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Spray Painting - Tips and Guidelines

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August 6, 2015
Bob Lansroth loves to explore the boundless diversity of artists and the various ways in which they strive to escape the quotidian life. It is through the creative force within us that we must attempt to connect with one another and share our ideas with the world. Writing for Widewalls, Bob Lansroth makes an effort to bring the world of art to as many people as possible. “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”

Most people would probably agree that beginnings are the hardest part of any particular endeavor you may embark upon. Whether it’s writing (if only you could blurt out that first sentence, surely all the rest would follow) or working out (so many plans and calculations, but actually starting to exercise seems like the biggest obstacle) starting from scratch seems like a daunting process. Well, at least when it comes to graffiti, we can provide some assistance and guidance on how to do it properly even if you’ve never even held a spray can in your life. Do not get intimidated by the insane number of styles or ways to do it, graffiti is made FOR everyone and should be made BY anyone who shares the passion for this, already legendary, way of creating street art. Who says making graffiti is a young man’s game? Street art knows no age! Nor Gender! If you feel up to it, and would like to create some tags of your own on the local walls, or simply embellish the urban world around you, go ahead, grab a spray paint, follow these guidelines and soon – you’ll be the next notorious graffiti artist everyone’s talking about!

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Know Your History

Before we get to some tutorial information, let us go back to the graffiti roots and pay our respect to the veterans, founders and original sprayers who paved the way for the myriad of artists to come in the newer generations. Legendary names like Futura, Basquiat, Haring echo with a divine-like halo around them for a good reason, but that doesn’t necessarily mean no other artist can even come close to that level, one must always take in consideration other factors, like a certain time period and particular cultural and urban surroundings those artists lived and worked in. Amazingly enough, some of the legendary graffiti artists are still at it, keeping their place at the top of the game. If we were to bridge the temporal and stylistic gap between the original spray paint writers and the modern street artists of today, many things have changed, but the fundamental principles remain inherent and unchanged. Those are the same ethics every artist, new or seasoned, should base their work upon. The voicelessness of our society is something we shouldn’t run away from or turn a blind eye to, we simply must find a way to express our feelings and attitudes, and evoke some kind of reaction in the apathetic culture around us. What better way to demonstrate your thoughts and emotions than to put them on a wall in the middle of a public area for everyone to see, experience and, ultimately, think about.

Learn From the Spray Painting Masters

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Choose Your Location

Before you even think about hitting the streets with a spray paint, practice, a LOT, on paper with a marker, pencil and an eraser, then maybe move on to a larger piece of cardboard to increase your working surface and adjust the actual size of your writing. After you’ve got a hang of making some tags and forming letters in the style you desire, with markers and other basic drawing tools, it is time to finally wrap your fingers around a spray can. It is also not a bad thing to get yourself acquainted with the important graffiti terms used in street art and spray painting vocabulary, as you’re about to start throwing those words around yourself, you might as well make sure you know what you’re talking about. First things first, choose the location for your graffiti debut wisely! Plan ahead, don’t just randomly spray paint a free space on any wall you see, map out the area you wish to create in, be sure you’re not writing graffiti over someone else’s work, that’s a big no-no. Don’t go straight away for the most exposed, noticeable place to showcase your first graffiti, chances are it won’t be your top work, you’ll get better with time, so save those exquisite locations for later. Also, keep in mind the level of danger and exposure you’re putting yourself into, the thrill of illegality is exciting, but ensure a quick escape route is available if needed! In cities and larger towns, you may even find a wall, or a specified location where graffiti is legal and welcome. Those places are usually already tagged or decorated by the more experienced artists, but they still provide an inspiring and learning experience for any spray paint-wielder. Since it’s not against the law, the writers can spend hours, even days working on a single piece there, without the fear of being caught and the instinct to run when police shows up, which results in some really astonishing artwork, definitely worth checking out. There is even an entire website dedicated to locating these legal places to create your graffiti in, so have a look at Legal Walls, maybe there’s one right there in your area.

