All subcultures have their own slang and terms – and the graffiti scene is no exception. Graffiti artists will often communicate with each other using these terms, whether it be to describe graffiti activities, fonts, or artists.
Today, we’ll be listing the top ten graffiti terms you should know. If you want to know more about the street art scene or you’re thinking of becoming a street artist, this blog post is for you.
Some terms may be specific to a local area, but most terms on this list are recognised and used frequently by graffiti artists and street artists around the world. Read on to learn some of the top terms in the graffiti community as well as the meanings behind them.
1 – Tag
Throughout history, people have tagged their names in public spaces. Children will write their names on their school desks, and graffiti artists will tag their names on walls and other public spaces.
Tagging is graffiti in its simplest form. A graffiti artist will use markers or spray paints to tag, and will usually only use one or two colours.
It is essentially the signature of a graffiti writer, painted, of course, in graffiti letters/ words such as bubble writing. There is often an element of calligraphy in graffiti tagging – some graffiti writers will spend hours perfecting their tag before painting it in public spaces.
Street artists will often paint their tag next to their artwork so it can be identified as their work. Many artists won’t use their real names, and instead, their tag will be their pseudonyms. For example, Banksy doesn’t write his real name (whatever that may be) on his artwork.
2 – Heaven Spot
If you’re not a member of the graffiti community, you may not have heard of the term ‘heaven spot’ – but you’ll likely be familiar with the concept.
It refers to ‘daredevil graffiti’ – when you paint graffiti in a place that’s difficult to reach. This typically includes high spaces – for example, on the top of a bridge, rooftop, overpass or a tall wall.
Graffiti artists will often take pride in tagging or painting in these spots – especially if other artists can’t reach them. This also means that they will be less likely to be removed or painted over.
Heaven spot graffiti is dangerous and is often seen as a challenge for graffiti artists. One small accident can lead to death – hence the name ‘heaven spot’.
3 – Throw Up
A throw-up is another art form – a type of graffiti tag – it’s one of the more widely recognised graffiti terms. Typically created with spray paint, throw-ups or ‘throwies’ are tag drawings inspired by bubble writing/ bubble lettering.
They are usually created quickly with just one layer of spray paint. They may feature several colours but typically consist of just two colours including the outline. Generally, graffiti artists will create a throw-up of their name or their crew’s name.
4 – Piece
The term ‘piece’ can have several meanings. First of all, it can refer to any work of art – whether it be a small tag or a large-scale mural. However, some people will only use the term to describe elaborate pieces of graffiti, typically created by skilled and prominent names in the street art scene.
Usually, a painting must have several colours in order to be referred to as a graffiti piece. Often, graffiti pieces feature colour transitions as well as 3D effects. Some pieces also include shadowing and texture too. You can view pieces by street artist Stony here.
5 – Whole Train/ Whole Car
Many graffiti artists will cover a train carriage in graffiti. The term ‘whole train/ whole car’, however, is used to describe a graffiti piece covering a whole train – every single carriage of the train.
Ensuring a whole train is completely covered top to bottom in graffiti can be a difficult task, and is a task rarely (if ever) completed alone. Instead, it requires the work of a graffiti crew. Some crews will even collaborate with others to cover a train in graffiti work. Often, it will consist of different graffiti styles and several techniques will be used.
It’s important to note that doing so is illegal – and when painting in public spaces, there is a risk of being caught by the police and charged.
6 – Crew
You’re more than likely familiar with the term ‘crew’. It is a term used to describe a group of people that typically work together – for example, the crew of a ship or aeroplane – and in popular culture, is an informal term to describe a group of people that spend time together.
In the graffiti world, a crew refers to a group of graffiti artists that work together or collaborate on pieces. Friends and associates will often form graffiti crews and begin creating works of graffiti art together. In a crew, it is much easier to paint large-scale pieces as it is a collaborative effort.
A graffiti crew will often have a unique tag; typically a combination of members’ initials or names – but can also be abbreviations of the full crew name.
There’s a common misconception that a graffiti crew is similar to a gang. Although crew activity does share some similarities with gang behaviour, a graffiti crew’s main objective is graffiti instead of serious criminal acts.
7 – Bomb
A bomb in graffiti culture refers to when graffiti is extensively applied to a single location. Graffiti bombers will often quickly ‘bomb’ an area with throw-ups or tags because it’s much quicker than extensive murals or statement pieces.
8 – Married Couple
‘Married couple’ is an old graffiti term that originates from the NYC/ New York City subway art scene. The term is used to refer to a subway car/ train car that is permanently linked to another – and in the graffiti world, it refers to two cars painted next to each other.
Sometimes, graffiti artists will combine the two carriages with art, including the gap between the carriages.
9 – Adbusting
Adbusting, also known as ‘subvertising’ is when graffiti artists paint over or amend advertisements in public places.
They may make satirical comments or political statements around ads. Adbusting, much like other forms of graffiti, often has political overtones and touches on social issues in a humorous way.
10 – Deface/ Cap
To deface somebody else’s graffiti – or ‘cap somebody else’s work – is to paint over or destroy somebody’s art piece. The term ‘cap’ comes from when a graffiti writer Cap (known for his lettering and number style) would create throw-ups over other people’s work.
Defacing graffiti created by another artist is considered highly disrespectful in the graffiti scene. In fact, to some, it is the declaration of graffiti war.
That being said, in some cases, it may be considered more acceptable to paint over existing graffiti – for example, if the piece is considered low-quality, and is painted over with something better.