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Street Scenez

It’s Big, It’s Bold:
Graffiti Street Art
A California Graffiti Artist Tells How to Go Pro
Author: José Leal, Julio Alvarez

To some, it is only known as an act of vandalism.  For 
others, graffiti is a form of art.  It can become an 
act of vandalism when artists do not get any support 
from their community and have to do it illegally.  
However, graffiti can also be legal.  To learn more 
about the differences between graffiti art and 
vandalism, ShoutOut spoke with Erik about his 
experiences being a Californian graffiti artist who 
has done both illegal and legal graffiti art.  
According to Erik, there are different styles of 
graffiti art.  “There are people that tag, people that 
just do pieces, people that do characters, and people 
that do letters,” he says.
Another important distinction is that while taggers 
like to leave initials on public property, graffiti 
artists use their talent and their pieces to express 
themselves in the cities they live in.  “It’s a way to 
create a space that is beautiful,” Erik 
explains.  “You go into a dirty alley, an abandoned 
warehouse, some stinky sewer and that’s where you run 
into some of the most creative art.”
Erik is a 26 year-old artists who was born in 
Zacatecas, Mexico.  He was raised in Los Angeles, 
California where he was brought up in a booming 
graffiti scene.  Erik says he has been artistic since 
he was a young boy.  He started by drawing comics and 
trying to duplicate onto paper everything he saw.  He 
even started painting at an early age.
Once Erik hit 13, he did his first piece in his 
friend’s back yard on a brick wall.  Erik believes it 
was on this day that he realized he is an artist.  But 
not just any artist—an artist whose work would one day 
be known around the US.
Back when Erik first became a graffiti artist, most of 
his work was done illegally.  He got caught and was 
fined $500 in community restitution.  “Now it’s 
worse,” says Erik.  Today, a similar crime could cost 
up to $1,000 and up to one year in jail.
Erik is now a single parent who can’t afford to get 
into trouble.  “That’s risking too much,” he 
says.  “Even when I did illegal stuff, we did it where 
it wouldn’t hurt anyone.  I wasn’t into city 
bombing.”  From fences to walls, Erik and his buddy 
would ask if they could paint over bad graffiti and 
make it look nice.  If it was vandalized again they 
would come back and do it over.
Soon, people started asking Erik to paint for 
money.  “Younger business owners who grew up with 
graffiti have learned to appreciate it more,” Erik 
says.  “Instead of ignoring it, they learned what it 
is.  It’s an art form.”
Erik has since painted hundreds of pictures and has 
received awards for his pieces.  Legal graffiti has 
given him a chance to travel across America showing 
his work alongside artists he admires.  Some day he 
hopes to travel overseas to do shows as well.
For those of you who are interested in graffiti art, 
Erik says that legal painting is the way to go.  With 
illegal graffiti, you can spend a few hours doing a 
piece and the next day someone paints over it.  Legal 
graffiti, on the other hand, gets more exposure and 
stays up.
Doing graffiti art can also be hazardous to your 
health.  Artists need to protect themselves, 
especially when painting interior walls.  Protective 
clothes such as gloves and long sleeve shirts will 
help protect your skin.  Wear a ventilating facemask 
that protects from breathing in the toxins that are in 
paints.  And be sure to change your filters, Erik 
Erik’s final words: “Tagging makes real graffiti look 
bad.  Just be aware of the consequences.”