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Graffiti glossary



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A number of words and phrases have come to describe different styles and aspects of graffiti. Like all slang and colloquialisms, the phrases vary in different cities and countries. The following terminology comes primarily from the United States.

all city
The state of being known for one's graffiti throughout a city (originally throughout the five boroughs of New York, often through the medium of subway cars).
Graffiti on the Berlin Wallback to back
Graffiti that covers a wall from end to end, as seen on some parts of the West-Berlin side of the Berlin Wall. Similarly, trains sometimes receive end to end painting when a carriage has been painted along its entire length. This is often abbreviated as e2e. End to ends used to be called window-downs but this is an older expression that is falling from popularity.
backjump
A quickly executed throw up or panel piece. Backjumps are usually painted on a temporarily parked train or a running bus.
black book
A graffiti artist's sketchbook. Often used to sketch out and plan potential graffiti, and to collect tags from other writers. It is a writer's most valuable property, containing all or a majority of the person's sketches and pieces. A writer’s sketchbook is carefully guarded from the police and other authorities, as it can be used as material evidence in a graffiti vandalism case and link a writer to previous illicit works.[1]
bite
To steal another artist's ideas or lettering schemes. Seasoned artists will often complain about toys that bite their work.[2][3]
bomb
To bomb or hit is to paint many surfaces in an area. Bombers often choose throw-ups or tags over complex pieces, as they can be executed more quickly.[4][3]
buff
To remove painted graffiti with chemicals and other instruments, or to paint over it with a flat color.[2][3]
burner
1. A large, more elaborate type of piece. The piece could be said to be "burning" out of the wall or train-side. Because they take so much time and effort, burners in downtown areas are more likely to be legal pieces, painted with the consent of the property owner. The early writers of New York also did burners illegally on trains, and adventurous modern writers sometimes still do large scale illegal pieces in heavily-trafficked areas.[5][3]
2. More recently, any quick chrome bombing or throwup.
burning
Any work having not been removed. "That piece is still burning on main street."
cannon(s)
A slang term for spray paint cans. This term is thought to originate in Brooklyn, New York.
cap
To cross out or in other ways ruining a piece made by others. Derives from the writer named "Cap" who was infamous for making throw-ups over other's pieces.
crew
A crew, krew, or cru (alternative spelling) is a group of writers or graffiti artists. Some crews are members of gangs, or are associated with gangs (sometimes for procurement of art materials or for protection while painting), but most crews are unaffiliated with gangs. It can happen that an ordinary group of friends suddenly form a crew if they are all interested in graffiti and want to start collaborating. By painting in a crew with the crew name there's a smaller risk of being held responsible for the works if a member gets arrested, because from a legal point of view the name could have been painted by anyone in the group.[2][3]
dress-up
To completly write all over a specific area like a door-way, wall or window that is untouched.
dubs
A term to describe a mostly London/UK style of graffiti piece or tag. It is almost exclusively executed in silver or chrome paint and is done extremely quickly on railway walls or street locations. Crews noted for this style in London include DDS, DTB, FDC, NRS, TKS and the PB aka polar bears crew.
end-to-end (...)
The opposite of top-to-bottom - meaning a train-car covered with paint from one side of it to the other. Used as an adjective and non-commonly as a noun.[6]
etch
The use of acid solutions intended for creating frosted glass, such as Etch Bath, to write on windows. In Norway some trains have even been taken temporarily out of service because of the acid tagging, which is potentially dangerous for other people's health.[7]
fills
Also referred to as "bombs" "throw ups" or "throwies". Fills describe a piece of graffiti that is either filled in a rush or a solid fill. A fill is also the interior base color of the piece of graffiti.
going over
To "go over" a piece of graffiti simply means to paint on top of it.[3] While most writers respect one another's artwork, to intentionally and disrespectfully paint on top of another's work is akin to a graffiti declaration of war. However (due partially to the limited amount of desirable wall-space) most graffiti writers maintain a hierarchy of sorts; a tag can legitimately be covered by a throw-up, and a throw-up by a piece, and this is commonly done without incident. If a piece has previously been slashed (or "dissed"), it is also acceptable for another writer to go over it. To violate these guidelines, or to simply paint lower-quality graffiti on top of a higher-quality artist's work will quickly characterize a writer as an annoyance, or "toy." This is thought to be dangerous as a few remarkable crews are rumored to be physically violent to people not respecting their self-claimed rank in the hierarchy. also: hot 110[8]
getting over
to work your reputation or "rep" through graffiti. (see King)
"Heavens" or "giraffiti"heaven spots (or shorter as heavens)
Pieces that are painted in hard-to-reach places such as rooftops and freeway signs, thus making them hard to remove. Such pieces, by the nature of the spot, often pose dangerous challenges to execute, but may increase an artist's notoriety. This term also encompasses a double-meaning as the locations are often very dangerous to paint there and it may lead to death, thus, going to heaven (also known as "hitting up the heavens").
head
similar to a king or queen, a "head" is a writer who has much skill and a high reputation among other writers in his area.
hollows
also referred to as "outlines" and "shells". A hollow is a piece of graffiti that contains no fill. (see fill)
insides
Graffiti done inside trains, trams, or buses. In 1970s New York, there was as much graffiti inside the subway trains as outside, and the same is true of some cities today (like Rome, Italy and Melbourne, Australia). While still very common, insides are often perceived as being less artistic.
king
The opposite of toys, kings or queens (feminine) are writers especially respected among other writers. This is sometimes separated into "inside" and "outside" kings. To be a king of the inside means you have most tags inside trains (to "own the inside"), and to "own the outside" means having most pieces on the train surface. One should note that there are kings of style among a variety of other categories and the term is regionally subjective. Self-declared kings will often incorporate crowns into their pieces; a commonly used element of style. However the people must be very self-confident when doing it, since other great writers tend to slash out self-proclaimed kings who have not gained that rank yet in their eyes. Typically a writer can only become a king if another king with that status already has expressed so.[9][3]
knight
A respected graffiti writer whose skills are still progressing. They are not as good as a king, but are much better then a toy.
landmark
When an individual "tags" on a certain location that becomes very difficult for removal. Can also be a location that won't get noticed too much, therefore it stays on longer.
legal
A graffiti piece or production that is made with permission.
married couple
Two simultaneous whole cars painted next to each other.[3] Some artists make fun out of term by connecting the two paintings across the car-gap often in a humoristic or obvious way to signal the marriage. (Subway cars permanently coupled and sharing a single air-compressor and electrical generator between them are technically married pairs.)
mop
A homemade marker derived from a Kiwi or Bingo dispenser and filled with various inks, used for tagging.
paint-eater
