How to become a graffiti artist

When sociologist and professor Gary Snyder defined graffiti, he basically redefined the practice from nuisance to patriotic expression: “In it’s purest form, graffiti is a democratic art form that revels in the American Dream.” While graffiti still earns most of its popularity and following from art produced in urban areas, it’s value and respect continues to grow exponentially. Whether on the exterior wall of an art studio or grocery store, the social value of graffiti invites artists from all cultures to participate in its evolution.

What Is Graffiti Art?

Technically, graffiti is considered to be drawings, paintings, or other markings on surfaces in public places. Although this is often believed to be a relatively modern form of art, it actually dates back centuries ago. Some historians actually argue that the first instances of graffiti were cave paintings made by prehistoric man. Other ancient cultures, including the Greeks and the Romans, have also created graffiti as well.

While it was not uncommon in the 20th century, graffiti did not start becoming especially prominent until the early part of the 1980s. At this time, spray paint and permanent markers were typically the most common tools of the trade. It was during this decade that the act of “tagging” became a popular sort of graffiti. This act often involved writing or drawing the tag name of an individual or group of individuals on public or private property, including buildings and train cars. Gangs would often tag a building or other public area in order to claim their territory, so to speak.

Overall, larger metropolitan areas were more likely to have problems with graffiti at that time, and the same is true today. The majority of amateur graffiti artists are typically young inner-city youths and young adults. Many of them are also involved in other illicit activities along with defacing property, but this stereotype is not necessarily true in every case.

Many metropolitan areas have had a serious graffiti problem in recent years, often spending exorbitant amounts of money to have the so-called art cleaned up and removed. City officials in some areas, however, have recently developed something of a “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” attitude when it comes to graffiti. Instead of spending an exorbitant amount of money to clean up and remove illicit graffiti, these areas are actually commissioning talented graffiti artists to paint over it with a more acceptable form of art.

Typical Work Environment

Put simply, a professional graffiti artist – like an amateur graffiti artist – is a type of artist that uses graffiti as a means of expressing himself. Unlike amateur artists, however, professional graffiti artists typically do not make a habit of defacing public or private property with their art. Professional graffiti artists may use several different mediums. Like many street artists, however, the preferred medium for professional graffiti is usually spray-paint.

Depending on his specialty, a graffiti artist may work in a studio, just like a traditional painter. Some graffiti artists, however, particularly those who have honed their skills on city streets, may prefer to stay with this locale.

While some individuals who pursue a graffiti career take credit for their work, some prefer to remain anonymous. This anonymity is part of the allure and mystique of a graffiti artist, which many believe makes the work more appealing.

Graffiti Artist Education & Training Requirements

Passion and artistic ability are the two most important aspects for a successful graffiti career. Dedication and persistence are also important since it can take some time for many graffiti artists to see their careers go anywhere. The majority of graffiti artists were self-taught on the street. Some, however, may choose to refine their already existing artistic abilities with an art degree.

Graffiti Artist Salary & Job Outlook

Salary

Artists who want to become a graffiti artist should be aware that they may or may not be able to make an acceptable living wage. Generally, only the most talented graffiti artists will make enough money to actually live on, while others will often need to find other employment to supplement their art career. Since until recently graffiti has been classified as a crime, the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not have any hard data regarding this type of career. Most graffiti artists, however, can be classified as fine artists. In 2018, the average annual salary for fine artists hovered around $48,960. Although graffiti is rapidly gaining acceptance as a true art form, individuals who are interested in pursuing a career in graffiti should be aware that it is still illegal to deface public or private property. Those who do not conform to the justice system’s ever-present laws could wind up paying for their career, instead of their career paying for them.

Job Outlook

A true graffiti career also usually involves selling original works of art or being commissioned to create pieces of art. Some graffiti artists, for instance, may create their art on a perfectly legal canvas. This art might sometimes be showcased in special art shows, where interested collectors can purchase it. City officials and building owners may also commission a graffiti artist to create a large mural covering a building or other large visible surface. Painting a mural of this sort may involve covering up illicit graffiti, but it may also be done simply to add beauty and expression to an area.

