The basic evolution of graffiti

The basic evolution of graffiti

Essential info for understanding the world of graffiti and street art.

Walking through the East End of London we had an excellent guide and what I loved most about the tour was understanding the evolution of graffiti. This is great info for street art enthusiasts and travellers.

To better understand the graffiti language and slang please read my other post on Graffiti Lingo.

Please bear in mind that each graffiti artist doesn’t necessarily follow all these steps. Some might skip a few, some only develop until a certain point, not all graffiti artists graduate to a piece (short for masterpiece) An easy way for me to grasp the development is to consider how much risk/time it took to create a piece. Graffiti artist tend to gradually risk more and morre and spend more time on their art as they become more cheeky with authority.

Also, remember I am bencher – a graffiti enthusiast, but I don’t practice graffiti – yet, so if I have missed something please let me know in the comments below and I will be sure to add it.

The basic evolution of graffiti


Some street artist starts with stickers. It is a very quick and easy way of getting your art out there. It is usually simple tagging or artwork on an adhesive sticker. After the artist has made all their stickers they go out and hit the streets. Sticking them on places others can see them. The idea is to place them in hundreds of places so that people can start recognising your signature or style.

Why stickers? Cause the amount of risk is minimal. They are quick to slap on and leave – greatly reducing the risk of being caught. Youngsters can peel a sticker, rest it in the palm of their hands, and briskly walk past an object while slapping on their artwork. Stickers started out as being hand-drawn and in recent years graffiti writers have their word custom printed and mass-produced.

Hand-drawn graffiti stickers.

Not all graffiti artist starts with stickers. They hit the streets from the word go. However, you don’t start as a Wildstyle artist with lots of skills. It takes a lot of time to get really good with spray paint.


The tag is the simplest form of graffiti it is the backbone for basically all the other types of writing styles that we will be covering in this blog.
It can be characterized as using only lines to form a signature. A tag can be done using a marker or a spray can. It can be seen as stylized writing of letters. A tag involves more risk and commitment than a sticker, even though the time it takes to make a tag is quick and usually done in a few seconds.


The hollow is usually the next step, where you’re representing your word at a larger scale by simplifying the letters to form bubbly shapes. It should almost be thought of as an easy and quick logo for your word sometimes only showcasing two letters out of your name.


The next step is a throw-up. The bubble letters should be filled in with one colour and then outlined with a second and shadows can also be added.


The throw-up kind of disguises letters by representing them in a bubbly style. The straight letter is all about readability trying to represent your word as clean and as legible as possible. People should be able to quickly understand your name. The majority of the focus is allowing people to understand the letters with little add-ons and style coming second.


The piece the pieces perhaps the most evolved form of graffiti where nothing is off-limits this is where artists can let loose in representing their names with as many colours connections effects shadows characters and add-ons they want pieces can be simple and readable or super detail and unrecognizable as letters. The more detail do you get it can be considered a masterpiece but this is quite subjective.

So there you have it, a quick load down on the evolution of graffiti, from tags to masterpieces. I know a lot of people see tags and hollows as vandalism, but graffiti artists need to start practising somewhere.

I spoke to a UK graffiti artist in Feb 2019 on the streets and he told me it took him 10 years to be as good as he is now. 10 years to perfect his craft and move from wildstyle (elaborate text designs) to full-scale murals.

Maybe understanding the various steps in developing this craft gives you a little more grace for all the tags and hollows scattered on the streets.

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