Questions With . . Three Spike

We speak to the writer, designer and zine producer. It’s a rugged and raw look into an underground culture in the UK.  Please stop reading now if you are easily offended.

United Kingdom, 2023 © @threespike

Thanks for agreeing to do this article with us. We have been fans of your work for quite a while now. I did a little research on your Instagram today and noticed that we actually commented on your first Instagram post back in 2015. That is a great way to start things off, actually.  Your logos & graphic identity are very interesting. Do you have a professional background and history in graphic design, or is it more of an organic interest?

Yo SP, thanks for reaching out and getting me involved. Here’s one for the history books. I used to buy paint off of you in about 2005. Mail order over the phone!

Man, 2015 (when I started Threespike) seems like a lifetime ago too. I can just about remember the days when I was trying to figure out what I was trying to make. I knew I wanted to make a zine, but I didn’t know how I wanted it to look. I come from a graphic design-educated background, did the whole university thing, but I didn’t enjoy eventually working in the industry. I like all forms of creativity, and I try to use them for fun and to express myself and my thoughts. I’ve always got ideas in my head, all I’m short on is the time to make them a reality.

United Kingdom, 2023 © @threespike

In UK graffiti circles, I would guess that most people know what the name Three Spike is, right? However, here’s an explanation for those who do not know. It is a type of galvanised steel palisade security fence with three (often sharp) points on each upright. Can you explain where the name comes from & maybe some background on your choices for using that name. It’s a term that’s quite specific to the UK, right?

One day, I feel like I might make a zine documenting all the different types of security fences in the UK. But the Three Spike, that’s a special one. Infamous among writers. Older ones aren’t too bad, you can pop the bolt that holds them on. Climbing them isn’t easy, there isn’t much room for your feet or hands to get a grip, then there’s the spikes up the top. Those fuckers are sharp and rough. They’ll fuck you up. I know a few people who got ripped open by them.

So back when I was starting all this up, I was playing with images and trying to find a theme. I’ve always loved graff and the railways, I like how intensely graff exists there. I think I had seen the National Rail Design Manual. I like typography, so I somehow had the idea to merge the national rail and a three spike fence to create my logo. The rest is history.

United Kingdom, 2023 © @threespike

Apart from creating your graphic identity, you are also producing various limited run photo zines. There are quite a few issues out in the wild these days. Could you explain how these came to fruition & how you have chosen some of the subject matter?

I think the count is 13 zines now. Originally, it was just a zine that contained photography by a selection of people who get out and about in and around the UK railways. The images come in all forms, from general lurking to hardcore yard and tunnel missions. It started off with a group of people I know and spread among the network, which is the graff community.

I’m always on the lookout for photographers that catch my eye for future projects.

As time’s moved on, I’ve mixed in a few other features; nothing but Tags and the Steel series are slowly going up in issue numbers too. Those are a bit more literal, as the names might suggest.

United Kingdom, 2023 © @threespike

The Steel series focuses specifically on train graffiti.  This is quite an underground community in the U.K., right?  Any idea why that is, or why there is not so much graffiti regularly seen in traffic on the UK network? 

Graff on trains carries a very heavy penalty in this country. It’s not uncommon to see the inside of a prison cell for this shit. And that’s first-hand experience.

This risk makes people paranoid, and that leads to writers keeping their accomplishments fairly secret, although I see a bit too much getting posted online these days.

There are a lot of accounts; mine included that post about live runners, and I’m actually still blown away by how much graffiti gets painted on trains, and we aren’t even seeing all of it. It’s special to see it running nowadays. They pull them pretty quick. The train companies don’t like to show that they can’t control their stock or yards. Every now and then they let them run for longer, but that’s usually a fluke. There was a train a couple years ago that kept getting added to. I’ve got flicks of it from different days, with more pieces each time. It was madness.

United Kingdom, 2023 © @threespike

We noticed that quite a few of the older style train models with character have disappeared in the past few years.  Only to be replaced by a lot of very similar modern types.  Is there anything you miss that is gone now, or do you have any views on the more modern train types? 

