How to draw graffiti for beginners: in 7 steps

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In this post I will show you step-by-step how I draw the graffiti shown in the picture below.

Finished Graffiti sketch with highlights and tags

1. How I started to draw graffiti

Starting-out is always difficult. This is why I want to explain how I did it. The first graffiti I drew, was “Limp Bizkit” from the cover from the album “Significant other”. Do you know it? I loved the band – still love em – and decided to draw it, because the design of it was very impressive for me. I did a good job of drawing and was quite happy with the result of my first drawing, so I continued…

So, this is my first task for you:
  1. get a pencil* (e.g.: Staedtler) – HB (hardness)
  2. get a piece of paper – a standard multipurpose copy printer paper* is good enough to start out
  3. get a white eraser*
  4. search for a graffiti in the “simple style”-section of my graffiti pictures or download my step-by-step graffiti/graffiti letter drawing Android app (iOS version is in the making)
  5. and draw it!

Maybe you will need a couple of tries in the beginning. This is nothing to worry about. Noone is a professional right away. So practice, practice, practice, practice! I know you will make it!

2. Draw your first tag

After you have done your first graffiti, go to my collection of graffiti letters. Think about a name you want to use as a sprayer. No ideas yet? Just start out with your real name! I provide several designs for each letter. You can search for letters by clicking on the buttons on the top. Create your first graffiti tag this way.

I wrote an article about graffiti tags and handstyles only. You may want to check it out as well.

So, step by step:
  1. get a marker* (e.g. Stylefile) this time; not a pencil; Tags look way better if you use the right marker – I used a Stylefile marker* for the graffiti tag.
  2. get a piece of paper*
  3. Go to my collection of graffiti letters or use my app
  4. search for the letters of your name
  5. Example

    I choose the word “Ether”

    Basic E Graffiti Tag Letter
    E graffiti tag letter
    Simple T Graffiti Tag Letter
    T graffiti tag etter
    H Graffiti Tag Letter
    H graffiti tag letter
    Simple Style Graffiti Letter
    Simple-style E graffiti letter
    Basic R Graffiti Tag Letter
    R graffiti tag getter
  6. You can additionally add drips, arrows or big serifs to your tag to make it look more complex.
Ether Graffiti tag
Ether graffiti tag

Attention: If you use markers, you should also use a cutting mat*. If you just write on paper, your marker will write through the paper on your desk!

Side note: if you search for a cutting mat* on Amazon, please consider reading the bad reviews. If you find a review about bad smell of the mat there, do not buy this mat. You cannot get rid of it. I also did not pay attention to it, when I bought my first cutting mat and I regretted that decision.

3. How to draw graffiti: your first graffiti sketch in 7 steps

You have redrawn your first graffiti? You have created your first tag? Nice! So, let’s move on!

Graffiti pieces are very complex. To start out, I would recommend you to take your tag and transform it into a graffiti piece.

Every graffiti piece consists of the following parts:

  • The fill-in: colored areas
  • the outline: colored or black line around the fill-in
  • 3D blocks
  • a background
  • a keyline: line that runs around the whole piece
  • the tag of the sprayer
  • optionally: highlights
  • optionally: the year of creation

I use the following materials:

So, let’s get started:

Step 1: Trace your graffiti tag

Tracing the Graffiti Tag
Tracing the graffiti tag

If you used a marker before, you will probably see the graffiti tag through the piece of paper to trace it. So, your first task is it to trace the edges of the lines with a pencil. But leave a little bit of space between the edge of the marker and your new pencil line. So the letter gets bigger. The result should look like the image shown below. Not that bad actually, but we want to improve it.

Graffiti Tutorial - First graffiti sketch
First version of the graffiti: the traced graffiti tag

Step 2: improve the graffiti

The composition of the whole graffiti is important as well. The “E” at the beginning is bigger than the “R” in the end. So, I choose to make it smaller and add arrows on both sides to create a compact form.(red) I also added serifs or made them  more complex.(blue circles)

In typography, a serif is a small extra stroke attached to the end of the main vertical and horizontal strokes of a letter. In graffiti, you often use them to make your artwork look more complex.

I also added forms which improve the composition of the graffiti.(green circles)

Tutorial - how to improve a graffiti sketch
Improvement of the graffiti’s composition and additionally added elements

The result looks like the image below. This step is usually made by trial and error, and takes some time. So, don’t be upset if the graffiti does not look like you imagined immediately. Even if you practice drawing graffiti a lot, this step will take some time and you will have to use the eraser quite often.

Graffiti Tutorial - improved graffiti sketch
Graffiti drawing with improved composition

Step 3: Redraw the lines with a Fineliner

The next step is much easier. Take your Posca markers PC 1MR 0.7mm* or Copic Markers Multiliner 0.5* and redraw your pencil lines. Wait some time to let the color dry and erase all the pencil lines afterwards. The result should look like this.

Redrawn Graffiti Sketch with copic marker
Redrawn graffiti sketch outlines

Tip: Copy your drawing at this point. If you are not happy with the colors you choose afterward, you don’t have to restart the whole process again.

A printer with copy function like Canon PIXMA MG3620* or a similar product should do the trick.

Step 4: Color your graffiti sketch

To make the coloring more complex, I recommend to always draw gradients. In this case, I colored the whole graffiti in one big gradient. If you want to make your drawing to look even more complex, you will have to add a different gradient to each letter.

Step 4.1 Which colors should I use?

In general, I recommend using complementary colors for either:

  • foreground and background
  • fill-ins and 3D blocks

If you want to use more colors, you should use colors of the same color shade.

You can also just search for a graffiti on Instagram or Pinterest and copy the colors. If you are a beginner, this approach will probably be the best.