an unprimed surface such as raw wood or concrete that eats up standard spray paint. If a location has been given the reputation of beng a "paint eater" than in such cases a more thicker paint should be obtained and executed.
pichação
Brazilian name for the unique form of tagging found in that country. [1]
piece (short form of masterpiece)
A large and labor-intensive graffiti painting. Pieces often incorporate 3-D effects, arrows, and many colors and color-transitions, as well as various other effects. Originally shorthand for masterpiece, considered the full and most beautiful work of graffiti). A piece requires more time to paint than a throw-up. If placed in a difficult location and well executed it will earn the writer more respect. Piece can also be used as a verb that means: "to write". [10][3]
racking
Shoplifting or robbing, not limited to but including paint, markers, inks and clothes. Although disputed whether racking is an essential part of graffiti, there are writers who don't consider using legitimately acquired paint or pens as proper graffiti.[11][3]
roller
An enormous piece done with a paint roller instead of aerosol.
run
The length of time graffiti remains up before being covered or removed. If a piece has been up for a year, it is said to have "run for a year".
rusto
Rust-Oleum brand spray paint.
scribe
Also called "scratchitti," scribing creates hard-to-remove graffiti by scratching or etching a tag into an object, generally using a key, knife, stone, ceramic drill bit, or diamond tipped Dremel bit. The Mohs scale of mineral hardness determines which stones or other objects will scratch what surfaces. Often accompanied by etch, which is a faster method only applicable on glass surfaces
slam
To paint an extremely conspicuous or dangerous location.
slash
To put a line through, or tag over, another's graffiti. This is considered a deep insult. It is also known as "marking", "dissing" and "capping" (because of an infamous writer called CAP going over almost every piece on every car of the New York transit system in the early 70s and has become sort of a criticized legend because of that). Also referred to as "crossing out", "dissing" or "going over".
sticker
Also referred to as "labels" or "slaps". A sticker (often obtained from shipping companies and name greeting labels) with the writer's tag on it. A sticker can be deployed more quickly than other forms of graffiti, making it a favorite in any public place such as newspaper dispensers, stop signs, phone booths etc. A popular sticker that was used originally was the "Hello my name is" red stickers in which a writer would write his or her graffiti name in the blank space.
straight letter
Also referred to as "straights" and sometimes "simples" are a direct blocky, more readable and simpler style of graffiti. Straight letters can be read by anyone and usually contain only 2 colors.
A graffiti tagtag (scribble)
A stylized signature, normally done in one color. The simplest and most prevalent type of graffiti, a tag is often done in a color that contrasts sharply with its background. Tag can also be used as a verb meaning "to sign". Writers often tag on or beside their pieces, following the practice of traditional artists who sign their artwork. A less common type of tag is a "dust tag", done in dust by writers wishing to practice. The verb tagging has even become a popular verb today in other types of occasions that are non-graffiti-related. Tagging first appeared in Philadelphia, with spraypainted messages of "Bobby Beck In '59" on freeways surrounding the city. The first "king" was also crowned in Philly: Cornbread (graffiti), a student who began marking his nickname around the city to attract the attentions of a girl. In New York City, TAKI 183 inspired a newspaper article about his exploits, leading to an explosion of tagging in the early seventies.[12]
throw-up
A throw-up or "throwie" sits between a tag and a piece in terms of complexity and time investment. It generally consists of a one-color outline and one layer of fill-color. Easy-to-paint bubble shapes often form the letters. A throw-up is designed for quick execution, to avoid attracting attention to the writer. Throw-ups are often utilized by writers who wish to achieve a large number of tags while competing with rival artists. Most artists have both a tag and a throw-up that are essentially fixed compared to pieces. It is mostly so because they need to have a recognizable logo for others to identify them and their own individual styles.[13][3]
top-to-bottom
Pieces on trains that cover the whole height of the car.[3] A top-to-bottom, end-to-end combined production is called a whole-car. A production with several writers might cover a whole-train, which means the entire side of the train has been covered. In the U.S. this term can also be used as a single noun instead of only an adjective.
toy
1. Used as an adjective to describe poor work, or as a noun meaning an inexperienced or unskilled writer.[3] Graffiti writers usually use this as a derogatory term for new writers in the scene or writers that are old to the scene that still do not have any skill or reputation. The act of "toying" someone else's graffiti is to disrespect it by means of going over it (see "slash"/"going over").
2. "toys" often added above or directly on a "toy" work. An acronym meaning Tag Over Your Shit.
undersides
Tags or signatures painted on the under carriage of passenger trains. Undersides are normally marked in the yard after painting the train panel, most undersides will last somewhat longer than the original piece, as the railway workers primarily focus on the most visible things and sometimes don't have resources to clean everything.
up
Writers become up when their work becomes widespread and well-known.[3] Although a writer can "get up" in a city by painting only tags (or throw-ups), a writer may earn more respect from skillfully executed pieces or a well-rounded repertoire of styles than from sheer number of tags. Usually the more spots a writer can hit, the more respect he or she gains. A writers ups is determined by how much prolific graffiti he/she has accomplished and that is actively running.
whole car
A single or collaborative piece that covers the entire visible surface of a train car, usually excluding the front and rear of the train. A whole car is usually worked upon by either a single artist or several artists from the same crew and is completed in one sitting.
whole train
All train cars (usually between four and eight or more, regardless of the train length) completely covered with paint reaching the far end of the train on one or both sides. Such demanding actions are often done by multiple artists or crews and with a limited variation of colors - commonly in black and silver - because of the stressing time limitation they are facing when painting in the train yards (very often less than 30 minutes). However the more artists who participate, the better works can come out of it and the cars are done quicker too. This type of graffiti, if finished successful, is one of the most respected forms amongst other writers, but is also rarer due to the higher risk of getting caught.
wildstyle
Graffiti with text so stylized as to be difficult to read, often with interlocking, three-dimensional type.[3]
window-down (...)
Used mostly as a prefix for a whole car (other variations are possible too) where the content has been painted below the window borders, almost always covering the whole surface in its length (see end to end). Can be used as a more precise alternative to the mentioned term within the brackets, but though not in addition to top-to-bottom as that will exceed the definition of the term.[3]
An example of woodblock graffiti, the bottom portion of the image displaying the bolts at the back having been bent to prevent tamperingwoodblock graffiti
Artwork painted on a small portion of plywood or similar inexpensive material and attached to street sign posts with bolts. Often the bolts are bent at the back to prevent removal. Documented as early as 1995 in New York,[14] woodblock graffiti has seen a resurgence in Chicago in 2007 as a reaction to the city's Graffiti Blasters anti-graffiti program.
writer
A practitioner of writing, a graffiti artist.[2][3]