Large corporations may even hire these types of artists to create modern advertisements that appeal to younger consumers. Some major corporations that have hired graffiti artists for advertising campaigns include Smirnoff, Coca-Cola, MTV, and even Microsoft.

In the beginning of the new millennium, IBM even hired graffiti artists in San Francisco and Chicago for a large advertising campaign meant to promote their new operating system. Unfortunately for IBM and the company’s hired help, they did not first get express permission from either city. Needless to say, the city officials were not amused, nor were they very appreciative of the “art”. In the end, IBM was fined heavily, and many of the graffiti artists were ordered to perform several hours of community service cleaning up their work.

Fortunately, however, times are changing. Graffiti as an art form is becoming much more tolerated, and even celebrated in some cases. Today, a true graffiti career will not typically land a person behind bars. In fact, successful graffiti artists are often celebrated as true modern artists, with a particularly unique form of self-expression.

Helpful Organizations, Societies & Agencies

Related Careers in Craft & Fine Art

Consider these related careers in Craft and Fine Art.

How to become a graffiti artist

You have probably heard of one of the most famous street doodlers of the last few years (and possibly ever). He went from being a Bristol artist to an international phenomenon, for his political and social comments via the medium of graffiti art. While Banksy’s images would have at one time been a seen as community vandalism or as a sign of a poverty stricken area, his style and vision has in fact made his work a source of pride for any place where he has put ink to concrete. His pieces are either instantly registered as national treasures or sold for a lot of money. This may have given you the idea that you might like to be a graffiti artist too. Here are a few tips on how:

Learn how to paint

First thing you need to do is to learn how to paint. Anyone can be a vandal: taking a marker pen or some spray paint and drawing rude messages or football slogans on bus stops, but if you want to be a real graffiti artist you need to know how to draw, paint, sculpt at a reasonable level and be able to deliver some sort of valid message through your work.

Get your own angle

With this in mind it is good to develop your own distinctive style of graffiti. It might be a particular colour scheme, it might be what you target for delivering your messages or a recurring theme in your work. Banksy for instance uses stencilling for speed and likes to deliver messages criticising government and institutions while referencing pop culture.

Understand that it is illegal

Having said all this, it is important that you remember that no matter how beautiful and bold your statement is, in the eyes of the law it will be classes as vandalism. While it may be important to you that your work appears daubed across the front of Buckingham Palace you may have to settle for a wall in a studio or somewhere that will give you permission. They may even provide you with art supplies like canvases and craft kits and things to help you plan though and this would be especially helpful if you were just starting out.

One thing that has helped Banksy, and not just from a legal perspective, is keeping his identity a secret. You may want to do this too if you have any concerns about getting into trouble, but if you’re going to do this legally then you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.

How to become a graffiti artist

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So I recently came across this new form of urban street art and it literally blew me away. What a way to express yourself artistically and actually help the environment. This could even be considered a form of guerilla gardening.

In this article I am going to show you how to make your own ‘Moss Graffiti’ and show you some amazing examples of this eco-friendly new urban art.

You don’t have to be artist, you can start with patterns, shapes or words. (If you can’t be bothered to read through everything scroll right to the bottom to see a simple video explaining everything you need to know)

Things you’ll need:

  • Moss
  • A paint brush
  • A blender
  • 2 cups of buttermilk OR plain yogurt
  • 2 cups of water OR beer
  • 1/2 tsp of suger
  • Corn syrup (optional)

1. Gather up as much moss as you can find or buy.

Where you gather the moss is important. The kind that grows on trees won’t necessarily do well on walls.
Gather moss from pavement, damp bricks, cement walkway, etc. Moss from the woods doesn’t work as well and should be left in the wild. If there is no moss on the walks and walls where you live, the moss milk probably won’t work in that climate.

How to become a graffiti artist

2. Wash the moss to get as much soil out of the roots as possible.

How to become a graffiti artist

3. Break the moss apart.

Break into manageable pieces. Then place the pieces in the blender.

How to become a graffiti artist

4. Add all of the ingredients

  • Add 2 cups buttermilk or 2 cups of plain yogurt.
  • Add 2 cups of water or 2 cups of beer.
  • Add 1/2 teaspoon of sugar and blend until the mixture is completely smooth and slightly thick like paint.
  • Add a little corn syrup, a bit at a time if the mixture is too thin. Mix until it’s no longer runny.

