Graffiti Rules: A Comprehensive Guide to the Artistic Expression of Urban Streets

Graffiti rules vary depending on the specific jurisdiction, but in general, unauthorized graffiti is considered illegal and subject to penalties. Graffiti refers to the act of defacing public or private property without permission. It is important to respect the property rights of others and follow local laws and regulations. Some places may have designated areas or legal walls where graffiti or street art is allowed with proper authorization. Engaging in unauthorized graffiti can result in fines, community service, or even criminal charges.

The Evolution and History of Graffiti

Graffiti is an art form that has evolved throughout history, dating back to the first drawings on cave walls thousands of years ago. Ancient Romans and Greeks also used graffiti, writing their names and protest poems on buildings. In modern times, graffiti can be traced back to Philadelphia in the early 1960s, making its way to New York City by the late 1960s. It was during the 1970s that this art form truly gained momentum, with people writing their names or ‘tags’ on buildings across the city.

The rise of graffiti saw many artists forming groups, or ‘crews’, and focused on marking their territory. Subways became prime targets for these artists, with trains often covered in spray-painted ‘masterpieces’. Despite the negative connotations of graffiti as vandalism, some art galleries began purchasing the works of these artists in the early 1970s. New York’s then-mayor, John Lindsay, declared the first war on graffiti during this time, sparking an ongoing debate about whether graffiti is art or vandalism.

As it became more difficult to create graffiti on subway trains without being caught, many artists started using building rooftops or canvases instead. The debate over graffiti’s status as art or vandalism still persists today, with some seeing it as a form of self-expression and others seeing it as a crime. Regardless of this debate, graffiti has launched the careers of internationally acclaimed artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Blek le Rat, and Banksy. Nowadays, graffiti can even be considered as big business, with some works selling for over £100,000.

The Different Styles of Graffiti

Graffiti is an expressive art form that features an impressive range of styles. One of the simplest forms is the tag, where artists write their name or identifier using at least one color. A tag serves as the foundation for the more sophisticated throw-up style, which incorporates bubble-style writing and multiple colors. Another variation is the blockbuster, featuring larger block-style letters that often cover a significant area.

Wildstyle is a creative evolution of the blockbuster, with intricate, interlocked letters and decorative elements forming a visually captivating design. Heaven or heaven-spot art earns respect as it is placed in hard-to-reach locations, such as rooftops or bridges. Stencil style played a significant role in pushing graffiti into the mainstream, using pre-cut paper or cardboard shapes to create quick and easy images.

The poster or paste-up style involves pre-made artworks attached to surfaces with wheatpaste, while sticker or slap graffitis consist of small, often intricate designs placed on sticky labels. Piece, short for masterpiece, is a style that helped change the perception of graffiti from vandalism to art. These intricate freehand designs take longer to create and often involve at least three colors. Finally, 3D graffiti comprises visually striking illusions that pop out from walls, pavements, or roads, showcasing the breadth of creativity within graffiti culture.

The Legalities and Ethical Considerations of Graffiti

Graffiti is one of the fastest growing art forms, often found in highly visible public spaces. While some graffiti pieces may comply with the minimum requirements for copyright protection, copyright law raises questions over legality and ethical considerations. Illegal graffiti pieces, however, can be considered creative works of authorship that contribute to promoting the progress of science and useful arts. Therefore, protecting graffiti under copyright law can incentivize graffiti artists to create more legal works.

  • In some cases, graffiti artists may claim moral rights. A New York court ruled that graffiti artists have the right to protect their artwork from being painted over, even by the building’s owner. This decision highlights the high cost of copyright litigation and the absence of true moral rights for creators.
  • Currently, U.S law does not protect moral rights of authors and other creators. However, the Copyright Office is considering this issue as international obligations require such rights, ensuring proper attribution and preserving the integrity of the work. This could potentially lead to a legal remedy for graffiti artists in the future.

Tools and Materials for Graffiti Artists

Graffiti art has become a popular form of expression and is slowly making its way into the mainstream. To excel in this creative field, there are some essential tools and materials every graffiti artist needs.

