There are a lot of key elements to graffiti and that goes without saying, but truly the most important element in a graffiti writer’s skill-set is their can control. Can control not only lets you get a feel for the materials better, but it allows you add all the flares, drip and funk that you’re looking for. Starting off as a graffiti writer it can be hard to get a grasp about what it’s like to use a can because we often haven’t used one in that capacity before. Sure, we’ve all painted a deck chair or some random object or other type of furniture, but in the art context it definitely will seem like a new endeavour.
With that being said, just like anything in this world, practice makes perfect. It’s best to get yourself organized by understanding the differences between cans and their capabilities – you want to be come one with the can.
Graffiti is like a sport and similar to certain sports, you end up being the only one in control of your destiny at the end of the day and that’s important to keep in mind when dealing with sprays because they are like your weapon in the game and they will help you succeed.
Now unlike the old days, most of the materials we generally use today (and all of the materials that we will be showing in these graffiti tutorial videos) will be of exceptional quality, like the DANG paint for example. In the past, spray paint like this wasn’t even accessible at all and even until recent years it was only around in certain places, especially depending on where you lived.
We want to help show the aspiring graffiti artists a chance to get in close on how a more developed writer uses the can and helps fuel the details and intricacies of one’s piece. As stated before, can control is obviously paramount to any graffiti piece, character or throw-up which is why it’s an absolutely integral part of any writer’s toolkit.
So let’s get into the nitty gritty. When getting a can going, there’s no doubt you want to shake the shit out of that bad boy. Though some cans are mixed better than others, regardless of that, you still want to shake the shit out of the can before you get the sprays going. Once you’ve locked down a shaking system without having your arm fall off you’ll be right as rain to get going.
Certain cans can also give off some silly-string type goo coming out of the can, when this happens it’s always best to keep a super fat cap on deck to clean that all out. It’s important to do this as well because if you don’t, you’ll end up clogging the caps you’re using on the can – especially if they’re skinny caps.
Once you get sprays coming out effortlessly from the can, you’re ready to start having fun but this is also when the frustration can begin. You’ll want to start testing the can out on either scrap pieces or a part of the wall/surface that you care the least about or you may cover up later. When you start spraying you’ll start to see the varying effects of the paint which is the supreme benefit to using spray paint over any other materials.
Unlike using brushes with latex, acrylic or oil, spray paint comes out essentially in little dots out of the can, meaning when colours go over one another they can create a number of different coloured overlays, which then can create mini gradients within the painted surface. We’ll get into far more detail with this in the “colour theory” article which will help in your fill techniques.
When you’re rocking out with spray cans, also keep in mind the pressure of the can whether it’s high pressure or low pressure, this is important because the difference in the pressure of the can means your hands have to work at varying speeds too. That is to say, if you have a high pressure can and move your hand slowly, you’re going to get loads of drips. Most people generally try to avoid that to keep their lines crisp, however, graffiti is about breaking the rules so that’s not always set in stone. On the hand it’s always important for one to know the rules before they can break them. So let’s keep you on the path of clean lines.
As said before the with the speed in which you move your hands, keep in mind to also always be aware of the distance in which the can is from the wall. Meaning that if you’ve got your can spraying from further aways from the wall, the more fat and transparent the lines become.
This is a super good tactic in order to do flares and fades. If you’re can is up close and personal to the wall it has the exact opposite effect – it will come out thinner and crisp. This is perfect for when you’re doing outlines and/or you are using a more graphic aesthetic versus a rendered one.
Furthermore, the cap choices play a huge factor in how you’ll be getting a number of these effects, which we will talk about further in the fill technique portion, however, it’s extremely important to keep in mind that if you’re going to be using fat caps on your work, it’s going to come out the can like a fire hose, so be sure to move the hands quickly like I said before or keep the can further away from the wall to give it that buffer zone in order to give the paint some time to come out of the can.
On the flip side of the coin, you want to use thin caps to get up close and personal with the wall. You’ll notice when you rock too far away from the wall with thin caps it comes out all weak, skinny and improperly flared out. Almost in a way looks like piss.
Now let’s take a look at how we can put all of this together.
- First of all, getting yourself into position is a huge part of how you rock. Painting is a very cathartic type of exercise, you’ve got to move yourself a lot almost as if you’re moving like you would be if you’re playing tennis.
- In order to keep lines crisp and straight you position your hand directly in front of the wall with the can facing forward. One important thing to always keep in mind is to not let the can waver. If your hand moves in any way from side to side, the direction of the aerosol will go in ways you don’t want. It’s very important to keep the can staying at the same distance from the wall at all times.
- That is to say, if you’re using a skinny cap you’ll only want to be a couple of inches away from the wall and if you’re using a fat cap, you’ll want to go another few inches away from that. Generally we would treat painting the same way as they would right write on paper – top to bottom and left to right.
- Keep your arms as straight as possible because similar to your wrists, you don’t want any movement to go out of whack or your lines will come out either shaky or incorrectly over-sprayed.
- For thinner lines we also tend to work closer to the wall and in faster motions. This is also dependent on the type of the can, meaning that if you have a lower pressure can, you will move slower than you would with higher pressure cans, but regardless if you want thinner lines, you’ll be as close to the wall as possible.
- With fatter lines, you’ll be further away from the wall, in a somewhat slower motion, giving the aerosol more time to fully come out of the can and hit the wall. Again, very important to keep in mind the type of can in which you are using, but these are general rules of thumb.
- Another important factor is to keep in mind at what time you press the nozzle. If you press it too early, it will spray out to fat and fast first and if you hold onto it for too long after it will trail off with extra spray as well. We try to avoid these at all costs if we want to keep the lines clean, however, many of these elements actually come in handy when we use flares.
- When doing flares, you will implement things like further to shorter distances and slower to faster movements.
- For example, if you want to do a fat to thin top down flare, you’ll hold then can from a further distance away from the wall spraying the aerosol out of the can for a far longer period than you normally would then as you slowly approach the wall, you’ll start to notice the first lines appear and then you’ll want to quickly move the can down in a swift motion going almost as close to the wall as possible. This will have the effect as if the paint is coming to a point. This is very effective in creating brilliant hand styles, which we will dive into later.
>> SHOP: Tipmixes (mixed bags of spray caps)
All of this is to say, that no one will be a pro with spray cans over night, it’s all about trial and error and even more importantly – practice, practice, practice. Many of the people out there crushing the streets have been at it for years, so it’s super important to not get discouraged as you’re first getting acquainted with the materials.