Glossary of graffiti

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

Graffiti on the Berlin Wall

A–D[edit]

angels
Famous or respected graffiti artists who have passed away. The people who admire them tag their names on a the wall with halos above them or make tribute pieces with their faces or tag with the dates of their birth to death.
all city
The state of being known for one's graffiti throughout a city. Originally, this term meant to be known throughout the five boroughs of New York City through the medium of subway cars.
back 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. Also known as a "piece book." It is 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, name, lettering or color 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 to paint throw-ups or tags instead of complex pieces, as they can be executed more quickly.[3][4]
buff
To remove painted graffiti with chemicals and other instruments, or to paint over it with a flat color.[2][3]
burn
To beat a competitor with a style. To rat out an accomplice or crime partner either intentionally or unintentionally.
burner
1. A large, more elaborate type of piece. The piece could be said to be "burning" out of the wall, billboard, 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.[3][5]
2. More recently, any quick chrome bombing or throwup.[citation needed]
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 (I)
the nozzle for the aerosol paint can, also referred to as Tips. Different kinds are used for styles. New York Thins, Rustos, and New York Fats are the most commonly used caps.
cap (II)
To cross out or in any other way ruin a piece made by others. Derives from a writer named "Cap" who was infamous for making throw-ups over others' pieces.
crew
A crew, krew, or cru is a group of associated writers or graffiti artists that often work together. Crews are differentiated from gangs in that their main objective is to paint graffiti, although gang-like activity can occur. Any group of friends can quickly and informally form a crew if they are interested in graffiti and want to start collaborating. Often crews will recruit new members over time in order to maintain their relevance. There is a smaller risk of being held responsible for crew works if a single member gets arrested. From a legal point of view, the name could have been painted by anyone in the group.[2][3]
domming
A colour-mixing technique done by spraying one colour over another while it is still wet, then rubbing the two together. Sometimes an abrasive like sand is used to create different effects. The term is derived from "condom," as a reference to its synonym rubber and is sometimes called fingering, as it is commonly done with one's fingers.
dropsy
a bribe.
dress-up
To completely write all over a specific area like a door-way, wall or window that is untouched.
dubs
London/UK style of graffiti executed in silver or chrome paint. Usually on railway walls or street locations, it is done quickly by a crew or group of writers.

E–K[edit]

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
Etching-Tags in Chicago
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]
fat cap
A nozzle used for wide coverage, used for the fill of pieces.
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.
gallery
Locations such as overpasses and walls facing train tracks that are secluded from the general public but are popular with writers. Since anything that is written is likely to stay for a while, an accumulation of styles and skills can be viewed.
German Montana
Specialty paint brand company designed for graffiti. Due to a dispute in name branding, it is unrelated to Spanish Montana, a company selling the same products which capitalized on the idea first.
getting up
To develop your reputation or "rep" through writing graffiti. (see King)
"Heavens" or "giraffiti"
ghost
the mark left after paint or ink has been unsuccessfully buffed.
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 dangerous as most crews and writers will react with physical violence and/or by repeatedly going over writers not respecting their self-claimed rank in the hierarchy. also: hot 110[8]
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").
hat (honor-among-thieves)
A person who is described as wearing a "hat" is an artist who is considered trustworthy in the graffiti community. A person who knows a lot of information about other artists but does not spread such knowledge to the authorities. "Don't worry about him, he wears a dope hat"
head
1 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.
2 also "O.G. Head" (for Original, or Original Gangsta).
hollows
also referred to as "outlines" and "shells". A hollow is a piece of graffiti that contains no 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. For example, in Los Angeles a King would be someone who has achieved status by years in the graffiti longevity, style, ups, and originality. 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.[3][9]
Krylon
A paint brand that was one of the most popular with writers, it is thought of virtually synonymous with graffiti, due to general quality and availability. Heavily used during the hey-day of the New York City Subway graffiti era during the early 1970s to late 1980s, it has a nostalgic status. Starting in mid-2008, the brand introduced a generation of paint can design with an irremovable cap system that sprays a rectangular coverage instead of the circular coverage preferred by writers. The paint quality is runnier and translucent in comparison to graffiti specialty brands. Sherwin Williams, Krylon's parent company, has dominated a significant portion of the paint market and many retail outlets stock only Krylon paints. For this reason, Krylon is categorized into three groups.
  • 360 krylon - from the "Ez touch 360 dial control" label
  • triple krylon - from the "No Runs, No Drips, No Errors" label
  • original krylon - The first line of cans, sought after as a collectors item
It is considered to be an indication of being a toy if one chooses 360 Krylon[citation needed]

