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Off The Wall: SPUD

Beneath the surface of scratchiti.

An etch bath by SPUD.

The art world has had its share of dustups. Matisse and Picasso were known to quarrel; a tormented Van Gogh took a swipe at Gauguin with a razorblade.

Inevitably, practitioners in every artistic genre will clash. Graffiti writers are no different.

Biting, or copying another writer’s style, can arouse the ire, as does crossing out—when a lesser talent intentionally paints over the work of a respected writer. Of all the tensions within the graff community today, one of the most contentious is the issue of scratchiti.

Scratchiti is two pronged: scratching surfaces such as glass, plastic or metal with a sharp object, and etching glass with an acid bath. Due to stylistic limitations, scratchiti is not a primary creative outlet for most writers. Dedicated adherents of scratchiti use a carbide tipped tool called a scribe; otherwise, lava rocks will do. These lightweight, sharp-edged stones meant for use in gas barbecues and landscaping make perfect scratching instruments. Sandpaper, blades, pumice stone, keys, and even drill bits are employed as gouging tools, as well.

Scratching is one thing, acid baths, or etch baths, are an entirely different caustic kettle of fish. On account of its highly corrosive nature, acidic etching is hazardous. (A main ingredient is sulfuric acid.) Materials are expensive, too. Because of it proliferation (in 2012 the Oxford English dictionary’s online edition made scratchiti an official entry), many retailers now store etching kits behind the counter. Undeterred, some graff writers resort to theft and even alchemy in pursuit of their art. Using a mixture that includes boiled urine, Coca cola, battery acid, lemon juice, and ink, dedicated etchers brew up their own concoctions. (At right, a sign left on a bus shelter at Glenwood Crescent and O’Connor Drive. Photo by sniderscion from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.)

If executed properly, the results of an etch bath on glass can be striking, leaving a permanent, ghost-like image. When mishandled, the results can range from severe skin irritation to blindness.

Scratching, etching, and bombing his way into notoriety, the graffiti writer SPUD has carved out a permanent place in Toronto.

Most people can’t tell a Manr from Mizu, but a SPUD is pretty recognizable. The prolific, self-taught writer has left an indelible imprint on the city: between his arrest, his visceral dislike of the mayor, and his well attended exhibitions, he’s penetrated into mainstream awareness more than most writers ever do.

Traditional SPUD graffiti.

Creative in a number of media, SPUD isn’t a diehard scratchitist. He views the graffiti subgenre as, “Just…another means to get up.” This view isn’t roundly accepted within the graff community. “There are [many] who really do not agree with it. I guess it is just a matter of personal opinion. It’s a tool.”

Ironically, more than a few graffiti artists consider scratchiti vandalism. A profuse tagger in his own right, Tapr recently told Torontoist, “Maybe I’m just a little old school, but among my circle… [scratchiti] is looked down upon.”

Influenced by the works of H.R. Giger, SPUD got his start in traditional aerosol graffiti a little more than a decade ago. Soon he was scratching his graff name onto various glass surfaces. “I was always taking the bus everywhere and it just seemed like the thing to do.”

Preferring to leave the mad science to amateurs, SPUD safely mars glass surfaces using correct etch bath methods.

Arrowhead by SPUD.

Before Mayor Ford’s pledge to run graffiti out of town on a rail, SPUD’s scratchiti could be seen in many places. He had inscribed his name into bus shelters, public washroom mirrors, and transit vehicle windows. The ideal location for an ultimate etch? Without hesitation he replies, “Somewhere highly visible.”

And transparent, too? Best keep an eye on the Crystal, ROM.

Photos by SPUD.

UPDATE: JULY 17, 6:55 PM Since this article was published we have been advised that all charges against one of the three people who were arrested have been withdrawn, and that this incorporated no admission of any wrongdoing on his part.


  • Anonymous

    Same a-holes, different tools.

    That the painting a-holes are calling foul on the scratching a-holes is particularly hilarious.

    • Geoff Gilmour-Taylor

      To be fair, cleaning up graffiti on a wall can be done with a lick of paint. Cleaning up stuff scratched or etched into glass usually means replacing the glass. I think the former is more tolerable than the latter.

