.
You can pick a word that’s unique or personal to you, but remember it’s supposed to be a super secret alias so try and avoid writing your own name. A lot of writers pick a random name just because they like the way the letters go together.
Harder letters to place in your word tend to be bottom-heavy e.g. L or J, or top-heavy e.g. T, P, F or Y or just plain skinny e.g. I. Letters that are evenly balanced or square are the easiest to fit e.g. M, S, N, B, E, Z.
Think about the length of your name, most graffiti writers will have four to five letters, if your words too short your not giving yourself much to work with, too long and you could be there all night.
Avoid using the same letter twice in a name, especially next to itself. If you draw that letter exactly the same both times your piece will look boring, if you draw the letter differently the second time it could make your style look inconsistent.
Once you’ve picked your name do some research to make sure there’s no one famous or prolific writing the same thing, this will save you some embarrassment.
Write your chosen name down in capitals on a bit of paper and see how it looks.
Follow this step-by-step example as you draw your own word
To begin with I’ve sketched the word LEARN in simple sans-serif letters and tilted them at different angles. Straight away this gives the word a bit more personality than if they were all sat on a horizontal line. Notice how the letters have been built with the bar structure to make sure they all keep their form.
I’ve also begun over-lapping the letters, normally the first letter over-laps the second, then the second over-laps the third and so on, this makes the word easy to read. You can have different parts of the letters under-lapping or over-lapping each other, the choice is yours. Only over-lap the letters slightly; you don’t want to block out crucial parts of them.
I shortened the bottom bar of the L so the letter can be brought a little bit closer to the E. To make the word have more flow it’s a good idea to minimise large gaps between the letters. At the moment there is a huge gap between the tops of the L, the E, the A and the R, but we’ll fix that in a bit.
As we go through these steps try out the different techniques with your letters, see which ones work and which don’t. Drawing letters is all about experimenting so sketch lightly and make sure you have an eraser ready to take out the bits you don’t like and need to replace.
Now we need to add some curves to the letters to make them look more natural and start giving them a bit of life. Let’s look at the letters one by one.
This is where we start seeing how to solve the problems of awkward over-laps by seeing what letters can connect and what will work. You don’t have to make your letters join together, and often having all the letters join up can look a little weird.
Now we’re going to add some common style elements to give the piece a little bit of a wildstyle look and close up some of those remaining gaps.
Finally go over your final outline with a pen and erase all the guide lines you’ve used to make up your bars.
You can then work on different areas of drawing graffiti, like adding shadows or 3Ds, highlights and color.
Now you know how to draw graffiti letters.
Practice makes perfect, once you’ve got good at the basics, move on. Break the rules you’ve learned, start trying different things and develop your own style.
If you’ve got any questions or would like to know something that I didn’t cover leave a comment below!
DISCLAIMER: PAINTING ON PROPERTY THAT DOESN’T BELONG TO YOU WITHOUT PERMISSION IS ILLEGAL. NEED SOME REASONS WHY YOU SHOULDN’T DO GRAFFITI? CLICK HERE
I hope you’ve found this guide useful, and if you have please share it!