Working With – Neil’s yellow rose.

Somewhat unexpectedly, I found myself doing my first proper tattoo yesterday: a yellow rose on an easy-going and cooperative chap called Neil. I wasn’t scheduled to work on a real, live subject at Fine Line Tattos until next week or the week after – but the opportunity suddenly came up this morning and I just couldn’t turn it down.

As artists, our practice constantly evolves. We are always finding new ways of working – whether expanding our repertoire of skills and applications in a single chosen medium, or extending skills and ideas into new media. Creativity knows few boundaries, and if we choose to do so, we can move from watercolour to installation, collage to pen-and-ink – all in pursuit of some particular idea or specific visualisation. Sometimes we move from the visual to other arts – poetry, performance, dance, music; again, all in pursuit of ideas and visualisations that have captured our imagination or our intellect.

I have worked in many media over the years, but none of them has really ever been quite the same as tattooing.

When we talk of painters working with their canvas, we are talking the application of brush to canvas and the response of the surface to the mark of the artist. When we talk of sculptors working with their wood or stone, we are talking about understanding the layers and grain of the material and how they respond to the working tools or blades.

But in tattooing, “working with” means literally that: a practice that takes place alongside and in cooperation with another person without whom the work cannot be completed – or, indeed, even begun. I’ve been working up until now on artificial skin – but that’s not tattooing: simply using a tattoo gun and tattoo inks is not tattooing. But sitting in a chair, working with another person’s living skin – that’s tattooing, and it makes it unlike any media I’ve ever worked in before.

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