So if you read my post about inspiration, you will know that the premise of my novel Finding Roze is based around graffiti. So the first problem I ran into is the fact that besides for a passing admiration, I didn’t really know anything about graffiti art and culture.
This seemed like a problem.
So, I decided to do a little research. I was able to find a lot of great resources in the library and online. I started consuming books, documentaries, and forums on the internet. I became ‘friends’ with many of the local graffiti artists on social media, and was able to communicate with a few of them. There was a lot to learn, and I must admit that I had no idea how rich and deep graffiti culture really is. There is not only a visual language, but like any other culture, there is an entire lexicon of graffiti lingo.
All this research was great, but for me, the most fun was actually going to photograph graffiti ‘in the wild’ here in Seattle. There is a lot of it to be found if you just pay attention. West Seattle, where my novel primarily takes place, has some great spots, and I took full advantage of poking around with my camera.
For me, one of the first places that I went was the bridge spanning Schmitz Park, going down the hill towards Alki. Underneath the bridge is a full on ‘gallery’. The gallery scene in the novel where Zero gets a little learning from his friend Dante takes place there. As you can see from some of the photos, the bridge spans an overgrown gully that is teeming with life. In typical PNW style, it just glows green with all the plants, trees, and ferns, that support a healthy population of critters.
There are other great places around West Seattle and the SODO neighborhood. The train yards down by the water are used to move shipping containers that come off the boats from overseas all around the Port of Seattle. The train cars are all hit up with lots of cool graffiti. Also, the places where there are numerous train spurs used to re-route and park train cars is a great place to find some excellent examples.
I used the yard by Jack Block park (where lots of cars are parked and stored) as one of the key settings for Zero to find a piece of graffiti that he was looking for. There are some even better examples in the Georgetown neighborhood that were fun to photograph in the daytime, though I am not sure that I would want to hang around there too long at night. Kind of creepy, and possibly dangerous.
The ‘Heaven Spot’ (graffiti thrown up on a high overpass) in the story was actually inspired by this piece by Forge, one of our local heroes. It is a cool piece that I drove by daily. There are actually many cool ‘Heaven Spot’s’ around town, some much higher than this one. I just have a sweet spot in my heart for this one. I imagine Forge hanging over the side as cars rush by, writing it upside down.
Here is an excerpt from the novel, Finding Roze where Dante, a supposedly experienced graffiti artist shows Zero the gallery.
“That right there?” Dante said, pointing with his finger. “That’s a full-on ‘Heaven Spot’!”
Zero looked. He never knew there was a special name for it. They were standing on a quiet street that wound through a deep ravine, overgrown with trees covered with ivy and vines. Sunlight filtered down through the canopy, creating a diffuse green glow, with dancing pinpoints of sunlight that had managed to make it all the way down here to the street. High above was a bridge that spanned the entire gully; a major thoroughfare connecting downtown with the west-side neighborhood. Down here, nearly a hundred feet below the busy traffic corridor, they could hear muffled sounds of road noise filtering down. For the most part, the city noise was secondary to the sounds of the gully… birds singing, the sound of the breeze disturbing the leaves, and the occasional sound of a squirrel or a rat rustling around in the ivy.
Dante was here to show Zero some art.
They were looking up at the large piece. It said ‘Forge’, spray painted boldly in light blue with gold outlining on the side of the overpass. Against the dark green paint of the steel bridge, it stood out. Up close, it must have been pretty big, because it was easily seen from way down here.
“A ‘Heaven Spot’ is high-visibility,” Dante continued. “You get a lot of respect from other writers for that kind of thing. ‘Hitting up the heavens’, that is a dangerous game, man. Some serious dare-devil shit right there. It is like writing with an angel on your shoulder. It’s a beautiful thing, but if you slip and fall, maybe you GO to heaven!” Dante said.
Zero was actually pretty impressed. ‘Dare-devil shit’ indeed. The artist must have been out of his mind to climb out onto the side of the bridge that high over the ravine, to ‘write’ that. Zero couldn’t imagine how they had done it. That dude must have some serious balls.