  • First on the list is a sketchbook where artists can plan and practice their designs. An advantage of spiral-bound hardcover sketchbooks is that they lay flat, making it easy to draw and remove unwanted pages. Along with the sketchbook, artists should have a set of quality pencils for sketching out their ideas. These pencils come in different shades and allow artists to create intricate drawings.
  • To outline pencil drawings, Sharpies or fine-tipped markers work exceptionally well. They are perfect for adding color and shading to visualize what the final spray-painted piece will look like. Alcohol-based dual-tip markers are also useful in providing more color options and the chisel tip gives a feel for the finished design.
  • Lastly, a key material for any graffiti artist is the spray paint. Investing in high-quality paints is essential for beginners and seasoned artists alike. As you become more experienced, you can expand your collection and try out different brands to find the one that works best for you.

Techniques and Tips for Creating Stunning Graffiti

Graffiti art has grown exponentially over the years, and mastering the techniques can set you apart from the crowd. Here are some tips for creating stunning graffiti.

  • Pay attention to cap mounting – getting it wrong can be messy. Twist the cap onto the can and cover the spraying point with your finger to prevent accidental sprays. Shake the can well before use, as settling causes paint to thicken and clog caps. Hold the can close to the wall for thin lines, and tilt it downwards slightly for precise application. For soft fading or shadowing, maintain a specific angle and distance from the surface.
  • Keep the rules of graffiti in mind. Never snitch or talk to the police about other writers, and avoid disrespecting religious buildings, war memorials, people’s houses, or cars. Always respect more experienced artists in the game and follow the unwritten order of throw-ups over tags, pieces over throw-ups, and burners over pieces.

Practice your craft on chill walls or spots where you don’t need to go over anyone. With time, dedication, and skill, your graffiti artwork will truly stand out.

Influential Graffiti Artists and their Impact

Graffiti Art has always been a powerful medium of self-expression and communication. From the streets to the galleries, it has impacted contemporary art in significant ways. Here are some influential graffiti artists and their contributions to the art world.

  • Banksy: A renowned British street artist, Banksy has captivated audiences worldwide with his distinctive stenciled artworks. His works critically address political and social issues such as war, capitalism, and consumerism, making street art an important platform for raising awareness.
  • Jean-Michel Basquiat: Rising to fame during the 1980s, Basquiat started as a graffiti artist under the name “SAMO” in New York City. He later transitioned into neo-expressionist paintings and is now regarded as one of the most influential artists of his generation.
  • Keith Haring: Known for his bold, colorful, and cartoonish designs, Haring’s work can be seen in countless public spaces around the globe. His art brings social and political messages to a broader audience while bridging the gap between street art and the fine art world.
  • Shepard Fairey: The creator of the iconic “Hope” poster of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, Fairey is known for his provocative works that challenge prevailing norms and beliefs. His “Obey Giant” sticker campaign became a global phenomenon and inspired countless street artists.
  • RETNA: Incorporating a unique, intricate lettering style often inspired by ancient scripts, RETNA’s work has appeared in galleries and public spaces all over the world. His beautiful, mysterious scripts have significantly contributed to the diverse landscape of contemporary graffiti art.

These artists have not only left indelible marks on the walls they’ve painted but have also profoundly influenced the world of art, amplifying the power and importance of graffiti art as a vehicle for self-expression and social commentary.


In conclusion, the topic of graffiti as an art form or an act of vandalism continues to be a subject of debate among various people. While there is no denying that some graffiti can be a powerful and unique form of artistic expression, allowing individuals to voice their emotions, political views, and social concerns, it is crucial to differentiate between graffiti art and graffiti vandalism.

When practiced responsibly and legally, graffiti can be an incredible asset in showcasing talents, giving life to otherwise dull public spaces, and promoting the growth of local art communities. However, the act of defacing public or private property without permission, promoting criminal activities, or spreading indecent messages should not be tolerated.