Tools of the Trade: What’s In a Graff Writer’s Backpack
Since the genesis of hip-hop, graffiti art has been the one of the crucial elements of the culture. Although it may not always be as commercialized and fame-generating as hip-hop music and dance, graff writers are undoubtedly as important as MCs, DJs, and breakers. It may be the secrecy that it’s shrouded in and the traditional anonymity of graffiti artists that make this art seem so enigmatic and inaccessible, but real fans of hip-hop (like you), need to know the basics.
It’s important to celebrate and appreciate all aspects of the hip-hop culture, so let’s take a minute to highlight the art of graffiti and the tools of the trade. Nothing compares to the thrill of clambering down under a bridge with a rattling backpack full of fresh paint, but running through the basics might just scratch the surface for those of you who have never picked up a can.
Before we get started, I’d like to emphasize the fact that graffiti is dangerous. Be careful out there, many great street artists have been hurt or arrested trying to paint — you’re not an exception. Graffiti is also difficult, don’t expect to go out there right away and be the best; it takes work. Also, we are not advocating illegal vandalism; know the difference between art and vandalism and be respectful with your graffiti. And finally, graffiti is definitely an art — don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
It’s undeniably the most important part of the ensemble; whether it’s 77-cent cans of black and white paint from the local hardware store or premium, ten-dollar cans of neon acrylic Montana Gold. The paint is how you spot a graff-writer on the subway, by the loud rattling from his backpack or by the paint clinging to his pointer and middle fingers. At the risk of stating the obvious, paint is what covers the wall, what disguises the heavy gray concrete that entombs the inner-city as a canvas for vigilante art, and transforms manmade concrete leviathans into intricate murals. The paint is what people see, what blends and overlaps to form an image that will be seen by everyone walking by. This is how you communicate a message that wouldn’t be heard otherwise, or make a name for yourself and showcase your talent.
The paint in a graff writer’s bag can vary as greatly as the artist; it might just be one can of black paint for quick tagging, or it might be a dozen different colors for large-scale murals. In any case, the paint is the keystone of the art. Aerosol paint is the perfect medium for the art of graffiti, it’s easily transported and is the quickest and most-efficient way to cover a large area in striking color.
Brands to look for: Krylon, Molotow (Belton), Montana, MTN 94
When paint is too messy, too large or too conspicuous for your environment, markers come in handy. Markers fit easily in your pocket, don’t make too much noise and allow artists to scribble out a quick tag in a matter of seconds with minimal mess. These are useful any time; many graffiti artists will carry one at all times, especially if they are in the process of bombing a city. If a tagger notices they are alone on a park bench or in a skyway, they will quickly scrawl their tag for the next person looking closely to see. Anyone who has ever been in the bathroom of a music venue is familiar with the hundreds of tags tattooed on its walls, and there are few subway car windows free of a tag or two scratched into their surface. Markers are also useful for signing a larger piece with your tag, or adding fine detail. Varying in more ways than you would think possible, they can range from Sharpies to paint markers to refillable ink mops. Easily the most-portable graffiti medium, markers are incredibly versatile and convenient for quick and easy tagging.
Brands to look for: Sakura, Markal, Krink, Molotow
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