A growing urban art glossary: street art terms and graffiti expressions you need to know.
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Three-dimensional style of letters for added effects and complexity.
The painting, or pasting over, or otherwise transforming of advertising in public space, to turn its meaning upside down or make it ridiculous. It is against consumerism and wants to dismantle the messages of the often political advertising images.
Liquified paint in a pressurized can that emerges as a mist when sprayed. It is also the name of a spray can brand.
The aim of graffiti writers to have their name up everywhere in the city, outperforming other writers and gaining fame.
Style element in which arrows are integrated into a graffito.
Term for ‘raw art’. From 1945 the French artist Jean Dubuffet used ‘art brut’ to describe naive and self-thought art.
The color or design painted behind the piece or character, making it stand out or seem more appealing.
Spraying on a moving object while it is momentarily stopped (e.g., on a train at a stop).
Piece of painted fabric sewn on the back of a jacket or painted on it for identification purposes.
A competition between two artists or two crews after a fight or disagreement to decide a winner. These skill battles also form part of hip-hop events, often involving a time limit, judges, an audience, and knock-out rounds.
Term for hostilities between crews or individuals.
When graffiti artists meet up and converse about their culture. This includes sharing ideas and stories, sharing pictures of their work, sketching and planning designs. It also includes the practice of observing graffiti, especially those on trains.
Blatantly copying or stealing ideas or the style from other artists.
A writer’s sketchbook.
Term for large rectangular block letters painted with minimal colors and a roller. Often used to take over a spot or be seen easily from a far distance.
The simplest 3D effect to give depth to the style.
Expression in writer language for railroad police/railway policeman.
BOMB / BOMBING
To go out and paint graffiti illegally, often referred to as ‘getting up’. The artists spread their names or monikers on as many surfaces as possible, like a ‘bombardment’. This usually involves tags and throw-ups.
Font style consisting of thick, bubble or balloon letters — a simple, rounded form of graffiti letters that evolved in the 1970s. Often used for throw-up letters as it is quick to execute. The graffiti writer Phase 2 is considered the inventor of this style.
Removal of graffiti by either painting over it, washing, scrubbing away or cleaning with chemicals and other instruments.
Particularly successful, strikingly good piece that is superior to all the surrounding works. Term for a piece of work that is “hot”; so good that it’s “burning off the wall”.
BUST/ GET BUSTED
The capture of a writer by the police
Berlin expression for the quick exit from the spot when spraying.
Art form that blends modern graffiti and street art with classical calligraphic letterforms and typography.
Nozzle of a spray can, also referred to as the “tip”. The interchangeable nozzles project the spray at various sizes. A fat cap releases a thick line, while a soft cap sprays a thin stream with little paint for color transitions, and a stencil cap produces a very fine line.
Term for an individual carriage of a subway, urban railroad, or federal railroad train.
Term for a freight train.
A cartoon or realistic figure, inspired by comics, mainstream media, or pop culture, that is unique to its artist and can be another form of signature. A character can take the place of a letter in a word.
A Comment is a statement or greeting sprayed next to, or in an image (like “Fuck Police”, for example).
A group of graffiti or street artists who paint together. The crew name is often an acronym.
Destroying another’s graffiti image by (partially) painting over it or crossing it out.
The cut-out of a particular motif which can be reapplied later and is faster to make as it is usually printed in black and white on paper. It can optionally be colored by hand later, before sticking or pasting it on the streets.
The sharp cutting of a single line, by spraying another line over it in the color of a large adjacent area to obtain thinner lines and cleaner edges.
Completely painting over another piece, also called “going over”.
Also referred to as ‘Terrorline’, ‘Damageline’ or ‘Hateline’. Destruction of an image by a long solid line, sprayed over it. Sign of contempt (disrespect) towards the painter whose picture was crossed, or sign of displeasure with a freshly buffed wall, for example.
A color-mixing technique done by spraying one color over another while it is still wet and then mixing the two. Sometimes an abrasive is used to create different effects, like sand.