      • Anonymous

        Ahh, so the 2 dozen times I’ve had to paint graffiti off my garage door in the past 6 months is no big deal – I should actually be thankful that Spud the cowardly a-hole isn’t scratching his name on my front window. Whew. Thanks for that.

        • Geoff Gilmour-Taylor

          That’s not what I said.

          • Anonymous

            “with a lick of paint” would suggest that you think it’s a small job to remove painted graffiti. It’s not. It’s a giant pain in the ass. I shouldn’t have to tolerate paint on my belongings. Ever.

          • Geoff Gilmour-Taylor

            Sorry, I meant it’s less expensive.

          • John Don

            “… shouldn’t have to tolerate paint on *my* belongings. Ever.” But as long as wealth-apologists rule, spreading social dysfunction in their wake, you’re gonna have to.

          • Anonymous

            Hahaha. Really, that’s your lame explanation for why there’s vandalism? I’d take the higher road and call it a “misunderstood art form” before I tried to use academic terms to theorize why people like infamy. Wealth-apologists…my goodnes :s

  • Jason Kucherawy

    According to the graf in Rush Lane, SPUD’s a “toy”.

  • Guest

    For all this talk about exacting methods, the “artwork” in that first photo looks like a drippy mess drawn by a complete hack.

    Please stop writing about this guy.

  • Pantz

    Any tagger caught should have their tag tattooed on their forehead.

  • some guy

    good grief…. just because the guy gets up a lot doesn’t mean his ‘art’ is decent – because it’s not. The article says he’s “self-schooled”… maybe he should have taken a class or something?

  • Roy

    Not sure I like the slightly admiring and encouraging tone of the article.
    The glass-hole who etches bus shelters is likely to be a wannabe but Spud graffiti adds nothing to the city other than adding to the profits of Home Depot. Besides it seems that Spud is a team of three rather than an individual.

  • AR

    Jonathan Lupi, 24, Nathanial Rooyakkers, 29, and Shane Rumohr, 31 are the culprits according to the Toronto Star.

    Really 29 and 31? I mean 24 is still kinda young, but what are these ol’geezers’ excuse for this childish shit?

    I love Banksy and shit that actually has some sort of meaning but the fucking letters S P U D – gimme a fucking break. Just reminds me of a dog pissing on a fire hydrant – “HEY EVERYBODY I WAS LIKE HERE AND STUFF – LOOK AT ME”

    Get a fucking life.

    • Anonymous

      ^This, good sir. This.^

    • Marie

      Please be informed that Naming known vendal and claiming to have their legal Idenity exposes you to lawsuits …. Slendar is a crime in North America, do not claim to know if you can not back it up. Jonathan, Nathanial and Shane can legally sue you for slendar. If I were them I WOULD… FACTS for THOUGHT

    • Anonymous

      Since this article was published we have been advised that all charges against Mr. Rooyakkers have been withdrawn, and that this incorporated no admission of any wrongdoing on his part.

  • Anonymous

    The tag on the glass in the first picture is hella lame!

  • KLW

    Those nasty-ass shelters (in name only as they do not provide shelter from sun, rain, snow or road spray) cost $26,000 each?!? Can we wreck them all so they have to be replaced with something, IDK, functional?

  • Peter Jermyn

    Hey Ed, here’s a link to my former blog with more shots of SPUD’s work over the past few years and summer if any of your readers have interest:
    unfortunately much of this has since been painted over.

    • Plargo8

      If by “SPUD’s work”, you mean the garbage she painted on people’s stuff because she’s a selfish little child, then yes, that is “SPUD’s work”.

      • Anonymous

        Hey, chauvinist asshole: calling a guy a girl because you think it’s an insult to be a girl means you’re a chauvinist asshole, you chauvinist asshole.

  • Marie

    it is extremely unfortunate that Mr Brown , took upon himself to tell a story rather than write an article … we have the submitted question and answer that he sent to spud s team .. there are fact mentions .. like arrest ? false … Please be informed that spud s team will inforce and demand a right to answer a very mi informed article …