I could get all nostalgic about slam doors or caketins, but if I’m honest, I don’t really get emotional about old models going and new ones coming out. It’s going to happen.

Bits I did from my era will always make for fond memories, but there’s some cool looking trains out now that look very nice with graff on them. London Overground’s got my eye lately.

I find it interesting which trains people gravitate to. South Eastern high speeds don’t seem to get much action.

United Kingdom, 2023 © @threespike

Do you have any preferred paint types or tools that you really enjoy the feeling of using?  It’s always nice to hear what factors contribute to a good creative experience.

Burner Chrome gives me tingles. The smell and how it goes down with a pink dot. That gets me going. I’ve used A LOT of those in my time.

The original Spanish MTN with a rusto cap conjures up memories of a nice shiny finish on steel. Not great in deep winter with frozen fingers, though.

There’s so much equipment out for graff now. We are spoiled for choice.

United Kingdom, 2023 © @threespike

That’s a very true downside to old Spanish MTN in the cold.  However, that has changed now with the new formula, which dries much faster.  The only downside that we can see now, it’s not as glossy as it used to be.  Original MTN Hardcore black used to reflect like a mirror when painting on the right surface in low light. Are there any new paints or products that you see as a move forward instead of losing something that was great?

Yeah, man, the new one is greatly improved. I can’t lie, I haven’t had a huge amount of experience with it, I got some early on when I was in Barcelona some years back. You can’t beat that kinda paint when you’ve got a nice smooth wall or other surface… It’s crisp and glossy. One thing I do miss is the rattle. Them old ones had this really specific kinda rattle to them. I can hear it now against the hiss of a compressor and the whirring of motors.

New stuff, there’s so much good paint now that I think it’s hard to buy shit. There’s something for everyone, high pressure, gloss, matte, skinny lines, and ultra wides.

For me, the fast drying paint and high coverage now is amazing. I like all that. In this game, time is of the essence.

United Kingdom, 2023 © @threespike

Your most recent project with Sake DLC is a real homage to 35mm film photography, which is great to see in the digital age. Film really has some special qualities that digital loses.  How do you find working with the constraints of film in the current climate?  Its quite an expensive game these days, right? Also, it is not as easy to work with as it used to be, with many developing & printing services closing down.  It would be great to hear your current experiences of this medium.

I love film photography. I get a bit romantic with it, I think. The grain, the colour, the depth. It’s just missing in digital. It’s like it’s cold, soulless. Me and Sake both shoot a lot of film. It made sense to make that a feature of our zine.

I try not to put too much pressure on the way I shoot film. I just have fun with it. The conditions I shoot in aren’t perfect. So I adjust my expectations to that. It’s not to say I don’t care or I shoot any old sh*t. There isn’t always time or space to set up for the perfect shot. Sometimes you just have to snap and run, literally. It just makes the shots that come out that bit more special.

United Kingdom, 2023 © @threespike

Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, it’s a great insight, and we really appreciate that. To finish things off, let’s swap roles on this.  Do you have any questions for us?  Something you would like to know about what our business does, or a product inquiry, for example? 

You’re welcome. I’m grateful for the opportunity. Suspect Package has been there all the while I’ve been in this game, so there’s a lot of mutual respect here. I’m excited to see what the remodel brings. I wish you the best of luck.

Maybe just a question about where you see the future of spray paint going? What’s in store? How will paint change? Will it adapt as we learn more about the environment and human impact?

For the future, unfortunately, we would predict that solvent based paints could be phased out. Whether that is quicker through legislation or slower through changing consumer behaviours, those are  the factors.  However, great improvements in water based paint technology have made some real changes in the past years.  The greater coverage of these paints & faster drying times are definite plus points to think of.  Another side effect of this technology upgrade means there can be no odour in the spray also.  That small change opens up lots of new opportunities that may not have been possible before.

United Kingdom, 2023 © @threespike

Find out some more about Three Spike with these links :-