After a whole season of eliminating graffiti, here are things I think will help others who want to do this:
- Speed is everything when fighting graffiti. Techniques and tools that make you faster matter a lot. Even small improvements add up.
- Learn to accept ‘good enough.’ You can’t always get the target to look perfect. You can waste a lot of effort that doesn’t really pay off.
- Symbolic targets should get done early. I didn’t fully appreciate this, as I started with a territorial clear-and-hold strategy. Now, I would do a mix of high-profile targets (the tags that scream ‘vandalize this area!’) and territorial clearing.
- Chase the top few vandals outside your area. I think establishing perimeters and buffer zones is most important, but I found it valuable sometimes to follow the most common tags way outside my area just to send the vandals a message.
- Take safety seriously. Be careful with your razor blades (use stiff gloves), wear some kind of mask and watch the wind so you don’t inhale the chemicals and paint fumes, wear goggles if possible as well. Wear something covering your arms as well. If you’re going to be doing this a lot, wear not just a dust mask, but an N100-certified respirator. It looks strange, but it’s the only thing that will keep the fumes out of your lungs.
- Educate the locals. I didn’t do this until late October, but I found people were interested to know when graffiti happens (11:30-2:30), what vandals look like (13-17 in age mostly, often wearing a backpack in the middle of the night to carry paint and markers), what to do (call police, don’t chase them away), and what solvent to buy to do some of this themselves. This should pay off.
- Know your limitations. Don’t go after a target if you don’t think you have the materials or skills. If you want to take some time to practice for a target, that’s perfectly fine. But don’t overreach and make something worse. You will lose public support if you do that.
- Spray paint failure is common, so prepare. (Clogged nozzles and clogs in the tube leading to the nozzle.) It’s good to save a few good nozzles (from empty cans) in your stash, so when one of them jams on you, just replace it and keep working. It’s also good to have backup cans of your most critical colors.
- Color strips are a must. As I outlined in a previous blog post, taking all your paints and spraying samples all over a large piece of cardboard is huge. You can then just hold your palette up to a target and decide right away what is, and is not, going to work.
- Become skilled with both razor types. I didn’t take this seriously enough at the beginning. So, the typical hand-held razor is great for small stickers and paint, but definitely get a window razor, which is shaped like a T - where there is a blade at the T top. It is great for large stickers and some surfaces. I really didn’t like it when I first got it, now I love it. I use it even more than the traditional razor holder.
- Watch the overnight temperature. If it is dropping below 55 degrees overnight, keep your stuff inside so it stays warm.
- For thick paints and markers, use your razor blade first to scrape enough of it off so then you can scrub the last of it off more easily.
- Get stiff neoprene gloves, not soft ones, if you’re doing a lot of this. I only got stiff gloves a couple of weeks ago. They aren’t quite as easy to use, as you have to work harder to move your fingers, but they come on and off much faster and with almost no effort. That is a huge time-saver.
- Find ways to signal to onlookers that you’re cleaning, not doing the graffiti. I can’t believe the looks I get from people, or how many cars stop behind me! People come up to me with this “Gotcha!” look on their face. You’d think my age and the time of day would make it obvious that I am not doing the graffiti. (I always think, “Where is this vigilance when it would have mattered?”) It really helps when I have my mask and goggles on, or when I use my orange cone. Even when I don’t need my mask (such as for scraping a lot of stickers) I still have my mask around my neck and goggles on my forehead. It also helps a lot to wave, smile, and say hello to people.
- Get your stuff properly organized. You need the proper containers. I have a small one that can hold a few cans, some towels, brushes, razors, and safety equipment. I also have a larger one to hold all my spray paint. I think the big and small container strategy is a good one. You need some way to keep stuff organized so you aren’t always looking for stuff. Only use one layer (cans vertical) so you can see everything immediately.