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Graffiti: Genres For Graffiti Style

Genres For Graffiti Style
The main categories of styles for pieces are commonly known as publics, semi-public, wildstyle, semi-wild style, blockbuster, straight letter and abstract. It is normal for a writer to be proficient in one style. A good writer will have the ability to an individual style in the public, semi-wild and wildstyle format. A great writer, a supreme stylist or colloquially the 'KING OF STYLE". Two kings of styles are SEEN and BATES. Both are proficient in all styles.


‘Public style' is read easily by the public. Legibility is the key to this style. All aspects of this style are geared towards legibility or at least not to hinder legibility. This style is like signwriting in its look and intentions. There is an emphasis on name recognition. Good examples of public styles are "SWEET", "DUDE", "RANDY" and "PSYCHO" (See Illustration). A public style is the most likely of all styles to produce the fame effect amongst the general public. It is also seen as the easiest of styles to be done.

Within the genre ‘public' style there is a number of formats. These forms are many and include straight letter styles, creeper style (based on the common dripping styles of horror comics and the font), Western Saloon, or Bubble letter. The most popular straight letter style is the blockbuster. So popular in fact it really is its own genre within graffiti styles. ‘Straight letter' styles are just that, letters with frameworks based solely on straight letters. A style that uses straight letters are usually based on standard and common signwriting text styles i.e. a popular font is a version of the Arial Black bold. A good example of straight letter style is the "OCHYSP" end to end Car No. 7897. A poorly executed straight letter piece is the piece that reads as "PAIN".

Writers trying to develop their own vocabulary within the public style lettering, often find the straight letter format too restrictive. Many writers work in looser public formats. These styles are still similar to signwriting but often much more bilious. Often with devices attached to the framework called chips or cuts. (see illustration). These chips or cuts are intended to add a technical degree to the piece, as well being used for composition devices, filling in spaces within the design. Excessive use of chips or any of these devices is seen as bad, for reasons of convolution.

Any cluttering with decoration is likely to decrease legibility. Good public styles must be legible. This is the key. All aspects of this style must be geared towards this goal. From there the work is judged on the usual criteria; colour innovation, can control etc and as always the funkiness of the piece. Writers rarely stay within this genre. It is usually a style, which is preferred by inexperienced writers, as it tends to be a middle ground stylistically. Politically as well it tends to be less confrontational in that it doesn't alienate its audience with illegibility. As with all artforms, political and social power depends largely on the practitioner.


A blockbuster style is a very common straight letter style. The name blockbuster is taken from the movie expression and perhaps a rehash of the term ‘blockbuster sale' or 'blockbuster' movie. The blockbuster is similar to the throw up in that simple and usually minimal in colour use. Writers like BLADE were the first to use the blockbuster style of lettering. It was an effort to gain quick name recognition and to cover up the work of other writers. Writers commonly see it as a lesser letter style because of its reductive nature. It is often seen as a minimalistic style in that style is reduced to essences.

A good blockbuster like all other formats needs good can control, consistency of fill-in, etc. It must have even and straight letters. Consistency of line and line angle is the easiest guide to distinguishing a good blockbuster style piece. If there is any kinks or bends in the line work it is easily spotted as being inferior. Innovations in the blockbuster style are uncommon due to the reductive nature of the style. There are a number of examples of innovation including the reverse letters used by Seen (see illustration), the double wholecars by BLADE and COMET where size is the innovation. Nearly all writers try painting a blockbuster style of some sort, in their career. The opposite of the blockbuster is the wildstyle.


'Wildstyle' was a term coined by the writer Tracy 168. It is term that refers to a piece which is a deliberately painted in an illegible and complex fashion. To achieve this effect the letter is stripped down to its essential flow and framework and then elaborated on by a variety of methods. End points are exaggerated and arrows are added to these points to increase the sense of dynamism. The letters might be cut and sectioned beyond recognition, as seen in the popular ‘Computer Rock' style of KASE 2. Another style is the spaghetti style where the letters are sliced and formed into skinny and rounded shapes that read like spaghetti. The letter is cut into slices that are interlaced and interplay between letters is encouraged within the wildstyle format.

Exaggeration and interconnecting letter play is the key to a good wildstyle piece. This interplay between letters is often referred to as the flow of the piece. A wildstyle piece generally uses a number of arrows and arrowheads to create an indication of letter flow and to create energy. A well-executed arrow will exaggerate the flow of the lines. Writers generally accept that a good writer will have a good wildstyle piece in his repertoire. At the same time some well known writers solely concentrate on this genre. Usually due to the desire to keep the public on the outer of this culture. A wildstyle piece is guaranteed to be illegible except to other writers and to all but the trained eye. It is often the case that a writer who wishes to exaggerate their outsider position will use the wildstyle style.

