Throughout the month we’ll release a series of interview responses with members of New York City street artist group Graffiti Writer’s Block, or GWB.
1. How did you get started with art, who were your earliest inspirations for creating artwork?
Viper625: I got started sketching letters after seeing the fourth issue of 12OZ Prophet. I had always been interested in graffiti but really didn’t know how to start. That is when I began to practice calligraphy. From calligraphy I became familiar with letter structures and somehow it turned into graffiti. From then on it’s been letters, letters and more letters.
CortesNYC: I used to admire the art of Mode2, Seen, Simon Bisley, Giger, Dali, Diego Rivera. My art was also inspired a lot by musicians like Eric B and Rakim, Public Enemy, Cypress Hill, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, all that early 90′s rap and rock.
TESKoner: I’ve been into art as long as I can remember, so I have no clue. Whatever it was, I’m glad it happened. As for early inspirations, the first thing that jumps to my head was reading about the Sistine Chapel paintings as a youth. That scale and scope of work floored me.
NoverNYC: I got started with art by drawing from comic books. Owning so many comic books, I was drawn to start drawing, myself. Besides comic books, I was always interested in graffiti. Coming from the Bronx, I was always inspired by graffiti. One person that inspired me to do graffiti was kase2, who lived in the same neighborhood, and I used to watch him paint all the time.
2. Who inspires you now, how do you stay creative, what keeps you going?
Viper625: There are so many artists that inspire me. Graffiti artists all over, graphic designers, traditional artists – it’s difficult to name them all. I find a lot of inspiration in colorful nature photos and architecture. Nature is a great place to find effects for letters as well as fill color combos. I have been through different names looking for the letter sequence that I enjoy. I believe there can be a balance of crazy detailed letters and creative art. I try to keep moving and not be an artist that has the same style for 20 years LOL (not that there is anything wrong with that). That is what keeps me going.
CortesNYC: Nowadays, I’m inspired by movies, social media, and traveling. I’m very active on YouTube. My channel is a big part of my creative growth. I have a series called GraffTour that documents all my projects, traveling and painting in different states and countries. I have also gained an appreciation for music acts like Pearl Jam, Sadat-X and KRS who continue persevere even after the spotlight fades. Their careers demonstrate the importance of continuing to mature and inspire the next generations of artists.
TESKoner: There’s really too many to list. I feel creativity is nurtured by just sketching every day, and when your not sketching, thinking about sketching. staying in the grind whenever possible. As for keeping me going, its definitely my need to create a better piece than my last. Its such a great feeling when that is accomplished, at the same time, a crushing defeat when I fail. It’s a double edged sword mastered only with stubborn discipline.
NoverNYC: Right now I get my inspiration from so many peple, some are: Totem2, Daim, Peeta. I also gain inspiration from the other members of the group I’m a part of. They all do really amazing work. What keeps me going is how far I can take what I’m working on, what kind of effects I can create. When it comes to graffiti, it’s a form of art you can only get better at over time.
3. What role do black books play in your art making process?
Viper625: Black books/sketch books are the foundation of all my pieces. It is the place where I am able to experiment with styles and ideas that can later be turned into crazy pieces of art. Practice makes perfect.
CortesNYC: Black books are everything to me, they are where I found my creative voice. My father was an architect and he had markers at home, so I learned quickly to use them in black books. It’s where I document my feelings and inspirations. It’s a sacred creative space for me. Growin up sharing space all my life with my brother or roommates, I never had space to paint or create big projects. So, I knew I could escape into my black books and feel like I was communicating on a large scale with the world. No idea was too small or silly to be explored in my black books.
TESKoner: The book is the drafting table, the work out room and the think tank. Its a place to hone your ideas, create new style, develop existing style, and most importantly just to exercise your art.
NoverNYC: Black books are something to keep the edge going, a sketchbook to perfect my skill before I put it onto a wall.
4. Do you consider filled black books stand alone works of art, or part of a larger process?
Viper625: Black book pieces are definitely pieces of art, but they’re just practice for a larger creation.
CortesNYC: To me, black book artistry is it’s own genre. Just like custom airbrushing cars, If black book art is done right, it can leave a stronger impression than a polished canvas. Black books can communicate directly and intimately from author to reader in a way that public street art can’t. Nowadays, I approach my black books like a musician entering a recording studio, and I approach my graffiti walls like it’s a public concert. I don’t put one over the other, I need them both to continue growing as an artist. When I paint walls, I am fueled by the memory of the experience, sharing the time with my peers, the challenge of the scale and working with the environment. Black books are a technical exploration of my ideas. I am working alone, composing layouts, and storing my memories. My books are a resource I can always go back to and revisit easily, whenever I need inspiration.
TESKoner: Absolutely, it’s a work of art just to fill one if you ask me. That alone is an act of discipline – mainly because, by the time I’m nearing the end of a book, I usually dislike the work in front of it. For me, that makes it difficult to even continue the book, it’s easier to just get a new one. I had been writing for a good bit of time before I ever attempted to fill one book straight through.
