Metro-East Living

Hesitant advice on making your mark as a graffiti artist

Probably one of the most famous graffiti artists is London’s Banksy. This piece is attributed to his street-art protégé Mr Brainwash.
Probably one of the most famous graffiti artists is London’s Banksy. This piece is attributed to his street-art protégé Mr Brainwash.

Q: My mom and I were discussing the graffiti we see on buildings, overpasses, train trestles, etc. We can’t understand how these artists can do this graffiti when these are highly-traveled areas. Can you assist with this question?

Marcia and Dolores, of O’Fallon

A: When Sheldon “Big Bang” Cooper was researching what it took to become a theoretical physicist or looking for a job once he earned his degree, he no doubt let his fingers do the walking on the Internet.

It should come as no surprise, then, that when young people become eager to emulate Cool “Disco” Dan, Iz the Wiz, TAKI 183 or any other “renowned” graffiti artist, they, too, will take to the Web before their trigger finger gets too itchy on those shiny new cans of spray paint they’ve just purchased.

At least, that’s probably what they do if they’re smart. I know I probably will be criticized for talking about these sites, but it’s anything but a state secret that a quick Google search will immediately uncover countless artists and taggers offering detailed advice on how to avoid arrest, even when the police might be painting you into a corner. Besides, despite its popularity, I seriously doubt many up-and-coming young vandals read this column. (And please don’t accuse me of being sympathetic. Except for making train cars more interesting to look at as I sit in traffic, I find drawings on public and private property are pretty much eyesores done by those who need to find another outlet for their creative talents—especially when they indulge in crude drawings and language.)

Obviously, not everyone agrees with me.

“It is a sad state of affairs when would-be graffiti artists get caught by the police in a city as big as New York, where there is plenty of real crime vying for the NYPD’s attention,” “The Law” (who says he works in the NYC legal system) grouses anonymously at “So please take the following advice, and you will save us and yourself some late nights at the courthouse.”

It’s not just here, either.

“While we would never advise anybody to go out and do something illegal, the sentences being given out to London’s most prolific graffiti writers in the past few years have been pretty insane,” another writer suggested at “As a response ... we have written up a couple of tips to help keep London’s graff writers out of prison.”

So perhaps in answer to your question, here are a few of those tips that may explain why you continually see fresh graffiti without a subsequent rise in arrests. They’re likely common knowledge to dedicated artists or even many beginners, but at least some may open the eyes of those who wouldn’t dream of attempting anything like this:

Before painting: Sketching work beforehand is important for these “artists,” but afterward they burn and shred these drawings or lock this potential evidence in a safe. They buy paint online, where they can do it on public computers and use pre-charged credit cards. (You might be surprised to learn there are dedicated “graff” shops that will take further pains to protect your identity — sending paint in the same discreet packaging used for sexual-related products, for example.) Some artists have been snitched on, so they don’t tell anyone they don’t trust with their life. They also avoid drinking a six-pack or smoking a little weed to boost their courage or celebrate early. They don’t want to get pulled over for a DUI with paint cans in their car.

While painting: They dress in a manner in which they can blend in with the crowd while escaping if necessary. They scope out the area carefully beforehand so they know how to escape quickly—and that it’s not around the corner from, say, a police station. (There’s no telling how many potential new masterpieces were stopped before the first “ppfffffsh” emanated from a can.) They also cover their nose so paint does not coat their nasal hairs, providing ironclad evidence of their misdeeds.

After painting: They’re careful to remove all cans, caps, etc., and are equally careful when disposing of them. They don’t stand around admiring their work; they leave immediately. They don’t stroke their ego by taking a selfie and posting it online. If they notice police, they run and don’t return.

“Now what if you are standing right next to a dripping wet piece and you have paint on your hands and you didn’t run?” The Law asked. “Frankly, you deserve to be arrested. Don’t make it worse by saying anything to police. That just gives us more evidence, dummy.”

Today’s trivia

Just in time for Thanksgiving: Which state produces the most cranberries?

Answer to Wednesday’s trivia: People have been seeing the USA in their Chevrolet since 1911, and, since Oct. 2, 1913, those cars have sported the familiar bow-tie logo as introduced by company co-founder William C. Durant. But where did he get the idea? Theories abound. For a while, the most popular was that Durant saw the design on wallpaper at a French hotel, so he ripped off a small piece to show friends his idea for a Chevy nameplate. But there are plenty of other possibilities, according to Durant’s daughter says he loved to draw possible logos and sketched it one night at the dinner table between the soup and the fried chicken. A Chevrolet historian suggests that while on vacation, Durant may have appropriated the design from a newspaper ad for Coalettes, a refined fuel product produced by the Southern Compressed Coal Co. Finally, some say it is a stylized version of the cross on the Swiss flag, because Louis Chevrolet was born in Switzerland in 1878.

Roger Schlueter: 618-239-2465, @RogerAnswer