Upper Elementary

Graffiti Style Name “Throwies”

The last lesson I designed at Lincoln Elementary was meant to engage the fourth and fifth graders on a personal level with pieces featuring their name or nickname as graffiti-style name “throwies.” When they came into the room, they noticed photos of real graffiti artworks from Detroit posted around the room and at their tables. We started off with a Visual Thinking Strategies session using these examples. I asked questions such as “What do you see?” and “What do you notice about the letters in these images?” Soon enough a student said the pictures were of graffiti, so we moved on to a brief discussion of the differences, visual and legal, of different types of graffiti.

“What did you think of the graffiti you saw in your neighborhood?”

I have done murals before but I have never done graffiti, so I thought it was important for students to hear from a real graffiti artist.

Everything begins with a sketch in your mind.

I had noticed that all too often students would work on something and become dissatisfied with it, wanting to start all over. But without being able to pinpoint why they didn’t like it, starting over—on top of being a waste of time and materials—hardly ever made them more satisfied with their artwork anyway. Noticing their creation process, I realized that they always tried to make the final product from the beginning on the first try. So one of my goals for this lesson was to impress upon students the importance of drawing to generate ideas, NOT to make a final product from the beginning. I showed students in-progress copies of my name design: thumbnail sketches, rough sketch, clean inked copy, and final color version, to show them that art doesn’t just magically happen on the first try.





Click the thumbnails above to see the images at full size.

On the first day, most students were able to sketch a few ideas (they had been told to do eight thumbnail sketches) in the remaining class time.

“What if you…?”


Picking the best thumbnail sketch

Some students really struggled with the concept of sketching, which threw me a little off guard. Two were so hesitant to try making any mark in their sketchbooks that they were visibly upset. They said they had no idea what to do. I said to just write their name and then change the shape of the letters to start with.

Me: Just ask yourself, “Does this look cool or stupid?” If it’s cool you keep it. If it’s not you erase it. You see how my sketchbook is so dirty? That’s because I erased a million times to come up with these ideas. When you die in a video game, do you stop playing?

Struggling Students: *Scoff* No.

Me: Well then. Don’t give up on this either!

The second day of this lesson began with me giving a demonstration of color blending with color pencils. Some students weren’t able to completely finish their designs with fully blended colors, but I didn’t think they would in just two sessions anyway, considering it had taken me about 5 hours to make my example between sketching, drawing, inking, and coloring. Still, many students were able to reach a decent level of finish on this project.

ADB was one of the students who struggled to get going, but he was able to come up with a classic joined bubble letter design in the end.


“FayFay” also struggled on Day 1; but her perseverance paid off.


Nate had been very active in the discussion about graffiti; perhaps he was already a big fan of the style?


The stands weren’t finished, but this was a great start for “bd.”


A student with autism made this dynamic piece all on his own.

Students were given the rubric on Day 1 so that they would know exactly what the expectations were. Unfortunately, some did not get around to answering the reflective questions on the rubric. In the photo below, I used a completely blank rubric to grade this student as he had not had time to fill one out for himself.

A three is equivalent to a “B” in the traditional letter grade system.


The best designs were put outside on a “wall” (a free-standing bulletin board).

To protect students’ identities, last names have been digitally removed from pieces that included them.

As someone who wasn’t terribly familiar with graffiti beyond just seeing it around town, I had to do a lot of research to put this lesson together. The examples of real graffiti that I printed out to show students were largely taken from posts about graffiti on the blog Bikes, Books, & A Little Music, such as this one. I got the “RapScript” font for the rubric on Graffiti Fonts. And of course, I looked at the home pages of graffiti artists like Sintex, Shades, and Malt. It was really interesting for me personally to delve into this genre as pretty much all of the graffiti I’d grown up seeing was gang related. Most of their tagging had no redeeming artistic quality but every now and then there would be one that did and I’d feel a bit conflicted about liking the lettering. But even the aesthetically better examples I had seen were nothing compared to the graffiti murals being done legally these days. I hope the genre can continue to flourish on welcoming walls!