NoverNYC: It isn’t only a filled sketchbook, but a blueprint to what we plan on doing. It’s also part of a bigger process because for most artists, it’s the foundation of most wall art, where a wall piece might start from.
5. Have you always been drawing in sketchbooks this way?
Viper625: Yes. Since I started drawing letters they’ve all gone in sketchbooks. It’s just the way it goes. I have had over twenty sketchbooks over the years. Some have been filled all the way while others have only had a couple of crazy 2-pagers. Most of them are out somewhere making their rounds.
CortesNYC: I have many types of black books, I have books filled with doodles and random notes, ideas, scribbles and tags. I have books in which I’ve forced myself to complete ideas and finish entire compositions, page for page. I have other books filled from front to back with life drawing and nude figure sessions all done in straight ink. I have other books that I carry with me on paint tours to have my peers sign and to take notes along my trip. I try to designate a task for each book in order to learn new skills and keep my inspirations organized.
TESKoner: I’ve been writing for 15 years, I’ve filled eight books completely.
NoverNYC: You get better as you progress. That said, I haven’t always worked on black books, but over the years I have filled some. I’ve also put a lot of work in other writers’ black books.
6. Do you do any planning sketches before you start hitting the books?
Viper625: When I start a sketch I use pencil. That allows me change lines as I please. Most of my sketches start as basic letters and I change/erase lines as needed. When I feel a piece is finished I start coloring and then ink it. My sketchbook has tons of messy sketches and notes in it sprinkled with crazy sharp colored pieces.
CortesNYC: I usually just hit the books straight up, sometimes straight with ink. Other times I sketch lightly with pencil and doodle quickly to come to a solid concept. I’ve even tried sketching with my eyes closed, just to jot down a messy idea. Afterwards, I can analyze the sketch strictly for the content, not how it looks. If the idea is still valid, I try to sketch it in a good book properly.
TESKoner: Sometimes I’ll get an idea when I don’t have access to my book, so I’ll start planning it in my head. But most of the time, the sketch evolves in the book.
NoverNYC: The sketches in the book are the planning process before I begin the real work on a wall, that’s where I see what colors work best, and try out new or different styles, such as 3D, wildstyle, or characters.
7. Is there anything you’d like to say about the recent increase in awareness about street art?
Viper625: It’s great that street art is becoming more accepted by society as an art form.
CortesNYC: I’m glad that Street art is becoming so popular, it’s a huge change from what I used to experience in the 90′s. I’ve had to get used to the spectators at walls, and the questions from fans. I was brought up in a world of graffiti that was very private and secluded.
TESKoner: It’s not going anywhere.
NoverNYC: It’s great that it’s being paid attention to on a regular basis worldwide. It’s being used by different high fashion designers, and that’s opening doors to all graffiti writers to use their art as a means to make a profit off of their own work, and gain a platform of respect as a widely accepted form of art.
8. Anything you’d like to say to people who simply perceive street art as vandalism?
Viper625: Meh, good for them.
CortesNYC: I don’t understand how anyone in 2012 would not be aware of all the different types of Street Art/Graffiti. I feel that anyone who is against street art nowadays is just playing devil’s advocate to create controversy. In the 70′s-80′s, New York was truly covered in random graffiti art and other vandalism, and I understood why a spectator would be confused. But nowadays, most major cities have cleaned themselves up and graffiti art has found places to evolve with pop art, muralism & commercial illustration. Graffiti in 2012 looks NOTHING like the scrawled main streets of the 80′s.
TESKoner: Not particularly. People who have those feelings have their minds made up and I couldn’t care less to change it.
NoverNYC: For those who have that kind of opinion, I don’t have much to say. If it wasn’t for the vandalism that started out graffiti, it wouldn’t have reached the magnitude it’s at today, and I myself probably wouldn’t have had a part in it.
9. Do you ever consider your work to be at the cutting edge of typography?
Viper625: Not really. It is a passion, I’m not out to prove anything.
CortesNYC: Some of my graphic treatments and logo style treatments are definitely experimenting with typography. I’ve done lettering for rappers like Jeru The Damaja, Lords of the Underground, Mad Skillz, and Keith Murray. My graffiti letter forms are born out of organic handwriting styles. I mix tags, with serifs and Old English flares. I also warp the letter shapes to become more animated. My graffiti piecing style letters have been described as Metallica-esque because of the razor like tips and arrows.
TESKoner: I don’t consider my work to be the cutting edge of anything. I’m just a humble guy who has this fascination with letters, nothing more, nothing less.
NoverNYC: Yes, one of my main goals is to manipulate my tools of choice to create realistic scenes or effects like 3D, steel, water, rocks, metal, etc.
