Graffiti and Modelling

Graffiti and Modelling

The Basics - A History Of Graffiti

The concept of graffiti has been around for a long time, some would even count the cave paintings. However, modern-day graffiti stems from Philadelphia in the 60s where it then spread to New York in the 1970s where young people would spray paint images onto subway trains and buildings. Darryl “Cornbread” McCray is considered to be the first modern graffiti artist. In 1965, the 12-year-old decided to add his unique signature to walls which had previously been covered in gang names and symbols. He got his nickname from YDC’s cooks and was compelled to share his name with the other boys, starting off the tag movement. The argument of “Is graffiti art or vandalism?” has been going on for a while, with some saying it is an art form and others saying it is purely an act of defacing property. Most people would agree that it is both art and vandalism, but at the end of the day, the majority of what we see in graffiti is rebellion and is illegal. Although, don’t let this discourage you from appreciating the creativity and talent that we see from these artists.

Designing Graffiti

When it comes to creating, the basics of graffiti are set in stone and follow typography. When you create a piece, the letters have to follow the structures which already exist. There are a few exceptions though, commonly in the form of “letter distortion” or “extensions” which involves adding unnecessary lines or boxes to add style, similar to serif fonts. It’s still the base letter and is eligible but they are unique. Just like any art form, there are the basic fundamentals to consider such as line, shape, form, value, texture and colour. Whilst coming up with a piece, there are many graffiti-specific elements that you have to consider. Some of these include flow, letter connections, negative space, weight, composition and external objects. Finally, there's how you use the tools you have, aka technique. This may be the way you shade such as cross-hatching or your control of the can. The more you start to analyze pieces and tags, the more you see the thought process behind them, and begin to understand the art. In doing so, you realize how complex graffiti can be and begin to distinguish between the good and the bad.

When designing these decals, I made sure to research graffiti before to get an idea of what rules there were. To do this, I started watching tutorial videos on YouTube, specifically a channel called “The Artist Block” which is run by a graffiti artist named “Grim”. To begin, I had a go at creating some tags to get a feel for the art form and gather some name ideas. The only way you can improve is by trial and error. Finding the right name and creating a style takes dedication, time and effort. During my research, I discovered 4 main types of graffiti. With my designs, I wanted to create at least one straight-letter, throw-up, a piece as well as multiple tags both in colour and black.

Straight Letters

Letters which follow the rules of letter structures without having extensions or letter distortion, which can also be their own stand-alone piece. These letters won’t have any major extensions, sticking to basic letter structure. In the photo below you can see a decal of the word “Francy” which is using straight letters. Some people may consider this a piece since there is a drop shadow, very slight extensions and highlights.

Throw Ups

Also known as a “throwie”, these are done very quickly and meant to be seen from far away, not always round but the majority are since it’s easier to do rounded letters. Lack of negative space, more specifically the lack of closed counters in letters such as A, B, D and O. You can see these techniques being used in the photo below, there's a clear lack of negative space and the letters are overlapping slightly.


Words include extensions and more style, as well as objects to fill the negative space, whilst still sticking true to the basics. The letters themselves need to be readable. Taking this further, you have Wild-style which is where the artists will exaggerate many fundamentals at once. In the first photo, I used the style “Blockbuster” and took it further by making the letters 3D, adding additional shapes and highlights. In the second photo, I have gone for a more Wild-style piece, adding extensions, letter distortion, additional shapes, and patterns and making it 3D. To take this piece further, I could have added more extensions and changed the angle of the baseline. 


The easiest style of graffiti features one colour and the artist’s name. The goal is to get your name or your group's name out there, the more you tag (and the better they are) the more recognition you will get. Tagging over someone else's tag is considered disrespectful. As you can see below, these are a lot less complex than the pieces above but they still have style, some even having extensions to letters or symbols.

There are also a variety of styles, for example, “Blockbuster” features blocky letters such as the decal that I created “Zukane”. “Wild-style” is probably the most well-known and recognizable variant, as seen in the “2WKS” piece. Some graffiti will crossover to multiple styles, for example, artwork including Blockbuster style letters can be considered Straight-letter optionally turning it into a piece by adding 3D aspects or other objects which aren’t the letters themselves. Categorizing graffiti can be confusing and people will have different opinions.

Why is graffiti important in modelling?

Using decals in your layouts can be an easy and quick way to add extra realism. When walking around towns, you can’t go long without seeing an abundance of graffiti. As with anything in modelling, the goal is to imitate life so I would recommend putting your decals on a relatively big surface or common spots such as houses and flats, shops, buildings like garages or factories, trains, bus shelters or anything around public transport. If you are going to be placing your decals on plastic, I would recommend purchasing a version which uses a water slide version instead of self-adhesive as the carrier sheet becomes less obvious compared to if you were putting it on a card/paper wrap. Considering most of you reading this will be modelling railways, I would highly encourage you to feature some sort of graffiti in your layout to take it to the next level.

Without these small details which show human interactions, your layout may look a bit lifeless. In the real world, things are rarely pristine and are subject to change. This includes the presence of graffiti. When placing your decals, be mindful of the origins. Is the placement realistic? Could you see an individual physically spray-painting on that area? Come up with a back story of how that person got to the spot, add a ladder or empty spray cans. Imitating real life means you have to consider the limitations of humans as well, is it possible to tag that area?

Graffiti Decals

If you are thinking about purchasing some graffiti decals, you can check out the decals ( OO Scale Graffiti, also compatible with HO scale layouts ) that I designed myself by learning the art form and trying to produce pieces and tags that are accurate. These decals are printed onto self-adhesive polyester.

Optionally, you can check out the same decals except on waterslide decal paper which will be a lot better if you are using plastic models. These are also for OO gauge / 1:76 scale.

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