Graffiti Basics: Tagging, Throwing Up, & Piecing

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People new to the graffiti and street art scene often see the art form as an act of vandalism. This perspective is nothing new, and may even be warranted, because – really, at the core of graffiti – is its illegality.

The execution of graffiti does involve vandalizing property. The thing to consider here, however, is that there are unwritten rules that do govern the more seasoned writers and artists. Take, for example, how graffiti writers should know better than to bomb churches, small business establishments, and schools. The usual spots that “educated” graffiti writers go for are public property, such as trains, street signs and other government infrastructure.

Why is this the case, one may ask, and the answer to this is that graffiti also works as a form of retaliation – an act of defiance, of social protest, or of expressing dissatisfaction at how things are going. In many protest rallies, graffiti has become part of the norm, which is how some people find their selves introduced to the graffiti and street art scene. Apart from this reason, many graffiti writers also desire the notoriety, and they intend to build their street cred. So they go crazy bombing anything they can point their cans of spray-paint at – privately owned vehicles not excluded – yikes.

And like any other form of visual art, graffiti and at times, street art, is exclusively rendered through the use of spray-paint. Also, like any other form of visual art, there is a certain discipline practiced in graffiti and street art.

In the use of the aerosol can, graffiti artists master several skills, such as can control, the utilization of the different caps, and employing the various styles. Outsiders are likely to be unaware, but there are three main types of graffiti that are often confused with one another: the tag, the throw-up and the piece.

 

I.  The Graffiti Tag

Graffiti’s most basic output is the tag. Although the term “tagging” can refer to any act of graffiti, the usual tag of a graffiti artist is more often than not, a one-liner, executed with one spray-can or one color. The need for speed is necessary, especially since tags are usually done illegally. And although it seems to be the simplest form of graffiti, it can also be one of the most difficult to master.

tagging
A graffiti tag is the most basic style in this type of street art, and it also comes with an unwritten rule: never tag over another work of an artist.

It normally takes time for a graffiti writer to come up with a signature tag, because coming up with the design and flow can take months, and sometimes even years, to construct. The more famous of graffiti artists have their signature hand-styles reflected in their tags. Fellow graffiti artists and enthusiasts of the scene grow familiar of these signature styles, and upon first glance at a tag, they already know who the artist is, just by the style.

The signature tag is often rendered in a few seconds, especially when the tag is done in a single stroke, which we also call one-liners. This means that the tag is completed without the artist letting go of the nozzle or cap from start to finish. Similarly, if the tag is done with a marker or pen, the artist doesn’t lift the tip of the medium from end to end.

Graffiti artists also employ the use of stickers with their tags already written on them. The iconic “My Name Is” stickers often carry these tags. Essentially, the tag’s purpose is to get the graffiti writer’s name out there. Hard-to-reach places and frequency of appearances make the tag an undeniable part of the graffiti writer’s arsenal.

Oftentimes, tagging also forms a route, and this showcases the usual path that the graffiti artist takes. This way, the graffiti artist is representing their neighborhood or hometown, as their tags lead us there.

II. The Throw-up (or Trow Ups Graffiti)

Another form of graffiti is the throw-up or throwie. It’s pretty much an elaborate version of a tag, done in certain styles, like the balloon or bubble letters.

throwie
A throw up (or trow ups) graffiti is a step up from a tag, with more colors and dynamic bubble letters.

The throwie, more often than not, is rendered in two to three colors, wherein the darker color, which is usually a gloss or flat black, serves as the outline. The lighter color is then used to fill up the graffiti letters. Throwies can also have a few details or effects to it, such as shadows or some splatters.

Generally, however, throw-ups should be simple enough to be executed quickly, like a tag. Throwies should also be readable, and although most graffiti writers believe in the readability of their letters, the complexity of a specific tag’s hand-style can make it difficult. The throw-up serves to do the opposite – it’s all about having graffiti bubble letters that are easy to understand.

III. The Piece

The piece can be considered as the crowning glory of any serious graffiti artist. Basically, a piece is a mural of letters that spell out the graffiti writer’s name. Works like these can take several hours and a handful of spray-cans to complete. One of the challenges that graffiti writers face is completing a detailed piece without getting apprehended by law enforcers. And this roadblock usually pushes some artists to pretty much ask permission so that they can have the wall painted on legally. The intricate designs of graffiti pieces have already pushed the art form into mainstream acceptance, with some artists transforming into gallerists for their out-of-the-box concepts and unique skills with the spray-can – their art has transcended; moving from the dirty streets and onto the white walls of museums and art spaces.

graffiti piece
The graffiti can be intricate, demanding more time from an artist. One piece can sometimes take hours to finish.

Graffiti piecing is also an avenue for these artists to get together. Usually, when a wide wall is commissioned, a crew or a community of artists come together to work on the wall collaboratively. MSK, for instance, is one of the more popular crews in the graffiti scene, boasting the hardest writers in the game. When hitting a super huge wall, some of these crews or art communities prepare a unifying theme, which can either cover a central subject or just dictate the primary colors that they’ll be using. This is a way for the artists to bond and enjoy creating their art, since they can spend hours in completing a piece. It is, however, important for us to note that there are differences between what constitutes graffiti and street art – as these two are often interchanged, and collab walls usually have both graffiti pieces and characters and designs that fall under street art.

In general, graffiti pieces serve to push the artist further up the scene, and a finely painted piece can only boost their reputation as a legitimate graffiti artist. It takes a certain level of courage and physical fitness for a graffiti writer to keep hitting “heaven spots” and tagging all over the city, but it is the piece that proves that a graffiti writer can create art – the type that the public can appreciate.

All in all, these are the three main forms of graffiti.

graffiti
The art of graffiti, from tagging to spray painting bubble letters, calls for a light touch as well as creativity.

From tagging, to throwing and piecing, a graffiti artist demonstrates their level of proficiency in using the spray-can. The basic practice involved in tagging helps in forming the artist’s skills in controlling the amount of paint that a can shoots, and also, the manner by which the paint is applied. This ability helps the graffiti artist in his throw-ups and pieces, which will be the eventual output one can expect from the experienced writers, as tagging usually wanes when an artist has already made a name for himself, and has penetrated the scene.

If you want to try doing graffiti yourself, feel free to grab some pen and paper – doodle your name until you find a flow, and from there, you can try creating your hand-style by writing the letters of the alphabet. Eventually, you can then pick up your first can of spray-paint and start vandalizing your backyard wall. Just make sure to have a can of paint to buff the wall before your landlord or mother discover your newfound hobby.

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