From The Ground Up: Lessons in Graffiti

May 11, 2009



     It used to be a touchy subject in schools, as to how graffiti can be taught without stepping over any illegal barriers. Similarly, it has the highly negative connotation of being related to gangs. Obviously, this ideology is far from the truth.

     Here is one was way, which I have tested successfully to teach graffiti in the classroom, while adhering to state standards and educating the youth that this street art is much more than writing on a wall. My process…

Step one, redefine the term “graffiti”. I gave the students the Oxford Dictionary definition, then provided my own. This is based off personal interpretation, so it can vary teacher to teacher. However, I most notably encourage to mention brief history (when and where it came from), how far it’s spread, and the uses of graffiti:

  • Self promotion
  • Social/Political Reflection
  • Commemorating a loved one

Next, I showed an image of graffiti, specifically in Chicago to engage my students further. (This trigger can be adapted to any city you teach in) Get them to recognize how graffiti is all around them.

I went on by giving them examples of different ways graffiti is practiced and used, aside from public walls. Sketchbooks (Black Books), Canvas’ (Fine Art Scenes), and Merchandise (Toys, Shoes, & Clothing)

Sketches – Show examples of black book work, and talk about the basic materials used. Usually, it’s just pen, pencil, crayola markers, and mixtures of interesting materials. 


Canvas – Show examples of graffiti on canvas and talk about the art scene and how it’s growing. There are galleries out there that host graffiti based shows, as well as artists that make a living off of it.


Merchandise – Show examples of custom painted shoes by graffiti artists, toys (found at stores like Rotofugi and A.Okay), and even t-shirts. Ecko clothing is a great example, especially their designs from the 90’s and students are very familiar with it.


Then, I explained three basic forms of graffiti. Bubble Letters, Straight Letters, and Wildstyle. Describe each one off their visual characteristics.





The student will choose and alias or use their own name and adapt it into one of the 3 mentioned styles of graffiti.

Sketch it out on a large piece of paper, then erase any unnecessary lines.


Choose at Minimum 3 colors of any choice. Color in watercolor.


Outline in a fine point Sharpie marker.


Add details: Auras (line around the piece, usually in a high intensity contrasting color), backgrounds, characters, tags, etc.

     This lesson will act as a great advantage to any youth that is interested in the various aspects of art. As a whole, they will learn history of a social movement, which acted as a present day Renaissance with the breakthroughs of dance, music, art, and literature. Additionally, they will become educated on a contemporary art form that continues to advance and spread across the global. One great facet of this project is that it is adaptable for any student to relate to their home. Graffiti is a raw form of expression that is seen all around the streets, yet it is a growing movement in many areas of the professional art world, as well as the media. Recognizing it as more than vandalism can advance a student’s artistic understanding of the scenes around them.


























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