Rookie tattoo advice/design
April 19, 2019 6:51 AM   Subscribe

Contemplating taking the plunge and decorating my virgin skin. Specifics about what may be wise/doable inside. Involves detail and musical notation.

I'm 48, a blank canvas and about as Caucasian as they come. In Toronto area. A tattoo has always held some appeal but not a burning one.

The concept I am considering is essentially a particular clip of sheet music. 3 bars to be precise. obviously it would require dome "design". The music has meaning to me (the title is also the name of my beloved mutt)

I had an idea that pleases me - take the "strip" of music and turn it into a Möbius strip (wiki)

I did some rudimentary arts and crafts and came up with this. Walked into a well-rated (I don't have any personal endorsements) shop and had a quick chat with a guy. Upon seeing the actual music he was a bit leery due to fine parallel lines etc. He actually felt my idea of a 2-D representation of the Mobius strip would be easier. He wasn't totally confident in reproducing the image in perfect musical notation but stressed he could at least capture the "idea" of it.

I would be willing to increase scale such that tat would be maybe 5x3". Let's say on shoulder blade to ensure smooth canvas.

For music readers - can you identify the song in pic? It is a well-known "rock" classic. The first seven notes should be a giveaway. To reinforce the "infinite" concept, should I add a coda before it "resolves" back to start?

I want the end result to be such that someone who can read music and play guitar could look at it, play the intro notes and identify it. It would be a mystery to non-music readers (conversation piece)

For tat affficiondos, do you think it could be reliably reproduced? I have heard the stories of people getting, say, Chinese lettering but one wrong squiggle changes the entire meaning.

Any ideas to further "art" it up a bit without getting too ornate? I have considered possibly working in image of dawg but don't see a non-cheesy/sentimental way to do it.
Fading/retouching may be tricky but I'm probably ancient enough for it to hold up for a decade or two (not five)?

I have an appointment on Monday to see what he can come up with, on paper at least.

If your answer is "stupid idea, don't do it" that is an acceptable answer but specific reason would be welcome of course.
posted by raider to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Don’t hesitate to talk to multiple artists. Look around on Instagram for someone who has a facility with the kind of line work you want.
posted by matildaben at 7:16 AM on April 19 [2 favorites]

i think it's a fine idea but you might want to get some other opinions. the artist being leery of "fine lines" is a little concerning. a good artist shouldn't have any trouble. you'd want it a bit larger so that as it ages it would still be legible, but otherwise shouldn't be any trouble.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 7:24 AM on April 19 [3 favorites]

If its really important to you that the music be rendered legibly within the design, i think you should look for a tattoo artist who is also a musician - like not a professional necessarily but at least enough knowledge that they have a familiarity with reading music?

agreeing that you dont want this done by an artist afraid of fine or parallel lines, although it is very possible that the artist was saying that the size/placement you were talking about would make it hard to make the lines look parallel - putting straight lines on curved body parts can be a little tricky. It is also pretty common for first time tattoo getters to have relatively unrealistic expectations regarding size - small tattoos are perfectly fine but ive known plenty of people who thought they were going to cram a ton of ornate detail into an inch or two square which isnt usually recommendable.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 7:29 AM on April 19 [2 favorites]

I like the idea a great deal, but if the artist is hesitating, I would look for another artist who may specialise in detailed line work. Ask friends who have tattoos you like who they worked with. Shop the idea around and do NOT settle.
posted by terrapin at 7:35 AM on April 19 [4 favorites]

It sounds like you plan to have the artist sketch out an idea of what he can reasonably accomplish, which is great. Even if you like it, maybe take the sketch on paper and sit and think about it for a few weeks.

As for doing it at all vs. not doing it, I wouldn’t get that large of a tattoo without a burning desire to have one. I’ve never had a tattoo but always though I might like to have one—it’s just that I never had an overwhelming desire to have one particular thing tattooed on me. But it’s not clear to me how much time (months versus years) you’ve been settled on this idea, or the relative importance to you of “I never want to change my mind about this.”
posted by sallybrown at 7:41 AM on April 19

For tat affficiondos, do you think it could be reliably reproduced? I have heard the stories of people getting, say, Chinese lettering but one wrong squiggle changes the entire meaning.

