Fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals. 

My friend Haram is wanting to learn how to tattoo. After learning a bit about the history of tattooing, she took quickly to studying the designs of the past.  It is important to understand what makes a tattoo solid and powerful.  

When our brains scan a new environment, our brain interprets shapes first.  Separating the stagnant from the unusual is how we are alerted to new and important land marks.  Think of hunter staring at the brush for hours until the slightest disruption occurs. 

The process of designing tattoos has two goals. First, drawing attention to itself with a strong profile, and then being organized internally in such a way that it wants to be investigated.  This “one-two” punch is what gives the tattoo design a pass/fail qualification.

Haram has been hard at work discecting the old ways to help her understand how a good design is born.

Here is her lastest blog. You can subscribe and follow her journey at Haram Tattoo.

My most recent assignment was to add color to my flash. The main idea I learned from this project is to create bold lines and block color confidently. This concept was quite foreign to me since I’ve always favored faint, almost stained-out colors over intense and bold look with my own work.

Most of my work look unfinished – letting the space fill in the story. I tend to lean more towards symbolism/concept and let aesthetic follow along which is supported by my technical background. Aesthetic only exists in my work to attract the viewers in. What really matters to me is how successful the concept is.

My Process 

List of equipment I used

-Heavyweight cardboard
-#4 brush
-Dip pen with B-5 nib
-Dr. Ph. Martin’s inks in Black, Red, Yellow, Blue, and Green.
-Two cups of clean water                                                                                                                           -Some melancholic music to get me in the mood

Lining with a dip pen definitely took a lot of practice but once I got the hang of it, it was super fun. It had just enough challenge that it required my utmost focus but not so difficult to the point that I would want to give up.

Through this process, I learned that using a dip pen is like tattooing in many respects as pressure and speed can have a huge effect on the weight and consistency of the line. Plus you have to dip it back into the ink over and over again which was strangely quite satisfying.

The drawback was that they took much longer to dry. Well, I kept forgetting and ended up leaning my hand on wet lines which then smudged onto other areas – to make it worse I’m already left-handed.

Once the lines were down, the next step was to add some shadows by doing the black ink first, shade everything out then move to the colors. Few color choices I had were Red, Blue, Yellow, and Green for a truly traditional tattoo style. I had two cups of water prepared – one used for fades while the other was for washing the brush.

To start, I wet the area I wanted to fade then painted a line of solid color where I wanted the fade to start. Next, instead of doing true spit shading, in order to save me from ingesting color inks, I cleaned out/wet the brush first then tapped it on my tongue to take off any excess just to make sure I had the right amount of water then used it to blend the color out.

After many frustrating attempts to figure out how much to press and how wet the brush should be, I realized I just needed to keep practicing and have patience since it was all instinct, experience and just knowing the ins and outs of my paper, inks, and brushes.

It’s a continuous effort and I’m aware that I still have so much room to improve. One thing that I need to keep in mind as I move forward is fill out a lot of areas solidly giving it some weight and leave a highlight along one edge with a small fade. It’s all quite obvious – bold lines and block colors make tattoos last and recognizable for years to come. I just have to forget my past dainty ways and retrain myself to paint with commitment and confidence.


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