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The forest from the trees
April 2, 2014 10:54 AM   Subscribe

MeTat Filter: What suggestions do you have for a tattoo that evokes the woods? Perhaps the woods around Walden Pond? Details inside!

After years of vague tattoo impulses, I finally have a particular image that I want to carry with me as I leave New England for the Midwest. I'd love to get a tattoo that evokes that particular vibe of the woods around Walden Pond, especially in fall or winter. The visual aspects that strike me most include: the interlacing of trees as seen from the path; the way the pond peeks in the background; the railway! (I'm actually definitely going to get something train-related at some point, so it doesn't have to be this tattoo); the simplicity of colors (all black-white-darkbrowns in winter, and in the fall the reds, yellows, and blue of the pond popping through). Some things that already inspire me: 1, 2, 3

Though it's a little elusive, I like understated designs that communicate a vibe more than a symbol or literal representations, if that makes sense. Specifically, I'm interested in capturing that sense of being immersed in trees, their stillness and calmness, the branches interlacing. I also am not especially drawn to the mythos of Thoreau or transcendentalism, so no worries about that. Not sure if I'm committed to this style, but I feel like sumi-e paintings can capture this vibe quite well, as in this painting. (Possibly unrelated, but I love the hell out of Basquiat's paintings.)

In terms of pragmatics of the tattoo design, I'm looking to get it either on my left arm (forearm or bicep), on my upper chest somewhere near or along my clavicle, in the small of my back, or if it's a larger design along the left side of my torso. Smallish to midsize is what I'm going for, I'd say. I also really like the idea of solely black-and-white design or b&w plus a small accent of color. I have several mid-sized scars along my forearms which I am totally cool with/see as part of me, but I'm not sure how scars interact with with tattoo designs or what to expect there. Maybe the visual interactions between the scars and the tattoos could be built into the design? I also like the idea of a negative-space tattoo that involves a black circle with the tree branches as untattooed skin, but unsure if that would be effective/ change the vibe.

I would love any help getting closer to a design -- specific ideas, other photographs and paintings that can point me in the right direction, thoughts about tattoo techniques. Thank you!
posted by elephantsvanish to Media & Arts (13 answers total)
 
The smaller you want it the less detail it will be able to accommodate. A lot of your questions can be clarified in discussion with the tattoo artist as well, including the best way to create and place the design.
posted by rtha at 11:01 AM on April 2


Oh, and if you mean white ink when you say b&w, know that white ink can behave pretty differently from person to person, and does tend to fade much more quickly than other colors.
posted by rtha at 11:03 AM on April 2


I have a friend with a tattoo of a beautiful red leaf. Maybe a maple leaf? But not a stylized Canadian "Maple Leaf" symbol, a literal illustration of an actual autumn leaf.

I think all your memories and visual impressions that you want to evoke are way too complicated for one single tattoo. Get a simple thing that evokes that place for you, not a huge literal thing trying to encompass all that stuff.
posted by Sara C. at 11:03 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]


Just early clarifications: I definitely don't want to get something that literally contains everything that I mentioned, just trying to map evocative images/impressions for me. Also, by smallish/medium, I mean something in the neighborhood of 2"x4", give or take a bunch.

(Suggesting to focus on something simple helps, thanks)
posted by elephantsvanish at 11:09 AM on April 2


2"x4" is reallyreallyreally small for a tattoo of this scope which includes a lot of intricate detail like branches. The best idea would be to find a really good custom tattoo artist in your area and talk to them about it. They'll be able to incorporate your ideas into something that's workable as a tattoo design. Tumblr has a lot of great tree tattoos which might serve as inspiration (just don't steal someone's actual tattoo, though.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:16 AM on April 2 [2 favorites]


A search for "wilderness line art" turns up some really cool ideas. Something simple and small and self-contained, like this or this?
posted by jbickers at 11:20 AM on April 2


Yeah, the thing with tattoos is, they are images first and foremost. They can have symbolism, even really important symbolism, but try and fill them up with to much and you risk the image becoming crowded. I think what you want here is to find a tattoo artist whose portfolio you really like (someone from the area, maybe, who will get the New England vibe you're trying to evoke). Then, bring them your pictures and your ideas and see what they have to say. Make sure you specify how much you want to spend.

On refresh: What PhoB says. Also, I've never gone to him but Scott Padgett in Northampton does good work. And it would be hard to get her, but Elise Nazele does beautiful ink (scroll through her gallery to the Darwin one, the border of which is sort of what you want).
posted by theweasel at 11:24 AM on April 2


You can tattoo directly over scar tissue. It might hurt a little more, but not much, and it heals up just fine, albeit sometimes very slightly lighter in color/tone than the rest of the piece.

What about something like this done in black and grey, wrapped around your whole forearm or bicep so the trunks start and end near your wrist and elbow or elbow and shoulder, with bare skin showing through where there's white in the painting?

Your scars could be left interlaced between the tree trunks or fully integrated as branches, and watercolor-esque tattoos are definitely A Thing, so the finished piece might be able to hew pretty closely to the style of that particular painting.
posted by divined by radio at 11:26 AM on April 2


I also like the idea of a negative-space tattoo that involves a black circle with the tree branches as untattooed skin, but unsure if that would be effective/ change the vibe.

Prepare for this to become a blurry black circle as you age. I have a 20 year old tattoo of a celtic trinity knot that's about the size you want, and while you can still tell what it is, sorta, the spaces in between have really blurred together. I have not lost or gained any significant amount of weight in this time and it has not been exposed to the sun very much. I would strongly reconsider anything detailed in a small amount of space.
posted by desjardins at 11:28 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]


Here's a photo of the greywork tattoo on my left forearm. It's about 6 inches from wingtip to wingtip, and about 2 inches from bill to tail. It's several years old and in need of some touch-up love; I would not want to try to put more detail into something that size. For reference, draw a 2ish x 4ish shape on your arm or leg and try to envision all the things you want visible in that space! Make it bigger, or make it simpler.
posted by rtha at 12:10 PM on April 2 [1 favorite]


As for the size; most people, when they get their first tattoo, insist they want something small. One of the main things that makes tattoos look bad, cheesy, and what people wish they could change is that the tattoo is too small. While I cringe at the phrase "go big or go home" it is perfect for this situation.

You have to get the right combination of size and location. The size will be what looks appropriate in the spot you select, the spot you select should be able to contain and showcase the design. A landscape of trees would not look right on an arm to me, a stylized single leaf covering the whole back might not be the best choice either.

If you want it to look like a work of art then treat it that way, considering the canvas, and eliminate "I don’t want it to be too..." from the discussion. Every time you’re tempted to think that substitute the word "awesome" or "great".
posted by bongo_x at 12:42 PM on April 2 [2 favorites]


Some neat line art trees show up in the results for Tree of Life.
posted by workerant at 2:17 PM on April 2


When you say...

Though it's a little elusive, I like understated designs that communicate a vibe more than a symbol or literal representations, if that makes sense. Specifically, I'm interested in capturing that sense of being immersed in trees, their stillness and calmness, the branches interlacing.

...I totally get that, and something I think would be awesome along those lines would be the sun-dappling (especially in autumn) of branches and leaves casting shadow/light on the ground. Not sure how that could be effectively conveyed through tattoo, but maybe an interesting launching point!
posted by threeants at 2:59 PM on April 2


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