L–P[edit]

landmark
When an individual or crew "tags" on a certain location that becomes very difficult for removal, or is obscure and hidden from the "buff". This will usually be demarcated with a signature that documents the time that they were written. Graffiti that is considered a "landmark" has usually been in place for at least 5 years. These spots are highly respected by other writers, and to go over them can warrant disfavor.
legal
A graffiti piece or production that is made with permission. Writers normatively have to have gained experience writing illegal graffiti in the streets for a considerable amount of time to be respected for legal graffiti.
lock on
Sculpture art in a public space, typically chained to public furniture with an old bike lock. The Lock On style is a "non destructive" form of underground art.
married couple
Two simultaneous whole cars painted next to each other.[3] Some artists make fun of the 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.)
massacre
When municipal authorities take down or cover up an accumulation of tags and pieces, leaving a blank space.
mop
A type of homemade graffiti marker used for larger tags that often has a round nib and leaves a fat, drippy line. Mops may be filled with various inks or paints.
mural
see "piece"
one-liner
A tag, throwie, or bomb written in one constant motion. These may be done with any writing utensil. The tip or nozzle of the writing implement does not lift from the canvas until the tag is complete.
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 being a "paint eater" than in such cases a thicker paint should be obtained and executed. Additionally, writers can use house paint to prime the surface before painting.
painters touch
A brand by Rust-Oleum that is favored for quality and general availability.
paste-up
A drawing, stencil etc. on paper fixed to a wall or other surface using wheatpaste or wallpaper paste
patch
A tag that has been rubbed out by being painted over usually by gray paint or "patched" over.
pichação
Brazilian name for the unique form of tagging found in that country.[10]
piece (short form of masterpiece)
A large, complex, and labor-intensive graffiti painting. Pieces often incorporate 3-D effects, arrows, and many colors and color-transitions, as well as various other effects. These will usually be done by writers with more experience. 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".[3][11]
PT
Painters Touch brand by Rust-Oleum.
punition
Form of graffitti which consists in repeating the same word endlessly covering a whole surface. It comes from the punition lines that kids do at school.

R–W[edit]

Graffiti shop is equipped with anti-theft system. Tver City, Russia.
racking
Shoplifting or robbing, not limited to but including paint, markers, inks, caps, and clothes. Although disputed whether racking is an essential part of graffiti, there are writers who do not consider using legitimately acquired paint or pens as proper graffiti.[3][12]
roller
An enormous piece done with a paint roller instead of aerosol. These are usually completed in very simplified letter forms that resemble font, but can occasionally be very intricate and complex.
rook
trusted member of a crew.
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 incising a tag into an object, generally using a key, knife, stone, sand paper, ceramic drill bit, or diamond tipped Dremel bit. The Mohs scale of mineral hardness determines which stones or other objects will scratch what 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", "hating" or "going over".
soak up
To consider other pieces for inspiration.
Spanish Montana
Specialty paint brand company designed for graffiti. Due to a dispute in name branding, it is unrelated to German Montana, a company selling the same products capitalizing on the idea after Spanish Montana.
stainer
A marker used to tag with, generally with a 12 mm or 20 mm tip. In some countries such as Australia possession of these without a reason can result in an on the spot fine.
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 crosswalk signs, 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. Reflector stickers, found at hardware stores are sometimes assembled to form a crew meaning, or individual writer's moniker.
straight letter
Also referred to as "straights", "blockbusters" 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 two colors and are most commonly completed in arrangements of silver, black, and/or white.
A graffiti tag.
tag (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 by smudging the dirt of a wall with the fingers. Writers use this technique to get up without technically vandalizing. 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. Since then, individual graffiti scenes have displayed very different forms of tagging that are unique to specific regions. For example, a Los Angeles tag will look very different from a Philadelphia tag, etc. 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.[13]
throw-up
A throw-up or "throwie" sits between a tag and a bomb 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.[3][14]
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 who are old to the scene and 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 do not 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. Usually, if the writer hits more spots with better style they will get more respect then someone who simply tags. A writers ups is determined by how much prolific graffiti he/she has accomplished. Writers are considered "up" both in terms of the number of spots they have hit, but also those that are still 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. it has also been known that 'crews' of graffiti artists would demonstrate their 'whole cart/train' skills, usually carried out by waiting at a train/metro stop or station, waiting for the train to approach. then when stopped quickly cover the full area of the cart, this can be finished within 2 minutes of the train pulling into the station.
Wildstyle on a truck in Paris
wildstyle
Graffiti with text so stylized as to be difficult to read, often with interlocking, three-dimensional type.[3]
Window Down
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]
Example of woodblock
woodblock 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.
writer
A practitioner of writing, a graffiti artist.[2][3]

References[edit]

  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 978-0-8050-0678-0.
  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. ^ Aftenposten.no, Norwegian newspaper article about acid tagging (foreign language)
  8. ^ Subwayoutlaws.com
  9. ^ "King/Queen: Dominant graffitist on bus route or underground railway line" Whitford (p. 1)
  10. ^ Pichacao.com
  11. ^ "Piece: Coloured, complex pictorial graffito in spray paint (from masterpiece)" Whitford (p. 1)
  12. ^ SEEN, an early graffiti writer, states, at 1:39, that they use to steal paint back in the day, referring to it as "racking."
  13. ^ Ni9e.com, First graffiti-related article from New York Times (scanned in PDF-format)
  14. ^ Whitford (p. 1)