How to become a graffiti artist

5. Pour mixture from the blender to a bucket.

Whizz around but do not liquefy it because the moss cells must stay intact.

How to become a graffiti artist

6. Applying the moss graffiti.

Use a paintbrush to apply the moss-paint to the surface on which you want your design to grow.

How to become a graffiti artist

If possible, check back weekly to either spray the design with water (to encourage moss growth, especially if you live in a dry environment) or apply more moss-paint.

How to become a graffiti artist

Check your moss graffiti regularly. Depending on your climate, sometimes it takes a while to grow your moss.

How to become a graffiti artist

Now check out some of these wicked designs from some eco-friendly urban artists. Scroll right to the bottom to see some cool videos!

How to become a graffiti artist How to become a graffiti artist How to become a graffiti artist How to become a graffiti artist

Here’s how to speed up the painful process of being a graffiti beginner so pay attention to these 13 points.

How to become a graffiti artist

1. Do more

Paint more, sketch more, try harder. The more time you spend actually doing graffiti, the faster you’ll be an experience graffiti artist. Remember, practice makes a master.

2. Keep it nice and simple

Don’t walk before you can run. As tempting as it might be, avoid drawing over-complex wild-style pieces with loads of connections. Get the basics locked down and your simple letters and hand-styles looking really nice. Knowing your history will help this a lot.

3. Ignore other people’s opinions

You are 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.

4. Don’t look the part

Graffiti isn’t about wearing a five-panel hat, North Face jacket, vintage Polo Sport and New Balance 420s.

5. Keep your circle tight

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.

6. Courage

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.

7. Don’t paint over other people

Find your own spots, lie low, don’t go causing problems for yourself early on.

8. A bad workman blames his tools

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.

9. Don’t be a graffiti geek

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.

10. Avoid stickers like the plague

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.

11. Don’t call people a graffiti toy

The longer you write the more you learn. The only people who use this word 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.

Graffiti 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.

12. Leave the house

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.

13. Being a graffiti toy is fun

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 a graffiti rookie.

Do you know someone who might be a graffiti toy who could do with some kind words of advice? Share this post with them.

Keep spreading you knowledge and learn the basics of how to draw graffiti letters for beginners 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

This guy makes money following his unlikely passion. Here’s how he did it

How to become a graffiti artist

Meet Tom McDonald, AKA DCipher – a man who proves that graffiti isn’t just something done by people with a talent for art and a lot of time on their hands.

It was when Tom began teaching street art to young students that he realised there was more to graffiti than the culture it’s often linked with – the notion of crime and anti-establishment rhetoric often goes hand-in-hand with painted murals, although Tom says the stereotypes are “just paranoia”.

Graffiti is a powerful medium that’s highly in demand, as Tom’s impressive client base proves; he paints full-time from Australia, where he moved from his native Ireland, and has provided art for the likes of MTV and large rail companies. We asked him how he managed to turn his passion into a full-time job, and found out that even the most creative professions aren’t immune to the dreaded need to network.

Where did the intrigue start?

I fell in love with graffiti back in the 80s when I watched someone write “U2” in fancy 3D words on a wall next to my school’s football pitch. This was long before I even knew who U2 were [laughs]. I thought it was just some subliminal message, written by some mysterious person about their own subversive agenda. That’s where I realised street art has captivating power. That’s where my fascination kicked off.

How would someone become a professional graffiti artist?

It’s not something you can just randomly take up and get paid for. You need experience, and a lot of it. You need to hone your skills before you can charge people for your work as well as building up your reputation and style. Reputation is everything – same as with every profession. No matter what your art or passion is, you have to put the time into it before you can monetise it.

How to become a graffiti artist

How did you make your first sale?

The majority of my work has come about through word of mouth – networking is a big part of the business. I must be doing something right because so far I haven’t had to advertise! Graffiti is all about credibility – it comes down to how you sell yourself. If you have good reputation then corporate sales will come to you.

Have you ever been in trouble for leaving… unsolicited graffiti anywhere?

