Although it may be tempting to simply pick up a can of spray paint and fire away, researching its history and studying examples for inspiration can help you decide which styles and techniques to adopt. From there, developing your own distinctive style with paper and pen can help your finished artwork look more polished than what people might expect from a beginner. Practicing even further with actual spray paint will then make your tag look even more sharp, crisp, and fluid once you finally find a perfect spot to tag.
Treat tagging just like any other art form. Learn about its evolution over the years so you can spot the difference between modern, classic, and outdated trends. There are plenty of books and other materials on the subject, but popular titles include:
Before you attempt your own tag, check out other peoples styles. Photograph local artwork or save online images that impress you. Use these as reference as you start to develop your own style. Find these by:
Searching online for uploaded images of tags.
Taking a walking tour highlighting areas with active graffiti artists.
Going on your own hunt for tags in your area.
Keep in mind that a lot of graffiti is against the law, which means many artists have to work with only half their mind on the job at hand. Since the other half is distracted by having to keep an eye out for the cops, expect illegal tags to often be rushed and less than stellar. Because of this, focus your attention on legal artwork, since those artists were able to devote their full attention on what they were doing.
Visit locate nearby artwork that was done by permission.
Expect tagging to develop just like any other artform. This means that certain cities and regions may develop their own nuances, so pay attention to whats being done around you. Bring yourself up-to-date on local styles and trends. Reach out to local artists to find out their personal take on both the medium at large and their own contributions to it.
This isnt to say that you should limit yourself to just your area. In fact, comparing and contrasting what local artists are doing versus whats being done in, say, Los Angeles or Berlin could be just as enlightening.
Remember that designing your own tag and actually tagging a physical space are two different things. Dont rush out and try doing both at once. Before you pick up a spray can, sit down with some paper and a pen, pencil, or marker. Sketch your ideas and gradually perfect them before committing them to a (near) permanent canvas.
Choose an alias now, or wait until later.
If youre anxious to dive right into actual tagging, decide which letters you need to focus on instead of practicing the whole alphabet. Before you settle on one, check online to see if anyone else already goes by that tag. If so, come up with another. However, if you feel more patient, hold off on a name for right now. Keep in mind that:
Your tag needs to be visually appealing, so a name that
cool might be less impressive visually than one that sounds blah but
Youre free to change your name at any time, both before and after you start tagging.
If you plan on doing any illegal artwork, make sure that your alias cant be traced back to you in any way.
Understand that tagging incorporates your whole bodys movement as you paint, with the end result ideally conveying a sense of that movement and energy to the viewer. However, realize that you need to take baby-steps to do that with any level of mastery. For now, practice drawing simple forms of typography freehanded, like Arial or Sans-Serif. As you do, pay particular attention to:
Start tinkering with each letter to suggest movement.
As you grow more confident in drawing simple fonts freehanded, experiment by altering them slightly. Aim to suggest movement with each line to a letter. Play with angles, spacing, symmetry, and thickness to transform a whole letter into a more dynamic shape. For example, with the letter P, you could:
Tilt the angle of the whole letter so that its top is pointing slightly to the right, and its bottom to the left, or vice versa.
Curve its vertical line so it resembles the letter J for a more languid, swooping effect.
Reduce the size of the loop at its top to suggest a sharper, tighter, swifter line.
Feel free to simply copy what others have already done when you start tinkering. Virtually all artists (whether theyre graffiti artists or another kind) start out by doing this, so dont feel bad about it. If anything, feel confident, because this way youll be more conscious about what aspects you end up borrowing and which you can credit as your own original ideas. However:
Dont be content with just copying. Blatant mimicry in finished tags (or biting, as its called in graffiti circles) is frowned upon.
This is another reason why its important to start out with a sketchbook. This way you can learn by others examples without being accused of trying to pass off borrowed styles as your own.