Look for a Clean Space to Paint in

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Create Your Own Tag

Tag graffiti is in the basics and roots of almost all the writers, essentially, graffiti even started out as simple tags of names and pseudonyms across the subways and walls of NY. It is in the artist’s nature to sign their work, mark their territory and somehow incorporate their name in the art they produce. So let’s examine the various techniques of tagging with a spray paint. Now, with the uncountable myriad of graffiti writers, both professional and amateurs alike, it becomes quite challenging to find your own tag, unique from any other. The thing is, it doesn’t necessarily need to be something never seen before, you don’t have to bust your brain over inventing a completely new way of creating a tag, because that would be almost impossible. What you should do is get comfortable with a certain style, whether it’s something obscure or one of the most popularly used ones, and then make it your own. Give it a certain twist, change something, add your personal flavor to it, but never blatantly copy someone else’s name or tag completely. Start with some markers and paper, a lot of paper. Go through dozens, even hundreds of attempts until you are completely satisfied with your tag, and when you feel like it comes naturally out of your hand, hit the streets. Once you’ve chosen your secret alias (never use your real name), give it some time, see how it sits with you and people whose opinions you appreciate, because it can be something like a bad tattoo that may have seemed cool at the moment, but ultimately leaves you stuck with a lame mark. Be creative, find something meaningful to you that can represent your personality in a simple word. Tags can, and should be done quickly, just like a signature on a legal paper, only this signature is something as far from legal as it can be, which is why you can try to place your tag almost anywhere in a matter of seconds, without the risk of being caught or getting yourself in trouble.

Here’s a video of G from Graffiti Kings in London, showing you how to spray like a professional, with related tips on how to write tags and look like an expert while avoiding amateur mistakes.

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Handle Your Spray Paint

Paying some attention to the practical technical side of writing graffiti can prove to be quite useful and time-saving. Cap mounting can become quite a messy process if you don’t do it properly, because simply pushing down actually opens the nozzle, liberating the pressured content all around. So, how can you complete this seemingly easy task without causing chaos? A simple move usually does the trick – you need to twist or screw the cap onto the head of the can, so with a light twirl, while applying some pressure, you can mount your cap on a spray can. The same goes for the process of taking a cap off, also try to cover the actual spraying point of the cap with your finger while doing this, in order to avoid any accidental dispersing of the color.

There is a good reason why cans should be shaken before use. Much like any other liquid paint, after a longer period of standing around, the spray paint separates from the solvent , causing the actual paint particles to sink down to the bottom. This paint now becomes much thicker in texture, which can easily and quickly clog caps, so let your arm swing loose and shake the spray can for about a minute before using.

Use the Right Spray Painting Technique

A basic tip can go a long way. For making a thin line, you need to put the can very up-close to the wall, the smaller the distance to the wall, the thinner the line becomes. Also, to make it clean and precise, tilt the can downwards a little bit. Don’t hold it in one place for too long, it will leave drips behind, if you’re aiming for very thin lines, you must do them in a swift motion. On the other hand, for doing some spray painting with soft fading or smooth shadowing, you should pay attention on a certain angle and distance from the surface, depending on the desired effect. Various caps can create various layers of thickness and permanency, most of the different caps cannot be bought in regular stores, but must be ordered online, but for starting, you needn’t worry about that, use the regular cans and caps until you feel the need to move on to other surfaces and develop your spray painting style further.

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A Wall in Front of You, a Spray Paint in Your Hand

In the world of capitalism, almost every flashing image we see around us serves a purpose of some kind, usually a commercial, corporate one, advertising the latest trend in our money-driven society. The voice of people always seems to die out under the oppressive shouting of advertising companies and the ruling government. So little is left to express our own personal opinions and messages, to share our visions, dreams and feelings with others. Alas, as long as the cities are built with walls and bricks, graffiti artists shall continue to defy the commercial beast, indeed, some may flirt with it, but ultimately, a spray can remains a symbol of freedom and expression against the apathy of everyday life. Many street artists would say that nothing can be as liberating as creating your own graffiti on a huge wall, leaving it there for everyone to see and experience your work. It may not always be legal, but that factor invariably leaves a scent of excitement in every swoosh of your can. And if you were to face a wall with a spray paint in your hand, what message would you leave? Would it be a simple tag, or something more thought-provoking? What would you say, if the streets were listening?

Use your new spray painting techniques and leave a tag on the world around you!

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All images used for illustrative purposes only