Luckily I was never arrested for any of the questionable work I did when I was younger. Once I started teaching street art to young people in my 20s, I realised the impact graffiti can have and the importance of using it to create lasting impressions instead of cheap work that’s only worth a glance.

How to become a graffiti artist

What kind of commissions to do you work on, and have you had any notable clients?

I’ve done commissions for tons of different clients: Irish Rail and Cityrail here in Sydney, and from massive brands like MTV Europe to smaller franchise businesses. It’s an eclectic client base. Recently I painted a lovely couple’s newly refurbished kitchen, which was just as satisfying as some of the larger clients I’ve worked with.

People often think graffiti culture is linked to crime. What do you say to that kind of opinion?

These misconceptions are purely down to paranoia. A lot of this fearmongering stems from poor media coverage, negative hype from politician campaigns and parties with other motivations such as property sales. The reality of graffiti culture is we are just crews of guys and girls who like to congregate, create and celebrate art. Some of my strongest friendships have been based on this wonderful bond.

How to become a graffiti artist

You’re from Ireland but moved to Australia – how is the graffiti and creative culture in general different over there?

Maybe it’s the sunshine but people here are generally in better spirits… without the need for spirits, as is often the case back home! The incredible weather also allows me to head outside and paint whenever I want. The USA and Europe have unique graffiti identities, and Australia identifies more with the USA whereas Ireland takes a lot of its influence from Europe.

Although graffiti is very interesting and unique type of art, there are some reasons why it is not meant for anyone. It is risky, dangerous and inefficient from many perspectives and even if you are true graffiti enthusiast, you should consider if it’s worth it to start painting and become a graffiti artist.

First of all graffiti is very unprofitable type of art. You won’t make much money with it and there won’t be any time for other jobs. One graffiti piece can take more than a week to be finished. Most of the graffiti artists don’t have real jobs and they only make money from some irregular contract jobs. You cannot be a real full time graffiti artist if you have a job or other obligations. So choose, what are your life goals and is it worth to dedicate your life to art, even if it’s very unprofitable.

Of course, graffiti is also illegal and this kind of activities can end up with an arrest. Although there are ways how to do it legally, you must prove yourself and get some popularity among other artists and graffiti enthusiasts. No one will be interested in your work if they won’t even know who you are and how your art looks like. So you must start with illegal painting and that is very risky. If you will get caught more times, you can even go to jail. There really are some graffiti artists that have been arrested and put into jail because of their actions.

To prove your ability it is also necessary to risk with your life and paint in some dangerous places. There is even special term – Heaven Spot. That means graffiti made in place which is really hard to reach or with is dangerous to access. If you want to become great, not only average artist, you must risk and that is not worth it.

Even if you could find some ways how to paint fully safe and legally and earn great money with that, unfortunately graffiti art is very bad for artists’ health. The spray paint is poison and artists inhale huge amounts of this paint. It can cause serious damages of brain, kidneys and nerve system. Even if you use respirator and other protectors, some of the paint will get into your lungs. It is even more dangerous than smoking.

So when you know the risks and disadvantages of this art, you can objectively evaluate if it’s worth it or not. Don’t do something just because it is cool. If you are sure you will become a great artist without major risks, you can go for it, but otherwise choose some better ways how to express your creativity and talent.

Here’s how to speed up the painful process of being a graffiti beginner so pay attention to these 13 points.

How to become a graffiti artist

1. Do more

Paint more, sketch more, try harder. The more time you spend actually doing graffiti, the faster you’ll be an experience graffiti artist. Remember, practice makes a master.

2. Keep it nice and simple

Don’t walk before you can run. As tempting as it might be, avoid drawing over-complex wild-style pieces with loads of connections. Get the basics locked down and your simple letters and hand-styles looking really nice. Knowing your history will help this a lot.

3. Ignore other people’s opinions

You are 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.

4. Don’t look the part

Graffiti isn’t about wearing a five-panel hat, North Face jacket, vintage Polo Sport and New Balance 420s.

5. Keep your circle tight

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.

6. Courage

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.

7. Don’t paint over other people

Find your own spots, lie low, don’t go causing problems for yourself early on.

8. A bad workman blames his tools

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.

9. Don’t be a graffiti geek

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.