References

  1. ^ "The participants, who didn't keep the traditional type of graffiti black book, still had a sketchbook and a photo album that documented and preserved the ephemeral nature of their graffiti paintings." Rahn, Janice. Painting Without Permission: Hip-Hop Graffiti Subculture, Westport: Greenwood, 2002. (p. 205)
  2. ^ a b c d Whitford (p. 1)
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Subway Art, Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant, p27. Henry Holt and Company, 1984. ISBN-13: 978-0805006780.
  4. ^ "Graffitists' slang ... Bomb: To apply graffiti intensively to a location ... Hit: To tag or bomb a surface" Whitford, M. J. Getting Rid of Graffiti: A Practical Guide to Graffiti Removal, London: Taylor & Francis, 1992. (p. 1)
  5. ^ "Burner: A great piece" Whitford (p. 1)
  6. ^ "End to end: A piece covering the entire length of a train carriage." Mcdonald, Nancy. The Graffiti Subculture: Youth, Masculinity and Identity in London and New York, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001.
  7. ^ http://www.aftenposten.no/nyheter/iriks/article1260136.ece Norwegian newspaper article about acid tagging (foreign language)
  8. ^ http://www.subwayoutlaws.com/Hot110/Hot110.htm
  9. ^ "King/Queen: Dominant graffitist on bus route or underground railway line" Whitford (p. 1)
  10. ^ "Piece: Coloured, complex pictorial graffito in spray paint (from masterpiece)" Whitford (p. 1)
  11. ^ SEEN, an early graffiti writer, states, at 1:39, that they use to steal paint back in the day, referring to it as "racking."
  12. ^ http://www.ni9e.com/blog_images/taki_183.pdf First graffiti-related article from New York Times (scanned in PDF-format)
  13. ^ Whitford (p.1)
  14. ^ Pushead; Carlo McCormick, Phil Frost (March 1, 2008). Phil Frost. Damiani. ISBN 978-8862080248. 

 

Published - February 2009


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