Drops running down when paint is applied too thickly, or the spray can is not pulled fast enough. Frequent beginner’s mistake but also used as a stylistic technique.
END TO END or END2END
Train painting or graffiti extending over the entire length of a carriage, but not necessarily over the entire height. Also referred to as ‘E to E’.
Etching involves the creation of a work of art on a surface by using corrosive liquids. This makes it much more difficult to remove than sprayed graffiti.
Throw-up with the text filled in with a color.
Refers to the dynamics and harmony of the overall composition of a picture, or just the flow of color. A good flow usually requires a lot of practice.
With Freestyle works the writer constructs his image as he paints, without using memorized styles or sketches.
When artists actively spread their work in multiple locations, getting their work on any surface, thus developing a reputation and gaining respect in the graffiti community. Also used as a synonym for ‘bombing’, the term originally meant to successfully hit a train.
Painting over someone else’s work, sometimes maliciously to destroy the work of a rival or ‘toy’.
French terminology for a graffiti artist, especially used in Senegal.
Embraced by the hip-hop movement as a form of visual art and expression, graffiti evolved over time to become its own subculture, largely relating to the graphic practice of mostly urban lettering.
An organized gathering or ‘bench’, where graffiti artists meet up to paint a single wall or location together.
A tag or signature unique to each writer.
HALL OF FAME
An area that consists of a large number of graffiti walls or pieces.
An urban youth culture that was established in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, associated with rap music, breakdance, DJing, African-American fashion, and graffiti.
Someone considered trustworthy in the graffiti community, who knows a lot about other graffiti practitioners but does not share their knowledge, especially not with the authorities.
A type of throw-up, which consists only of an outline and optionally shadow effect but without fill. Also called ‘outlines’ or ‘shells’.
Inside line in graffiti letters to create a spatial effect.
Someone whose work dominates the city and has earned the respect of other artists through their individual style and productivity. Self-pronounced kings often incorporate crowns into their pieces.
Section of a train track, where trains are parked when not in service. Attractive spot for graffiti.
A work painted with permission.
Printed image produced with lenticular lenses giving an illusion of depth or movement as the image is viewed from different angles.
A set of similarly structured graffiti letters, like a font.
Lowbrow is a style of visual art and an underground movement, which arose in Los Angeles, California in the late 1960s and 1970s. It is also often known by the name pop surrealism. Lowbrow is characterized by the playful-humorous processing and mixing of objects from pop culture in the manner of surrealism and fantastic realism.
A form of graffiti that examines the discourse of graffiti as its own topic. It is a form of conceptual art, like a painting about another painting.
Graffiti mop markers are a type of home-made graffiti marker, used for larger tags. Mop markers come with a wider round nip for a fat, drippy line. They can be filled with various inks or paints and can be also used to create the signature graffiti drip-effect.
A large-scale painting executed directly on an interior or exterior wall, and sometimes a ceiling.
A tag, throw-up or bomb painted in continual motion without lifting the tip of the writing tool from the surface until the tag is completed.
A surface without primer, such as concrete or raw wood, that ‘eats up’ standard spray paint.
Paper artwork (drawing, painting, or stencil) glued onto a wall or surface with wheat-paste or wallpaper-paste.
Short for ‘masterpiece’, describes a work which that is usually large, elaborateelaborate, and time-consuming to execute. Various effects can be incorporated, for example, 3D and arrows, as well as the use of many colors or color transitions.
Also spelled Pichação. A unique form of tagging or angular writing style that first emerged in São Paulo, Brazil in the 1980s, expressing protest and anger against the city’s inequalities. Pixação artists often paint in high and inaccessible places.
Painting style emulating the precision and detail of a photograph.
Global art movement that emerged in the 1950s in America, drawing inspiration from popular culture like advertisements and comics.
A means of artistic expression and political propaganda since the twentieth century, which can be handmade or machine-printed. Posters are used by many artists as a medium for art in public space. There has been a long-standing competition and interaction between public and illegal posters.
Describing the current evolution of graffiti as it fuses with street art, fine art, and abstraction. Also used to define artists who come from a graffiti background and now practice art professionally.
