Street Art Terms

Street Art Terms

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 a medium of subway cars.

Back to Back
A wall that is pieced from end to end all the way across, although it doesn’t necessarily describe a wall that has been bombed by only one writer.

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.

Bite
To copy another writer’s style. This used to be considered very bad form and is looked down upon. It still is, but since writers like Banksy have emerged they have spawned many copycat writers

Bomb
To cover an area with your tag, throwups, etc.

Bombing
To go out writing.

Bubble Letters
A type of graffiti letters, usually considered to be an older (and sometimes outmoded) style. Often used for throwup letters because of their rounded shape, which allows for quick formation.

Buff
To remove painted graffiti with chemicals and other instruments or to paint over it with a flat color.

Burn
To beat the competition with your style. Also refers to a really good piece, as in one that “burns”.

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 area.
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
1. The nozzle for the aerosol paint can, different kinds are used for styles.
2. 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 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. Any group of friends can form a crew if they are interested in graffiti and want to start collaborating. 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.

Character
A cartoon figure (usually, but not necessarily) taken from comic books, TV or popular culture to add humor or emphasis to a piece. In some pieces, the character takes the place of a letter  in the word.

Crew
A loosely organized group of writers who also tag the crew initials along with their name.

Dress-up
To completely write all over a specific area like a door-way, wall or window that is untouched.
Drips
Stylized drips drawn onto letters to add effect. Although inept paint application causing unintentional drips is considered the mark of a toy, stylized drips drawn on letters are acceptable and can bring added detail to a piece.

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.

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.

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.

Fat cap
A nozzle used for wide coverage, used for the fill of pieces.

Fill
The solid interior color of letters on a piece.

Getting Up
Originally, “getting up” meant to successfully hit a train. Now it means to hit up anything, anywhere, with any form of graffiti, although the term implies the process of tagging repeatedly to spread your name. Tagging something once would be getting up, but would not make you an “up” writer.

Going Over
One writer covering another writer’s name with his/her own. Also known as “X-ing out” or “crossing out”. “Crossing out” is usually just that, painting an X over another writers tag or piece. In the early days of New York graffiti, Cap was the master of doing black and white throwups to go over people. There was even a crew called TCO (the cross outs), whose main goal was to cross everyone out.

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
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.

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”).

Hit Up
When something is covered with tags.

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.

Kill
To hit or bomb excessively. To really get up in a major way.

King
The best with the most. Some people refer to different writers as kings of different areas. King of throwups, king of style, king of a certain line, etc.

Knight
A respected graffiti writer whose skills are still progressing. They are not as good as a king, but are much better than a toy.

Landmark
When an individual “tags” on a certain location that becomes very difficult for removal. Can also be a location that will not 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. 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
A large-scale type of piecing, done top to bottom on a wall; usually a large production involving one or two pieces and usually some form of characters.

Old School
General term used to refer to the early days of writing, more specifically, the mid 70s to 80s. Also may refer to hip-hop music of this period.

One-liner
A tag written with a marker or mop in one constant motion. The tip of the writing implement does not lift from the canvas until the tag is complete.

Outline
The drawing done in a piecebook in preparation for doing the actual piece. Also called a sketch. Can also refer to the outline put on the wall and then filled, or the final outline done around the piece to finish it.

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.

Pasteup
A drawing, stencil etc. on paper fixed to a wall or other surface using wheat paste or wallpaper paste

Patch
A tag that has been rubbed out by being painted over usually by gray paint or “patched” over.

Pawn
Another name used to describe toys. This name pawn is used in conjunction with the “King/Queen” and “Knight” terminology which is a reference to Chess.

Piece
A graffiti painting, short for masterpiece. It’s generally agreed that a painting must have at least three colors to be considered a piece.

To Piece
To paint graffiti, creating a piece, not just go out tagging.

Piecebook
A writer’s sketchbook where outlines and ideas to be executed are kept and worked out. Also referred to as a “black book” or a “writer’s bible”.

Props
Respect, comes from “proper respect”. From hip-hop/rap.

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.

Roll Call
Tagging everyone’s name in a crew, or the list of people who helped create it to the side of the piece. Not done very often – tagbangers seem to like doing this.

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”.

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”.

Soak up
To consider other pieces for inspiration.

Stainer
A marker used to tag with, generally with a 12mm or 20mm tip. In some countries such as Australia possession of these without a reason can result in an on the spot fine

Stickers
A form of tagging, most commonly saying “Hello, my name is”. Can be anything from computer-generated, clear, generic blank stickers that have the writer’s name on them to elaborate stickers with little pieces and characters. Some writers consider stickers to be for people who are “afraid” to use markers/paint, while other writers use a combination of stickers with markers and paint.

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.

Tag
The most basic form of graffiti, a writer’s signature with marker or spray paint. It is the writer’s logo, his/her stylized personal signature. If a tag is long it is sometimes abbreviated to the first two letters or the first and last letter of the tag. Also may be ended with the suffixes “one”, “ski”, “rock”, “em” and “er”.

Tagger
As opposed to “writer”; this term is usually used to refer to those who only do tags and throwups and who never piece. Some taggers seem to like more destructive methods such as scribers and sandpaper in addition to markers and paint. Some taggers do get interested in piecing, some don’t. Taggers who never piece are sometimes called “scribblers” by more experienced, piecing writers.

3D
A three-dimensional style of letters, used for added effect on basic letters, sometimes applied to wildstyle for an extra level of complexity.

Throwup
Over time, this term has been applied to many different types of graffiti. Throwups can be from one or two letters to a whole word or a whole roll call of names. Often times throwups incorporate an exclamation mark after the word or letter. Throwups are generally only one or two colors, no more. Throwups are either quickly done bubble letters or very simple pieces using only two colors.

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
An inexperienced or incompetent writer. Someone whose writing is either wack, who uses sucker tips, or whose style is just plain cheesy. One old definition of “TOYS” is that it stands for “trouble on your system”.

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
Describes a writer whose work appears regularly everywhere and who is currently writing.

Wack
Substandard or incorrect (derived from “out of whack”). Anything that looks cheesy or weak. Badly formed letters, incompetent fills, shit looking tags, etc.

Wildstyle
A complicated construction of interlocking letters. A hard style that consists of lots of arrows and connections. Wildstyle is considered one of the hardest styles to master and pieces done in wildstyle are often completely undecipherable to non-writers.

Writer
Someone who writes, or tags. This term is usually applied to people who get up big pieces or murals as well as tagging, not tagging alone.