Every graffiti artist needs a broad collection of graffiti books.
In fact, they’re so key to learning and understanding the world of graffiti, that I’d put books on par with other tools like spray paint as essential graffiti supplies.
From books showcasing graffiti’s early beginnings on the US East Coast to others depicting its influence across the globe, I take a look at the top 10 must-read graffiti books you can find today.
So whether you’re new to graffiti, a well-established writer or looking for a gift for a graffiti enthusiast, there’s a book here for every graffiti artist’s collection.
- 1. Subway Art
- 2. The World Atlas of Street Art and Graffiti
- 3. Street Fonts: Graffiti Alphabets from Around the World
- 4. Graffiti Cookbook: A Guide to Techniques and Materials
- 5. Graffiti Woman: Graffiti and Street Art from Five Continents
- 6. Training Days: The Subway Artists Then and Now
- 7. The Lost Boyz: A Dark Side of Graffiti
- 8. From the Platform: Subway Graffiti, 1983-1989
- 9. London Graffiti and Street Art: Unique artwork from London’s streets
- 10. Wall and Piece
1. Subway Art
Martha Cooper & Henry Chalfant
Often dubbed as the Graffiti Bible, street art photographers Martha Cooper & Henry Chalfant‘s 1984 book Subway Art started a chain reaction that introduced modern-day graffiti writing to the rest of the globe.
Documenting the painted subway trains which ran through the city during the 1970s and 1980s, Subway Art features inspiring images and stories from New York’s earliest graffiti writers. Most of whom are known as legends in the graffiti world.
Despite Subway Art’s age, it is just as relevant now as it was when it was released in the mid-80s.
There’s so much to learn about original graffiti culture from this book, making it one of the best books for beginners or as a gift for a graffiti artist.
If you only plan on picking up one graffiti book from this list, Subway Art is the one you need.
The full-colour images of painted subway trains, in-depth graffiti education and thrilling stories from the artists themselves make this book essential.
2. The World Atlas of Street Art and Graffiti
For those interested in the styles and inspirations of street art and graffiti on a global scale, The World Atlas of Street Art and Graffiti is the book to pick up.
Featuring graffiti and street artists from across the globe such as New York’s Steve Powers (ESPO) and Bristol’s Banksy, this vibrantly illustrated book gives a full 360° view of the street art and graffiti world.
One of the best features of this book is how it is organised by continent and by city.
This gives the reader a detailed view of the different graffiti styles and techniques from each area which I find really interesting.
If you’re looking for a great all-encompassing street art and graffiti book, grab a copy.
3. Street Fonts: Graffiti Alphabets from Around the World
Having spent over two years collecting A-Z graffiti alphabets from 154 global graffiti artists, Claudia Walde’s Graffiti Alphabets is an essential book for both aspiring and established graffiti artists looking for inspiration.
Graffiti Alphabets is the perfect resource to inspire not only graffiti artists but anyone interested in calligraphy and typography.
I also love that it features individual artists’ biographies and insight into how their unique style is influenced.
The book’s global outlook is also a great feature. It will let you see a range of different styles found across the world and bring them together to help define your graffiti style.
If you’re looking for some serious graffiti inspiration, Graffiti Alphabets is one of the best books for it.
4. Graffiti Cookbook: A Guide to Techniques and Materials
From tags to throw-ups, straight letters to wildstyle, the Graffiti Cookbook is the ultimate guide to learning everything you need to know about getting started with graffiti.
The authors also use examples and quotes from real graffiti artists along the way, so you can be sure you’re learning from the best.
I like how the book is broken down into three sections: Style, Materials and Technique.
This makes it easy for readers to understand these three graffiti fundamentals and formulate the perfect recipe for them. It is a cookbook, after all.
Be sure to pick up Graffiti Cookbook if you’re after a mix of graffiti education and dope tags, throw-ups and pieces to be inspired by.
5. Graffiti Woman: Graffiti and Street Art from Five Continents
There’s no denying that graffiti has historically been a male-dominated subculture.