10. How can an untrained viewer learn to decipher some of the wilder letterforms?
Viper625: Most of the time “wildstyle” letters have more of an abstract letter structure. Sometimes they’re an “idea” of a letter. Try to look at the letter without all the add-ons if possible.
CortesNYC: Just like in any art genre, you have to first become familiar with the movement, and then with the artist’s individual contribution to it. Once you inquire about the artist’s name, then you can begin to find the letter forms. There is a misconception that graffiti is a hidden code. Graffiti is not supposed to be a trick. Graffiti is a genre of lettering, and once the viewer embraces the genre, and discovers the artist’s name and style, they can begin to decipher the letters and appreciate the craftsmanship.
TESKoner: That can be difficult. Every style is different, some more legible than others. I suppose one way would be to acclimate yourself to the art form, perhaps starting a black book for writing graffiti yourself.
NoverNYC: From an untrained eye, it can be visible, for some people it isn’t. The best way to decipher what that work of art represents, you have to take in everything you’re looking at. Its colors, its shapes, the mood it puts you in, or what it makes you think of, as it would be with any other form of art. But it can be taught to be legible.
11. Do you ever find yourself obsessing over letters, like bending and warping them in your mind?
Viper625: Yes. Before I start a sketch I imagine a basic letter in a way I haven’t done before. Slanted up, down, backwards, etc. Sometimes I get a headache before anything is on the page! I try not to use letters I have done before. Recreating letters will not get me anywhere. Sometimes the first part of the sketch is the most difficult.
CortesNYC: Only when I freestyle off the top of my head. That’s when I occupy my mind with the different letter movement to best fit and interlock the entire piece before even touching the paper or wall.
TESKoner: Frequently. That’s pretty close to what happens.
NoverNYC: Yes, all of the time, that is my goal, to create an individual style and call it my own. That is one of the main concepts of graffiti, to be known individually for our own craft, to bring something to the table.
12. Should people give graffiti writers respect from an artistic calligraphy and lettering design perspective?
Viper625: Of course. Graff artists are letter designers above anything else.
CortesNYC: I have personally applied a lot of the calligraphy and typography concepts that I’ve learned into my graffiti style. I feel non-graffiti artists see the craftsmanship and appreciate technical skill but don’t realize that most graff writers incorporate formal design principles fluidly into their street style.
TESKoner: They’re really different processes, so that’s up to the beholder. Personally, I usually only hold the respect from other writers in any relevant regard.
NoverNYC: Of course, even if you don’t agree with the illegal aspect of graffiti it deserves its respect from all aspects of the lettering or calligraphy perspective.
13. Do you ever consider graffiti writing to be contemporary calligraphy?
Viper625: That is what graffiti is all about – the letters.
CortesNYC: When it’s hand scrawled tags, I can definitely see the expressive nature of their calligraphy.
TESKoner: There are some similarities indeed, particularly in certain handstyles. However graffiti and contemporary calligraphy doesn’t seem like a reasonable comparison to me, just my opinion.
NoverNYC: It is already considered contemporary calligraphy, right now it’s being used in all forms of mainstream art and fashion, fonts being created to look like different types of graffiti styles.
14. What’s the future of graffiti, where is street art heading?
Viper625: I see street art getting more colorful and abstract. Styles will continue to evolve and become more technical. It would evolve a lot quicker if artists would get out of their comfort zones.
CortesNYC: I am guessing it will continue to gain mass appeal and become more corporate. I have never seen so many products and merchandise in the graffiti scene, as i do now. There are so many brands of paint and other vendors clinging on to street art. This new commercial environment is raising up a young crop of street artists that never experienced the old stigma of vandalism or gangs. So i’m looking forward to seeing what the next wave of artists bring to the movement.
TESKoner: (no comment)
NoverNYC: The future of graffiti is heading into becoming something more accepted, it’s heading in the right direction. I hope it opens more doors for graff writers to be able to express their work. I also hope that the future of graffiti is headed into a time where people with a prejudice against street art can understand it and business owners will be more open to having graffiti on more walls.
15. Why do you like using Copic markers in your black books?
Viper625: The rich colors, amount of colors available and they blend easily. Good solid color is what I look for. They are a great tool for any artist. Other markers don’t compare as far as quality.
CortesNYC: Copics tend to leave a smooth coat of rich color where other markers might streak. I love the variety of tones and tips. The brush tip is my favorite for fast marker comps. I’ve been slowly building up my set. I hope to have a complete set by the end of this year.
TESKoner: They’re the best markers I’ve run in to at this point. Refillable, excellent color choice, and the versatility of the brush tip is the icing on the cake. I also love the fact that their shape prevents them from rolling off my table. In short they’re the best, period.
NoverNYC: Out of all the markers I use, Copic markers give me the most control, I get the best effects and illusions out of them. They bleed the least from all the other brands I use. They also have the best color selection I’ve seen. Most of my greatest pieces have been done with Copic markers.