10. Avoid stickers like the plague

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.

11. Don’t call people a graffiti toy

The longer you write the more you learn. The only people who use this word 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.

Graffiti 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.

12. Leave the house

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.

13. Being a graffiti toy is fun

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 a graffiti rookie.

Do you know someone who might be a graffiti toy who could do with some kind words of advice? Share this post with them.

Keep spreading you knowledge and learn the basics of how to draw graffiti letters for beginners 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

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George Lee Quiñones (born 1960) is a Puerto Rican artist and actor. He is one of several artists to gain fame from the New York City Subway graffiti movement.

How to become a graffiti artist

Quiñones’ style is rooted in popular culture, often with political messages, along with Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Quiñones was one of the innovators of New York’s street-art movement and is considered the single most influential artist to emerge from the graffiti era.

He started with Subway Graffiti in 1974. By 1976, Lee was a legend, working in the shadows, leaving huge pieces of graffiti art across the subway system. As a subway graffiti artist, Lee almost exclusively painted whole cars, all together about 125 cars. Lee was a major contributor to one of the first-ever whole-trains, along with DOC, MONO and SLAVE. It was the first ever whole-train to run in traffic.

In November 1976, ten subway cars were painted with a range of colorful murals and set a new benchmark for the scale of graffiti works. This is documented in an interview with Quiñones in the book “Getting up” by Craig Castleman, MIT Press (MA) (October 1982). Quiñones appeared with several pieces in one of the most sold art books ever, Subway Art. He became an influence for youths worldwide. Although several of Quiñones’ whole cars made in the 70’s and 80’s have attained iconic status by graffiti writers all over the world, many of the pieces are only documented in cheap instamatic photos. “The Hell Express”, “Earth is Hell, Heaven is Life”, “Stop the Bomb” are some of Quiñones paintings that ran for months. Quiñones pieces were left untouched by other writers and some of them ran for years even though thousands of writers were painting on subway cars at that time.

Quiñones often added poetic messages in his pieces. “Graffiti is art and if art is a crime, please God, forgive me” is one of his most famous quotes. Beyond subway cars, Lee also painted huge handball court murals in his neighbourhood, for instance “Howard the Duck,” the first whole handball court mural, in the spring of 1978 outside of his old high school, Corlears Junior High School #56.

As part of one of the most respected writing crews, The Fabulous 5, Lee shared the philosophy of whole car bombing with the other members DIRTY SLUG, MONO, DOC109, PROF 165, OG 2, BLUD, Sony, BOB, SLAVE and DEL. The most prolific members were DIRTY SLUG, MONO, DOC109, SLAVE and LEE (the youngest member of the crew). Along with SLAVE, LEE would keep the FAB 5 name alive long after the others retired.

Quiñones was one of the first street artists to transition away from creating murals on trains and begin creating canvas-based paintings. The 1979 exhibition of his canvases at Claudio Bruni’s Galleria Medusa in Rome introduced street art to the rest of the world.

Today, Quiñones is an established artist. Recently, at an exhibition, all paintings were sold to guitar legend Eric Clapton. Quiñones raised money for the survivors of Hurricane Katrina by a bicycling tour from New York City to Florida. He has also lectured at universities in Europe as well as in the USA.

Quiñones’ paintings are housed in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of Art, the Museum of the City New York, the Groninger Museum (Groningen, Netherlands) and the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen (Rotterdam, Netherlands), and have been exhibited at the New Museum Of Contemporary Art (New York City), the Museum of National Monuments (Paris, France) and the Staatliche Museum (Germany). Pictures of his years as graffiti writer are featured in the books Subway Art, Spraycan Art.”The Birth of Graffiti”, “Getting up” and “Graffiti Kings: New York City Mass Transit Art of the 1970s”.

He appeared as Raymond Zoro in Charlie Ahearn’s film Wild Style (1983) and appears in Blondie’s promo video of the song “Rapture.” He played Sammy in Rosemary Rodriguez’s Acts of Worship (2001). He plays himself in Adam Bhala Lough’s Bomb the System (2002). He also appears in Videograf 10.

In 2013, he appeared on BET’s series The Artist’s Way to discuss his evolving style.