Above: Image © Casarsa, iStockphoto.com

Some call it criminal, but others see it as art. Graffiti is the art of the street, and for graffiti artists, any surface from the side of a train to the back wall of a building and even under a bridge is a potential canvas.

When we think of graffiti, we usually think of hip hop culture, gangs and inner city life. But it's actually a form of communication that has been around for more than a thousand years. Cave wall drawings from as far back as 800 A.D. from Mayan and Greek civilizations are thought to be the first signs of graffiti and were not seen as art, but were used as a means of love declarations and as a political tool.

During the Great Depression in the United States in the 1930's, workers used markings on the walls of boxcars as a way to communicate with others coming behind them as they made their way north to Canada to find jobs.

And during the Napoleonic raids of Egypt during the 1700's, French soldiers carved their names in the pyramids to leave behind their political legacy in North Africa.

But the use of spray paint and markers in graffiti painting as we know it today is a technique created and adapted in the 1970's, as hip hop culture began to grow across the United States. Inner city youth from New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington started a game of 'tag' in their respective cities, which dared youth to leave their signature around the city, with the most respect going out to those who covered the most ground and those who sought the most obscure and dangerous spot to leave their mark.


Did You Know?
Graffiti has been used as a form of communication for centuries And as the competition increased, so did the quality of the tags. Using spray paint and colored markers, the graffiti artists became more sophisticated with their techniques and use of color.

Spray paint is the main tool used to make the intricate and artistic graffiti designs. Spray paint is mostly made by the use of aerosols which create a mist of paint, which artists have learned how to use and manipulate for the best effect.

Aerosols are suspensions of very small particles of solid or liquid that are released in a gas form. Smoke, fog, mists and smog are all examples of aerosols that we deal with on a day-to-day basis.


Did You Know?
Aerosols are a gaseous suspension of fine solid or liquid particles. The word aerosol also describes self-contained pressurized spray systems which can dispense different solid, liquid and gas products.

The aerosol package has three main elements: product, propellant, and the container. The product is a blend of active ingredients, inert ingredients like water, and the propellant.

The propellant is a gaseous compound which helps to push the product out of the container and produces a foam or a spray. In a can of spray paint, the paint has to work with the propellant to allow the paint to shoot out of the can. The propellant is liquefied gas. At room temperature, the propellant is a gas, but when it's forced into a can at high pressure, it liquefies. Then when the nozzle is pressed down, pressure is released and some of the propellant reverts to gas, and allows the paint to shoot out.


Did You Know?
Propellants are substances that change from a liquid to a gas with changes in pressure. Even the rattling sound you hear when you shake a spray paint can has a very important purpose. That rattling sound is a metal ball bearing which helps to mix the product and propellant. When the two liquids are mixed equally, the paint shoots out of the can nozzle in a fine mist rather than in clumps.

The last important element is the container, which is usually a steel or aluminum can. The leak-proof can protect the product from contamination and evaporation. The can has a significant impact on the longevity of the aerosol and prevents it from getting contaminated by bacteria or dust.

Street artists or "taggers" use different tips or valves to change the thickness and opacity of the paint. Some more popular spray paint brands produce paints in the standard high pressure can, which allows for faster and thicker coverage, and in low pressure cans, which provides more control and flexibility.

And while spray paint serves as the 'paintbrush', the real talent still lies in the often impressive artistic ability of the 'taggers.'

To learn more about aerosols, go to these great websites:

Aerosol cans - www.aerosol.com

Graffiti - www.graffiti.org

Noor Javed is just finishing off her journalism masters at the University of Western Ontario. Before coming to London, she spent four years at the University of Toronto doing a Human Biology degree. She still has traumatic memories of her first year biology lab where she had to dissect a cricket and a cockroach.


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