When you see graffiti on city walls or trains, you might think it’s all one style. But that would be incorrect.
As it turns out, street art consists of many different styles. From signatures to more elaborate works of art, techniques used in graffiti vary between artists.
We’ll share the difference between the five top styles many of us see when walking around any given city.
Is There Really More Than One Style of Graffiti?
Graffiti artists create their artwork using a variety of styles. Some people prefer one form over another for different reasons. And it’s not uncommon for an artist’s technique to change over time as they progress and learn new skills.
Considered to be the birthplace of graffiti, New York City in the 1970s was a hotbed of activity for street artists. While the early form consisted of scrawling crew names in certain city areas, it wasn’t long before more artistic styles began popping up.
Subway cars are a popular canvas for graffiti artists. It’s an excellent way for their work to travel across the city for everyone to see. Of course, police view the act as vandalism and very illegal, no matter how artistic the pieces are. But that doesn’t stop it from happening.
In fact, over the last 50 years, graffiti’s popularity has risen to an all-time high worldwide. Cities and private businesses even commission well-known street artists to create artwork for them.
Let’s get into five of the top graffiti styles and how they differ from one another. Aside from these, artists use several additional techniques artists to create their work. And sometimes, you’ll even see combinations of styles within one piece.
Tagging may be one of the most common styles of graffiti most people know. It typically consists of an individual artist’s alias or crew name scrawled in one color using a thick marker or spray paint. Think of a tag as a stylized personal signature.
You’ll see graffiti tags all over cities, such as New York, Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles. The more the artists or crews can get their names written on walls, the greater their notoriety will be. And it’s a sign of disrespect to write over someone else’s tag. Just don’t do it!
Within this graffiti style exist multiple ways of drawing the name. Sometimes it’ll just be a simple single-line signature, while others will use larger lettering. And tagging techniques also vary by location, within the US and worldwide.
In the 1960s, Cornbread, a famous tagger, broke into the Philadelphia Zoo one night. He spray-painted “Cornbread Lives” on the side of an elephant. That’s one way to get some fame behind your name.
This style is similar to a tag but usually is much larger and uses round bubble letters outlined in a different color. A throwie, as many artists refer to it, is done using spray paint to cover a larger area.
Subway and train cars across the country commonly feature throw-ups. How often have you been at a rail crossing, watching colorfully-painted boxcars pass by? In many cases, you’re seeing throwies fly by.
Cope2 is a famous throw-up graffiti artist from New York City. It’s not uncommon to see his work on the city streets or in art galleries selling for thousands of dollars.
A stencil is exactly what you think it is. An artist will use cardboard, metal, plastic, or other materials to cut out a form. They might use it to create a human, animal, or other image.
Once the stencil is ready, the artist takes spray or roll-on paint to create their piece. The cool thing about this particular graffiti style is its reproduction ability. Walking through a city, you might see the same stencil form on multiple walls.
Banksy’s famous Girl With Balloon is an excellent example of this graffiti style. It depicts a young girl reaching out for her red heart-shaped balloon. In 2002, Banksy stenciled the piece on two locations in London. The image is one of the artist’s most recognized pieces of art.
Short for masterpiece, most examples of this graffiti style are truly works of art. A piece often covers an entire wall, contains multiple colors, and may even include three-dimensional elements. They’re usually time and labor-intensive paintings.
Sometimes one or more artists will work together on a piece commissioned by a community group. The artwork will often highlight social, environmental, or political themes.
Lady Pink, an Ecuador-born artist now residing outside New York City, is famous for many colorful and intricate wall pieces.
This graffiti style has an appropriate name. You’ll see heaven pieces in hard-to-reach locations like rooftops, overpasses, billboards, and freeway signs.
We often wonder how people paint places like these without killing themselves. For some artists, adding the element of danger is enticing. Successfully getting your piece up on a heaven spot can earn you exceptional credibility among graffiti peers.
The artist Walz is famous for some of his heaven pieces. But how does he get up to these risky locations? In a recent interview with VoxAtl.org, he answered, “You just gotta plan it out. Some of those spots, they’re not easy to get to. And even though they’re not easy to get into, it’s easier than getting down.”
Are We Becoming Graffiti Experts?
Graffiti includes more than these five styles. Some people feel there are ten, and others say closer to 20 different styles exist. Now when you see graffiti painted on city walls or trains, you can identify the more popular types.
We’re not sure that makes us experts. But we think it’s pretty cool to look at street art and see the different methods artists use to create their pieces.
What’s your favorite graffiti style? Let us know in the comments below.
Outside Folk Gallery
You can explore folk, street, and outsider art in our personal collection at Outside Folk Art. We’re celebrating these creatives and giving voice to rising black, Native, immigrant, and working mother artisans.
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