I’ve been doing graffiti art since I was 15. For me, it was a way to get out of the house. There were family problems and things going on that I wanted to get away from. A lot of my friends used to tag so I got into it. We would tag stuff wherever we were walking. It gives you respect on the street. You meet people who graff (do graffiti) and you feel like family.
We had a battle one night and I got caught by undercovers (undercover cops). A battle is two tagging crews going against each other to see who can do the most vandalism or damage in a period of time, usually over a couple weeks. They gave me a ticket and I got probation for a year.
A friend told me about the Skillz ‘N Action class, which I’d heard helps you get better skills at graff. I’ve been coming to Skillz ‘N Action for seven months. I used to go to another program. They just give you a can and you go and paint. It didn’t teach you technique. In this class, I’ve learned technique and color schemes (what color combinations work on a letter). Here it’s like a classroom.
I didn’t know anything about color schemes and that the type of colors can help the letters pop. I learned can control, which means being able to use the can to spray exactly what you want where you want and not dripping on things. If you can’t control the can, it looks sloppy.
I’m more artistic now. I see how colors work. I was just a letter guy when I started. I’m progressing with my characters (people) and my artistic skills. And I’m getting skills for a job. It could be a career.
Before coming here I didn’t even think about going to college. I saw myself in the future having a lousy job that I would hate. But the Skillz ‘N Action program has helped me tremendously by showing me that I can use graffiti and other types of art in a career.
Now, I’m in a sign painting class at Los Angeles Trade Tech. A guy who came to talk to us said he used to be a graffiti writer and now he has a job as a sign painter, a house and a car. I might end up going to a Cal State to study graphic design.
This class is legal. You don’t feel like you’re being chased. You know you’re doing something legal. I feel like people don’t really know about graffiti art. They think it’s a gang thing. Some of it is, but not all of it. Graffiti is a form of art. You get to express yourself with paint. Tagging is vandalism. Graffiti has a message.
The Skillz ‘N Action urban art program is free and open to any L.A. teen. It meets Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon in Lincoln Heights. The class is taught by professional muralist John “Zender” Estrada. For more information call Cisco Garcia at (323) 221-4134, ext. 153.