A large work with a theme, featuring several artists.
Art produced or exhibited in a public space for people to enjoy freely. Often appears as installation art like architecture, sculpture, ceramics, mosaics, and tapestry, as well as performance art. Urban art, in the sense of street art and graffiti, also belongs to this category.
A rotating brush used to spread paint on a wall or surface. Used to describe graffiti works that are made with a paint roller instead of spray paint, usually in larger size and simplified in its formation.
Common house paint in a tin or bucket used as a cost-effective choice for large or porous surfaces (paint eater). Also referred to as tub or bucket paint.
A trusted member of a crew.
The time length a graffito remains up before being buffed.
Type of printing that uses a screen made from fabric stretched tightly over a frame, often used for stencils.
Scratching a tag that is hard to remove onto a surface often using a key, knife, or drill bit.
The practice of writing script style using a specific alphabet.
A location where one can paint or view graffiti.
Referring to ‘vacation’, when graffiti artists venture to new places around the world to get up in a new environment.
An illustration or design that is cut out from cardboard or other material and later transferred on surfaces in public space with (spray) paint. All the time-consuming work is done beforehand and artists like French street artist Blek le Rat in the 1980s utilized this ancient technique of stenciling for their art due to the need to work fast. The ability to easily replicate the work makes stencils a popular tool to spread a message or apply effects. Multiple layers render a more intricate design and complex visual.
Form of tagging that can range from using simple computer-generated blank stickers with a writer’s name to more elaborate labels incorporating characters and made by hand. Similar to stencils, stickers are also prepared in advance and can be put up more swiftly and discreetly than other forms of street art or graffiti.
An umbrella term to describe art found on the streets, including stencils, stickers, and paste-ups, although graffiti and other public art are sometimes included. Generally, it has a stronger focus on more illustrative artworks or murals than lettering.
The particular look or aesthetic that is visibly comprehendible in the work. Many urban artists give their letters or paintings a unique appearance to be easily identifiable, even when working with different characters, names, or words. A good style could be considered well-balanced yet rhythmical.
Graffiti artists producing letter pieces.
Cultural movement from the mid-twentieth century that was interested in dreams and the unconscious.
Movement theory or harmony of the individual graffiti letters among themselves.
A simplistic form of graffito: a writer’s signature that is stylized and commonly done freehand with a marker, mop, or aerosol paint. Writers who tag are called ‘bombers’.
THROW-UP / ‘THROWIE’
Works that are quick and easy to paint, generally only in one or two colors. A more elaborate version of a tag on a larger scale, but less complex and time-consuming than a piece.
TOP TO BOTTOM
A piece or throw-up spanning the full height of a train carriage or wall.
Term to describe or insult unskilled and inexperienced writers or poorly executed work.
A graffiti work visible from a train or painted along a railway line.
Writers or graffiti artists are considered ‘up’ when their work becomes well known, taking into account the amount of visible graffiti executed next to style, skill and location.
An umbrella term used to describe diverse art found in urban space, including traditional graffiti and street art.
Also called ‘Guerilla Knitting’, ‘Radical Stitching’, ‘Yarn Bombing’, or ‘Knitted Graffito’, is a form of urban art in which objects in public space are modified by knitting. It can involve attaching knitted accessories to knitting on entire pieces of street furniture or trees.
Putting up paste-ups using a (eco-friendly) glue made of flour, water, and sometimes sugar.
Refers to the conventional modern art gallery space.
WHOLE CAR / WHOLE TRAIN
A train carriage that has been fully painted on the outside with graffiti pieces.
An evolved, complex, and highly stylized form of tagging or graffiti lettering that is difficult to read or decipher. It often features 3D, interlocking letters and symbols with elaborate connections.
A piece or throw-up below the window of a train carriage.
A practitioner of the art of graffiti whose focus is on tags and lettering styles. Within the graffiti scene, the term ‘writer’ is more commonly used than the word ‘artist’ as many of those involved do not see themselves as artists or regard their work as art.
Short-form of ‘magazines’ used for non-commercial and often self-published booklets or small circulations.