Glossary
  • Complementary colors: colors, which are positioned opposite to each other on a color wheel
  • Adobe Color CC is an example of a color wheel – colors are placed on a circle based on a color theory. You can also use the Adobe Color CC color wheel as a tool to choose colors.
Colored Graffiti Sketch
Graffiti sketch with gradient fill-in
Graffiti gradient Fillins Detail view
Detail view: graffiti sketch with gradient fill-in

Step 4.2 Color theory

Well done color combinations are the basis of good fill-ins and coloring graffiti.

Using gradients is the second secret of good coloring. Note that the gradient of the fill in is usually done by choosing 2-4 shades of one color.

The easiest way to find color combinations, is going to the website https://color.adobe.com/

You will find a color wheel there. Most of the color theories are based on color wheels. They just defer a bit from each other. 

The strongest color contrast is the so called “complementary contrast”.

So just choose “complementary” at the dropdown menu on the top left of the website and adjust the wheel to find your preferred color combination.

Adobe Color CC
Adobe Color CC – Color Wheel

Now use shades of one color for the fill in of your graffiti and the second color for the shadows or your background/outlines. 

Step 5: Drawing the 3D blocks

One way of drawing 3D graffiti blocks is choosing a vanishing point. This means: choose a point below the graffiti where all the 3D blocks lead to. Like shown in the picture below. Now choose how big the blocks should be. I took 1,5cm (1/2 inches) as length in this case.

Vanishing point of graffiti 3D blocks
Vanishing point of the 3D blocks

Now, take a ruler* and draw a 1.5cm (1/2 inches) long line from every corner of the graffiti letters to the vanishing point. Connect the lines parallel to the graffiti outline. The results are 3D blocks.

Drawing Graffiti 3D blocks with a ruler
Drawing graffiti 3D blocks with a ruler

Fill the blocks with black color. If you want to create more complex 3D blocks, you can add light spots in the middle of the 3D block and fade the color to dark.

finished colored graffiti sketch
Graffiti 3D blocks with light spots and hard fading

Step 5.1: Different types of coloring for 3D blocks

graffiti 3d blocks with bars of colors parallel to the outline
3D graffiti blocks with bars of colors parallel to the outline

If you make a gradient parallel to the outline, you will usually start from a brighter color and fade to a darker color in the back. The image above shows a gradient in blocks with additional parallel lines to the outline.

There are three ways to design the parallel gradient blocks.

  1. color blocks
  2. color blocks with lines (like shown above)
  3. a fading
graffiti shadows with block areas with rounded shading
3D blocks with rounded shading

Another fancy design for 3D-blocks are rounded block coloring on each block area like shown in the image above. There additionally can be a fading from bright in the middle to dark at the sidelines

Blocks are often darker on the bottom and lighter on the sides, but often it is not that easy to distinguish bottom and side areas. So think of a light source pointing at the graffiti and the areas which could be reached by the light. Those blocks will be brighter and the others are darker.

You can add a parallel line to the outline, to make the 3D block look more complex.

A fourth way to color the 3D blocks is to make a vertical color gradient. The transitions between the color shades do not have to be faded. It can also have hard edges. If you use hard edges you usually add a line in the next color shade to fake the gradient.

This technique especially works well for big block areas. For smaller areas i would recommend block areas with rounded shading on the edges.

Source: Basic ideas about 3D blocks taken from:Graffiti School: A Student Guide and Teacher Manual

Step 6: Keyline and background

The line around the whole graffiti is named “keyline”. In this case, I choose the complementary color to orange – blue. I added bubbles and drips in the same color as background.

Finished Graffiti sketch with outline and background
Finished Graffiti sketch with keyline and background

Step 7: Add highlights, your tag and the year of creation

You can make your graffiti look more complex by adding shapes and light spots above the fill-in. Common shapes are bubbles, rectangles, arrows, reflections and outlines of shapes. Usually they are colored in a darker color shade of the color used for the fill-in.

To complete your artwork, add your tag and the year of creation.

Congratulations! You finished your drawing! 🙂

Finished Graffiti sketch with highlights and tags
Finished graffiti sketch

4. Wrapping it up

I hope this tutorial helped you in your creative journey!

Is there something I forgot to mention? Or is there something you did not quite understand?

Feel free to drop a comment below.

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15 comments on “How to draw graffiti for beginners: in 7 steps

  1. Fim

    I love the tutorial – clear logical explanation with beautiful fitting examples. Thank you!

  2. Kev_sketcher

    Thanks u really did give me some serious guidance

  3. Sir Roroty

    Looking to get back into graffiti, which I’ve enjoyed since the early eighties. Gave up drawing it in art books for my own pleasure and recently been wondering why?! Thanks for the tutorial. Gonna be doing my first piece! Thank you : )

    1. Tada

      I am really happy to hear that! You are welcome! : ) Stay creative

  4. Olga

    Sorry, I meant to give it 5 stars, but accidentally pressed it the wrong way. I really liked your tutorial! I’m going to use it for my ASA! Thanks a lot!!!

    1. Tada

      Hey, this post fortunately has lots of good reviews, so nevermind. Good to hear that you liked it! : )

  5. Tobias

    Good stuff. Starting with the foundations is essential for beginners or they can drift aimlessly for years or just give up. It can also be helpful to old hands or people picking it again after a long break like myself. I found this tutorial a great little refresher. Thanks!

  6. Teralee

    It’s surprisingly difficult to find good step-by-step graffiti tutorials online – thanks so much for this one! I also really appreciate the alphabet library you’ve created!

  7. Nate

    Loved it you really helped my pieces turn around I’m really happy where my skills are going

    Thanks n8

  8. jude

    you should do some videos if you have not all ready, but either way your tutorials are awesome thanks a lot.

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