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There is rarely a day that goes by when I fail to see someone sporting a Stussy T-shirt or cap. It seems like ever since "Smells Like Teen Spirit" grunge took over the world that the seventies, along with its plethora of fads, is back in style. This includes not only bell-bottoms, but also what is known as the aerosol culture. Unfortunately, it seems that the core of the whole art is still back in the seventies for many of today's writers, and superfluous repainting of objects by non-union workers is without the moral codes, feelings, and purposes it once had. This introduction to graffiti is intended to serve both as a guide for newcomers and a reference for experienced writers who sometimes lose sight as to what its all about.
Tagging, the most primitive form of the graffiti art, consists of a writer's signature, usually done in permanent marker or spray paint. Artistically, tagging is the root of graffiti, and a skill a writer must become proficient at before becoming an accomplished graffiti artist.
The first thing you need to do is choose a tag, or a name which you will be known by in the graffiti community. DO NOT TAKE THIS LIGHTLY; if you choose something stupid it will come back to haunt you. "Stupid" things include choosing initials, nicknames, names already in use, famous people, corny or trite words, and words that are just plain dumb. A tag is usually 3 to 7 characters but can be shorter or longer if really deemed necessary. Those with a tag greater than 4 letters will often find it necessary to develop a "shortened" version of the tag for time and space-sensitive places. In tagging, as _Subway Art_ [Chalfant] (a book regarded by writers as the "Graffiti Bible") points out, "[graffiti writers] confront the first need to have style."
_Subway Art_ goes on to say that "Style is a very concrete idea among writers. It is form, the shapes of the letters, and how they connect. There are various categories of style, ranging from the old, simple bubble letters ... to highly evolved and complex wildstyle, an energetic interlocking construction of letters with arrows and other forms that signify movement and direction." Just as one can say "thanks," and mean it honestly, sarcastically, scornfully, or any of a thousand different ways, it is how the word is delivered that determines how it is understood. Graffiti without style, much like a monotonous voice, becomes ambiguous, and is either interpreted with hatred or indifference. Simply put, style speaks a thousand more words than a writer's tag ever will.
Each tag without style can be thought of as a writer without true devotion and commitment for the art. It represents a writer who wants the fame, glory, and recognition without sacrificing the many hours necessary to obtain the skills required for style. Becoming adept in translating emotions into rapid and smooth lines is a never-ending process that in essence is the key to all graffiti.
When I began writing, I thought the only thing needed to get famous was to go around writing my name, but it wasn't long before that illusion wore off. I still see trash cans and phone booths with old tags of mine on them, but I'm ashamed of them now. Ashamed of them because they demonstrated my ignorance to the feelings and passions that fuel the art. Ashamed of them because they had no style.
Almost every time I hit up an area, I go back a week later to check it out. I return not to admire it, but to analyze and critique it. I take photos of everything (except plain tags), to help me find and work through the flaws of my art. This process appears to be often overlooked by writers at Newton South, but I think it is far more important than the work itself. As _Subway Art_ states, "Graffiti is a public performance," and everything one submits will be critiqued by every passer-by, so it's better if you can examine it and improve it before anyone else gets the chance.
It is unfortunate that many beginning writers think the only admission to the graff community is going down to Staples and buying a permanent marker. Magnums, Mean Streaks, and SG-7's do not make one an accomplished writer, they merely make one a vandal. It is then up to that vandal to privately evolve his or her art to lettering with emotion and energy.
Just as one would not try an instrument out for the first time at a public performance, the best way to start learning style is not going around bombing (saturating an area with one's tag) the walls of the city or the insides of trains. Learning graffiti is a lot like learning how to play an instrument: start learning in private with someone you admire. Try going down to derelict train lots with someone who has been writing for a few years, and hit the place up. Have the writer point out what he or she does or does not like about your style, and have the writer suggest ways to improve it. Above all, it is important you listen to what they have to say; they know what they're talking about and have been at it far longer than you. Remember, everyone in the graffiti community was a toy (inexperienced writer) once, and anyone who says they weren't lies through their teeth. The writing community, like most communities, is one that places elders (those with many years of experience) first. Novices look to people with a year or two of writing experience, those people with a couple of years of training look up to those from the previous generation, and so it continues.
Style is a constantly evolving entity, and was around long before you, so don't be disappointed if you can't just go blasting out dazzling wildstyle lettering on your first try. If you're going to try paint, start with dead letters, simple block letters that aren't filled in (wasting paint for a one coat fill isn't worth it in an abandoned yard). Resist all urges to coerce style into your letters, it will not turn out the way you hoped. Rather, become proficient in doing the dead letters fast and accurately, and along the way you will see subtle nuances of your lettering technique that will eventually evolve into style. Remember that spray paint is not a substance that lends itself to lazy hands, so every move of the can should be quick and smooth or you will get drips and shaky lines. If you can, try to acquire some caps (nozzles) which either spray a really fat line (reducing the amount of paint that can drip) or release the paint at a slower rate.
Once you've gotten your lettering down, moving on to more complex forms of the art should be a snap. Never be afraid to experiment with letters, but bear in mind there's only so much one can do with a letter before it either becomes obfuscated by debris or turns into another letter. Also, magazines such as _Can Control_, _Hype_ and _Skills_ contain tons of photos for the aspiring writer. It is important to keep in mind that while learning others' style is a great learning tool, stealing their letter style (biting), is perhaps one of the worst offenses a writer can be charged with.
Remember, time isn't of the essence. The trains, buildings, and highways aren't going anywhere, so take the time necessary to evolve your style before going out and making a public display. Getting style isn't easy, and it takes many hours of arduous work to evolve into a presentable state. As the "Graffiti Bible" says, "There is no easy way to learn the complicated wildstyle, and no substitute for time. Rather, the best way to learn is through recapitulating the entire history of graffiti art, from the simple to the complex."
So, if you're serious about your artwork, take the time to show your devotion to all the writers around you. Plan out your art in a bible (sketchbook) ahead of time, and make sure you have the skills necessary to execute such a "piece" (short for masterpiece) when put in a time-constrained, dangerous situation. Work through the flaws and faults of your style with someone you respect and admire in the graffiti community, and above all, don't be afraid to be criticized. So, for all you real writers out there who will be around to pass the torch on to the next generation, keep practicing, and don't get caught.
kairos-one!LIQUID!spinal!CHAOS * integrity is essential * drink ink!
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