If we look at the work of the once New York based writer such as DUSTER we can look distinguish a number of features we can decode as being features of a good wildstyle piece. Note the accentuated flow of the letters, the fill-in is dynamic it contributes to the effect. To judge a good wildstyle piece, look for the way that the arrows are used. If the arrow adds to the flow of the piece, if it creates a dynamic movement, the style is good. A good wildstyle reads as if the letters are arming themselves. Writers like Ramellzee encourage this position.

Arrows that are excessive or awkward are considered poor form. So too arrows which appear to be illogically placed. Other design faults are arrows, which do not increase dynamic letter flow, or go against letter flow. Outlines, which are lost in excessive fracturing or splicing or that are not clearly painted is also a design fault. Excess is encouraged with this style but excessive ornamentation takes away from this style. If the piece is erratic, without a consistent feel it is seen as poorly executed. Other signs include the loss of connection to original letter frame, erratically painted pieces without internal logic.

The fill-in of a wildstyle piece should accentuate the dynamic feel of the piece. For instance the fill-in should run parallel with the with the letter flow. This accentuates the ease in which the eye can follow the letter flow, allowing a sense of pace within the design. A polka dot fill for instance will reverse this effect in a piece. Usually a wildstyle piece is often filled in a way to accentuate the illegibility. Often though due to the complexity of this style a simple fill is chosen to reduce a complete loss of reading.

A wildstyle piece is often seen to mark resistance more than a public style piece. A wildstyle with its near illegibility creates a sense of alienation from the non-practitioner. The wildstyle piece from the point of view of name recognition alienates any audience it addresses. Consider the issue of the two types of writer, the writer after name recognition in particular or the writer who is more interested in new aesthetic developments for letters.

The two types of writer can be distinguished in a number of ways, although like all means of classifications there are transgressions. A writer who is after name recognition will usually work close to the golden rectangle format. Public style lettering is obviously used to aid name recognition. A character on either or both sides will be used commonly. The format is much like that of the billboard. This format can be seen as having the following features; product name, pictorial image i.e. model or product itself and the catchphrase. The standard size of a billboard is much like that of the side of a train. For writers from 1974 onwards the ideal size of a piece was a wholecar, just a fraction under 50 foot. The signification of this parallel has been largely ignored.


For writers around the world, New York based artists such as DERO and T-KID best exemplify the execution of a well-designed and painted ‘semi wild' piece. The semi-wild has its framework in the writer's usual public letter-frame but it is slightly exaggerated to create a dynamic feel. To this framework a number of design elements are added. For example often three or less arrows are added on either end of the piece. This rule is a general rule but it is extremely common. The effect is that of an internal explosion exploding outward or to attack the other words and images around it.

Doc describes his use of arrows and the semi-wild format when battling the writer known as 'Staff' as "...definite Battle Style. This piece is so armed for warfare its ridiculous. This was a kamikaze run, and the sole purpose was to destroy all the other pieces next to it and itself." His piece says Arab and to the average graffiti writer is fairly legible. There are two inward facing arrows either side of the piece. The fill is kept simple and the inside red design work accentuates the letterforms. This red design work is developed with the use of iconic images attached to the ends of each line. A hand, a heart and an arrow are all clearly recognizable in the 'A' alone. Quite a good semi-wild, but not quite a burner. (See illustration)

Another good example of a well-executed semi-wild style piece is this DUSTER piece. (See illustration). The letter frame is easily read, as DUSTER. There are two arrowheads either ends of the piece, which elongate the piece and add a dynamic feel. The fill-in is simple, and the outline is kept clean and easily distinguishable from the background and fill-in. The Green 3d pushes the piece off the picture plane, that is the side of the train. Semi-wild pieces use the same criteria as other pieces for defining quality. The semi-wildstyle format is most popularly seen to exemplify New York style graffiti to the rest of the world.


There are almost as many different styles as there are writers. Commonly known styles include the 'Western Saloon', 'Melted Letters', 'Bubble style', and 'Cursive'. Writers like PHASE 2 have large numbers of wildly named styles. Styles found within tagging, as well as with throw ups are based on similar genres found in piecing such as public, wildstyle and semi wild.
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