The art of Hip-Hop has been passed down by oral tradition. People join with crews who already have all of the details that were given to them by those who came before. It has been like that for decades, but in recent years there has been a rift in the oral tradition. 

“It is not like how it once was. You used to join a crew and be brought up by that crew, and their knowledge is passed down as far breaking, DJs, MCs, and graffiti letters,” said artist Leon Rainbow. He explains that he has learned from artists across the nation and in Trenton. “It is one of those things that is a specialized skillset, a lot of the stuff I know from the street or I composed or just from other artists, traveling, and seeing people do different techniques.” 

For ten years, Rainbow has used his connection with TerraCycle to host a class to teach Trentonians how to spray paint murals across the city. 

“With the class, I am trying to give people who might not want to (join a crew) to allow them to learn those types of things. A lot of things are different now… A lot of the students that we have are younger, but we also have older students who want to use spray paint,” Rainbow said. 

Mikel Cirkus is one of those older students. AT the age of 48, he was one of the first students to join Rainbow and learn the ways of street art. Since then, he has taken the class every year. His reasoning was that he had spent decades as a curator and art director across the tri-state area, and at the time, he was looking for a way to expand his art.

 “So I went down to Leon, met him and a couple of other guys in the crew, showed him…I showed him my sketchbooks,” Cirkus said. “Then I started taking (the class), and I took it very seriously. And it took a long time. I mean, it’s not easy; it’s not an easy craft, and I take it every year to brush up on my skills and get better and better at it.”  

The idea for the class started in 2003. Rainbow had attended a class by his previous mentor and had the idea to expand on it, but at that point they did not have the home base that is TerraCycle. “Once we got the TerraCycle space in 2006, we had our place,” Rainbow said. Rainbow and other artists found a spot where they could practice and become experts in their craft. “Eventually, we started to get good enough to teach other people. We thought it would be a good idea to try to (teach people). When I am doing these projects and murals, people always ask me how I do that… We wanted to figure out a way to provide classes.” 

The class is separated into three, four-week-long sessions. Session One is Design Color and Style, a zoom session that will be focused on helping students prepare to paint. The students will learn perspective, shading, dimension, and color theory related to wall art on top characters, portraits, letters, and background concepts. 

“We start with basics as far as taking a different name like a tag or a nickname, and then working with the lettering, we go through color theory. The first four weeks is really designing and how to design what you are going to paint on the wall, and then the next eight weeks are painting,” Rainbow said.

Session Two is called Painters Touch, which will take the characters, designs, and background ideas and then turn them into an actual mural. Session Three is called Can Control. This session is dedicated purely to the development of painting. The students are enhancing technique and style. Each week students are expected to have a carefully drawn sketch, which they will execute on a wall under the critics and guidance of experienced artists.

Liz Amaral, a previous student of Rainbow’s class, took the course the first time last year, wanting to expand her craft. “I like wanted to do more murals and to work on my technical skills. I love the culture of graffiti; I grew up being around it… I just wanted to learn how to do it.” 

She explain his class was more than she anticipated and she loved every minute of it. “I feel like his class gave me a chance to not get arrested. His class gave me a chance to experience the art of graffiti, and the history of it and to really dive in deep in that world while also creating my own piece,” Amaral said.

For Rainbow, he just wants to teach, paint, and pass the information he has learned to the next generation. “There are many painting techniques, but a lot of it is just practicing and them how to refine things,” Rainbow said. “I feel if I can help somebody or inspire somebody to learn how to paint, I will.”