As you grow more satisfied with each letter on its own, start grouping them together to see how they look as a whole. You dont have to literally paint the whole tag in one unbroken move, but aim to suggest a fluid, graceful motion from one letter to the next. Continue tinkering with each letter as needed with an eye toward how it gels with the rest until youre satisfied with the full effect. For example:
If youre using the letters U and V, you may be pleased at first with how they each look individually. However, you may then realize that theyre too similar and confusing when paired together. In this case, youll have to alter one or both to make them more distinct so your tag is easily legible.
Remember: practice makes perfect. Before you debut your tag for the world to see, start off with something thats for your eyes only. Grow accustomed to using spray-paint where you wont be embarrassed by any mistakes or mishaps. Use a canvas that you can practice on and repaint as needed without being arrested, such as:
Keep in mind that you want your tag to appear fluid and dynamic, regardless of how small or large it is. At the same time, realize that you will often need to move quickly to keep your lines nice and neat. Avoid mistakes that could be caused by a stiff body, aches, and cramps. Limber up beforehand. Also keep in mind:
This goes for your whole body, not just your arms. Expect your waist, hips, legs, and feet to have an impact on the quality of your work.
The larger the surface area to be covered, the wider your range of motion will need to be. A larger canvas means you have to reach, lean, and bend to a greater degree, and more often.
Expect the paints ingredients to separate over time. Always give it a vigorous shake before you use it, even if you only set it aside for a few minutes. Check the directions on the can to see how long you should shake, both before its first use and (if mentioned) again after a short pause.
If you dont shake it up, the consistency will be uneven. This means that it will be extremely thin at times (which makes for a weak coat), and thicker at others (which could cause clogs).
Put your spraying cap on well away from your canvas.
If you need to attach a separate spray cap to your can, expect this to release some paint as you do so. Stay away from your canvas so it doesnt get any spray-back. Place your finger (or better yet, a loose strip of tape) over the caps nozzle to catch what comes out.
Remember that many paints have toxic ingredients. Even those that dont should never be inhaled or ingested. Wear protective gloves and mask to reduce this risk.
Before you try your hand at spraying your tag, start with simple lines sprayed from various distances. Judge the effect of how near or far you stand from your canvas. Expect a wider dispersal the farther back your stand.
For neat, crisp lines, you need to work up close.
For fades and shadows, you need more distance.
Remember that the paint is going to dry immediately upon contact. Expect prolonged spraying over one area to result in a wet buildup. Avoid drips and runs by keeping the can in motion constantly, especially if youre aiming for very thin lines.
Again, some experimentation may be needed here. Constant motion is always key, but do some practice lines at various speeds to see what effect each has on your lines.
Another reason not to dawdle is if you decide to tag some place without permission.
Once youre confident in your spray-painting skills, decide where to apply them. Avoid the temptation to simply tag a surface on impulse. Think before you act. Things to consider include:
Whether the area has already been tagged, in which case you should choose another.
How visible it is, since you may be better off improving your skills on less visible areas.
If its legal to tag this space, and if so, whose permission you need to obtain, if any.
If its illegal to do so, and if so, if youll be easily noticed or caught.
Moleskine sketchbooks are a favorite, but there are so many that you can try. Try to feel the pages before you buy them, though, so you can figure out if the paper is good.
Yes, but this isnt advisable if you plan on tagging areas where graffiti is illegal.
Hardware and paint stores often carry it, as do shops catering to graffiti artists specifically. If you cant find any in your area, search online.
How can I be a tagger if Im a kid and Ive never been left alone before?
If you are still too young to be unsupervised, then you will have to wait before you can start tagging. However, you can still choose a tagger name and create a design using your school art paper and colored pencils or markers. Then you will have your tag ready for when you are old enough. Also, when you are traveling around your neighborhood, keep your eye out for tags to study, and look for likely places that you can use someday. Talk to your teachers: maybe they can arrange a tagging project for the gym wall at your school and the whole class can get involved.
Include your email address to get a message when this question is answered.
When you get permission to paint on a wall, get it in writing. That way if the police catch you, you can prove you have permission.
Many businesses wont sell spray paint to anyone under 18 years old.
Illegal tagging can result in arrest, fines, and possible jail time.
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