Nicholas Ganz’s Graffiti Woman aims to showcase some of the incredible female graffiti and street artists from around the globe making their mark in an underrepresented culture.
And there are a lot more of them than you might think.
Showcasing the work of over 125 women, Graffiti Woman is accompanied by stories from the female graffiti experience, lively quotes and more to shine a light on what it means to be a woman in graffiti and street art.
Graffiti Woman is the perfect graffiti book to diversify your collection and see some of the incredible work that female graffiti and street artists are producing.
A must-read for any well-rounded graffiti artist.
6. Training Days: The Subway Artists Then and Now
Henry Chalfant & Sacha Jenkins
During the late 70s and early 80s, graffiti was taking New York by storm as graffiti writers used the subway system as a moving canvas to showcase their art across the city. Subway Art made sure the world knew about it and helped graffiti become the global movement that it is today.
Fast forward to 2014 and many of New York’s original subway artists have gone on to have successful careers both within graffiti and outside of it.
Training Days shares the first-hand experiences of 12 of New York’s legendary graffiti writers through in-depth interviews to tell an unfiltered story of what it was like to be a graffiti writer during its golden era.
Pair this with Henry Chalfant’s original photography of painted subway trains at the time, and you’ve got yourself one of the best graffiti books for your collection.
7. The Lost Boyz: A Dark Side of Graffiti
There are no pretty graffiti murals to look at in this book or any romanticising of what it’s like to be a graffiti writer.
The Lost Boyz tells the true story of Justin Rollins experiencing racism and prejudice growing up, which led him to a life of crime fuelled by the chaotic graffiti lifestyle.
Rollins offers you a raw, unadulterated look into his troubled upbringing in an unforgiving area of London.
Although this book isn’t for the faint-hearted, it makes the list as one of the best graffiti books as it does exactly what the title says. It truly shows the dark side of graffiti, which every aspiring and established graffiti writer should understand.
8. From the Platform: Subway Graffiti, 1983-1989
At the age of 16, Paul Cavalieri (aka CAVS) started writing graffiti after being mesmerised by the graffiti movement unfolding around him in New York during the 1980s.
After studying the subway schedules to find out where the painted trains would be running across the city, CAVS snapped works by the legendary graffiti writers of the time.
This was no easy job, but what followed is a 176-page book showcasing over 325 full-colour painted subway trains from 1983 to 1989.
Expect crazy stories of how artists navigated New York’s subway system to showcase their art and everything from insides (graffiti inside the train carriage) to detailed whole car productions.
9. London Graffiti and Street Art: Unique artwork from London’s streets
Since modern-day graffiti writing made its way across the Atlantic, London has enjoyed a thriving graffiti and street art scene.
London’s receptiveness to graffiti has made it one of the most thriving cities to see graffiti and street art. Although you need to go to the right places to find it.
Joe Epstein’s London Graffiti and Street Art showcases a range of London’s most impressive graffiti and street art found across the capital.
You’ll find a mix of works from London’s more well-known artists, right through to the new school writers who are shaping the scene today.
This book is essential for anyone in the UK who’s interested in understanding the graffiti and street art scene in the nation’s capital.
Also, be sure to check out the LDNGraffiti blog which is regularly updated with graffiti and street art snaps from across London – along with plenty of other useful London graffiti resources.
10. Wall and Piece
Love him or hate him, a list of must-read graffiti books wouldn’t be complete without one of the most globally recognised graffiti artists of all time.
Known as Britain’s most wanted artist, Banksy‘s Wall and Piece showcases his work from around the world.
It also includes witty yet stimulating commentary and education from Banksy himself, which is rare to find as he remains unknown.
The book is also made interesting by showing much of Banksy’s work that didn’t make it to the mainstream, unlike some of his more famous pieces.
Paired with his political motivations for his work (brandalism, for example), Wall and Piece is a must-read for understanding graffiti through the eyes of the world’s most notorious artist.
Rather watch instead of read? Check out my list of 12 Best Graffiti Movies & Documentaries of All Time.