Lesson Plan: Creating Digital Graffiti

My Digital Graffiti Wall (brick wall “base photo” from here)

My students love graffiti; they have been clamoring for me to teach a graffiti unit all year. But, honestly, I’ve been torn.

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Personally, I adore graffiti. When you look at what artists like Banksy contribute to society, it is hard to ignore the visual and societal artistic impact of graffiti. Yet, it can be hard to translate the lofty, idealistic virtues that graffiti often attempts to impart to middle school aged kids who want to use spray paint to tag up the world.
I’ve taught graffiti before. And, every single time, a student has gone out and illegally tagged something. So, uh, yeah, I had mixed feelings about teaching a graffiti unit to my Title I students (who have been actively thieving from the Art room all year).

Eventually though, their interest in graffiti won me over. My students’ behavior is best and they learn the most when they are actively engaged in the subject. I knew that with graffiti, I would have their full attention. But, my huge -EPIC- concern was that they must understand the philosophies behind graffiti, the origins of graffiti, the usages of graffiti, the many mediums of graffiti (not just spray paint!) and legal and societal ramifications of graffiti. I made a pact with myself that I would not teach graffiti unless I could address all of my concerns.

Fortunately, I found ways to do that and I’ve created two graffiti units for my students. For one, they create mini, 3D, paper, subway cars that they “tag” with colored pencils. For another, they use digital media to create a digital urban landscape full of graffiti. Today, I’ll be writing about creating digital graffiti. Later this week, I’ll post about the mini subway cars.

I have a little secret to share with you. I taught Digital Art for four years and I love finding ways to incorporate it into my classroom. And, I love the idea of creating virtual graffiti, as there are no legal issues. But, my school does not have Photoshop or much in the way of digital art materials. I’m working on a grant to get Photoshop in the school, but I also want to provide free resources for my students. They love working on the computers and most of them have internet access at home. So, I decided to do a bit of sleuthing and find free resources with which to complete this project.

This means that those of you without photo-manipulation-software can do this same Digital Graffiti project with your students!! Yeah! I used GraffitiCreator and Pixlr.com for this project.

Step 1: I blow their minds -and perceptions of graffiti- by showing this stop-motion graffiti film by artist blu blu:

Step 2: I introduce graffiti to my students using this AMAZING graffiti presentation from the University of Alabama

Step 3: We watched this clip from the PBS series, Art:21 about fine artists Margarent Kilgallen and Barry McGee who are both inspired by graffiti.

Step 4: I had students practice drawing their own graffiti tags using this worksheet and sample graffiti fonts. My worksheet was inspired by this one seen on Pinterest, I made my own because my students LOVE it when I draw for them.

Step 5: I introduced the students to digital graffiti by performing a quick demo of the project using GraffitiCreator and Pixlr.com

ms j graffiti
Step 6: I ask students to create their own graffiti tags using GraffitiCreator. Even though I give a full demonstration, I provide them with this click-by-click set of directions.

Step 7: I showed this stop-motion graffiti film that focuses on DIGITAL media instead of spray paint. The purpose is to really get them out of the mindset of graffiti being only a deviant and/or spray-paint related genre.

Step 8: Students are asked to use Pixlr.com, which is an online photo manipulation tool that is very similar to an old version of Adobe Photoshop Elements (think of it is as “Adobe Light”). I allow them to “play” with Pixlr for several days and even create several graffiti walls. I also provide them with these click-by-click directions. . .But, also hope that they will deviate and explore on their own.

Step 9: We print out color versions of our graffiti walls to be displayed in the hallway!

graffiti wall

I did this project with my 6th graders. I’m so thrilled about the Digital Art opportunities that I will have with them as they go through Middle School. I’m also really excited that as a free resource, Pixlr is something that they can use at home and for other art and project-related purposes.


10 thoughts on “Lesson Plan: Creating Digital Graffiti”

  1. The resources you have collected to show your students are beautiful! If you are ever looking for another source of inspiration, I pass a building every day on the subway here in NY called 5 Pointz. Its a building that gives permits to local graffiti artists to work on spaces of the building. The results are spectacular, and a great example of how you can express yourself as a graffiti artist but in a legal way. http://5ptz.com/graff/

  2. Love this! Thank you for the great instructions!! I am doing a after school digital art class and looking forward to trying this with my 5th & 6th graders! We did superheros a few weeks ago which took a while but were a lot of fun. You can see them at artjulz.blogspot.com…if you have any tips I would love to hear them.Thanks for sharing!Julie

  3. Love it! Cant wait to try it with my first DArts class! I dont have an art background and if you have any other sites/resources to share I'd appreciate that also! Take care.

  4. I just came across this post, and I love the idea for Digital graffiti. I may use that in my Digital Photography class, I am always looking for good thinking-out-of-the-box ideas. I have a Digital Arts background, too, and teach at a Title 1 school. We use GIMP and Inkscape which are both great, free, open-source programs for digital photography and illustration, respectively. Thanks for all the amazing ideas!!

  5. P.S. I just noticed that you used the Art 21 Barry McGee and Margart Kilgallen video. I love them and try to work them into my classes whenever I can! 🙂

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