Tag Archive: tattooing


Working With

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.

Second Tattoo

Japanese-style peony – my second tattoo.

Just finished my second-ever tattoo at Fine Line in Oswestry. Still on artificial skin – can’t get working on real people until I go through all the health and safety checks, and fill out all the proper paperwork, etc. Still, having great fun getting to grips with this completely new medium. It’s not often I think we get the chance to immerse ourselves not only in a completely new medium, but in a completely new kind of art practice. It’s not just that tattooing is a different medium to painting or pen-and-ink – the whole business of it, the method and studio practice, and the relationship with ones audience/clients is completely different as well. Talking at the last notebook meeting, I think the closest it may come to is portraiture – a unique and intimate partnership between subject and artist.

Next week I won’t be tattooing, but will be back in school, as it were. I’ll be sitting in on a session, watching Rena tattoo – but instead of sitting there sketching, I’ll be taking notes on her technique, and she’ll be talking me through what she’s doing and why. Now that I understand something of the language of the different needles one uses, the different types of grey shading and the different colours of ink, I can begin to really appreciate the technique behind the art. I won’t be seeing the tattoo studio as a place to do life-drawing – but a place to learn something completely new. And it’s not just me who’s learning new things. Today I showed Stuart a few graphic tricks for aligning things like stars for a tattoo stencil. Some of my skills as an artist and an illustrator absolutely transfer over into the tattoo studio, opening up new design possibilities for them.

Anyway, to coin a phrase, I’m having a blast. Anyone interested in reading about today in more detail should hop over to my own blog. I know I forgot to bring my artificial skins to the last notebook meeting, but I promise I’ll bring them all next month for you to have a look at.

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