I have a piece that was drawn up by a friend who is an engraver, and the artist faithfully recreated her work (and it's awesome! The engraver did the outline, my artist did the colors, it rocks); it looks just like her drawing (and as much like an engraving as something drawn on my skin can). You should be able to find someone who can do this for you (though trust this guy when he says that it's not in his lane).
posted by joycehealy at 7:48 AM on April 19

To clarify (then I will shut up)

Yes my intention is on Monday to go in and work on design with him. Even if I love it I have no intention of walking out inked without a period of reflection. I assume that will cost and that's fine.

Advice well-taken about finding the right guy. Question - is the design then "mine" (even a copy?) or is it his/theirs until I commit to ink? I assume it is/would be bad form to shop his design to other artists.
posted by raider at 7:52 AM on April 19

Portfolio is Kyle here.
posted by raider at 8:00 AM on April 19

I have three tattoos.

It is bad form to shop an artist's design to another tattooer. You could ask if it's ok to pay them for the design and if it's ok to shop it around, but it's essentially their intellectual property.

I've gotten all of my artists after finding a clean shop and then looking at portfolios. One of them left the shop before I booked with them, and I followed them to their new shop. Artist matters - you want someone who is CONFIDENT with your idea and excited about it. Fine lines is not a problem - location and size might be. Listen to your artist's recommendations, but don't feel pressured to make immediate decisions. Ask if you can book a "consultation" with multiple artists before you commit.

Also - my tattoos were all instantaneous "YES THIS NEEDS TO BE ON MY BODY FOREVER" moments. I occasionally want more, but no new idea has sparked that same enthusiasm. It's ok to wait and ponder and think some more.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 8:20 AM on April 19

I would definitely go to an artist who specializes in linework/fine line tattoos. A preliminary Google search suggests that there are several artists at this tattoo shop that specialize in that style. If this guy you have an appointment with has said he isn't comfortable doing the tattoo, you should cancel the design appt with him.
posted by coppermoss at 8:34 AM on April 19 [1 favorite]

I would not bother spending more time with that particular artist. Based on his portfolio he's got a very consistent style that isn't at all suited to the design you have in mind.
posted by ook at 9:34 AM on April 19 [4 favorites]

After looking at the portfolio I agree with ook. This artist's style is not suited to your design.

If you have your original sketch you can shop that to other artists and work on final art with them. If you work with this person on a sketch then you should not shop that design without asking and/or compensating them.

Like Ms Vegetable, the 2 tattoos I have now had to be done. I loved them so. My first, a heart with my wife's name was tattooed on me (and she has a matching one) the day after our wedding. No doubts, no regrets.

My second tattoo I delayed only because I was having a hard time conveying my idea to an artist. Once I did, I jumped. And now I am working with him on another design. However, my wife is looking for another artist for hers because she wants a tattoo that doesn't really fit this person's style.
posted by terrapin at 10:28 AM on April 19 [1 favorite]

If your answer is "stupid idea, don't do it" that is an acceptable answer but specific reason would be welcome of course.
I wouldn't say stupid. Just be aware that as a "conversation starter," Clapton is a turn-off for many. (P.S. gorgeous dog!)
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:27 AM on April 19 [1 favorite]

I agree that you should not work with the artist you linked to - his specialty/area of comfort is clearly american traditional tattooing, which is not the style you're looking for. Tattoo artists (like regular artists) tend to have a particular style that they work in and you're best served by going to someone whose style aligns with what you want.

The key words you should be googling when looking for a good artist for this piece are "blackwork" and "fine line." In googling myself for artists who do this kind of work in Toronto, this shop Ink & Water came up. They appear to have several talented artists whose style and strengths are more in line with what you're looking for. I didn't look through all of the portfolios so there may be others there who would be a good fit.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 11:48 AM on April 19 [3 favorites]

Looking at the portfolio, I agree that this artist isn’t what you want. I looked at some of the artist’s portfolios at the Ink & Water link, and I also thought Mr Koo or Ashley looked like good fits, before I looked at which ones wuzandfuzz linked to. I think you should check them out!
posted by Weeping_angel at 1:07 PM on April 19

I found the music hard to read as the staff lines aren't an even distance apart and everything is kind of pixelated, so it's not always easy to tell what note is intended; and with no tempo indication, it's tough to think it at the right speed for recognition.

You would want an artist who reads/writes this type of musical notation, because someone who doesn't won't know what needs to be done to take it from "rudimentary" to looking like a piece of music. You don't want to have to explain (for example) that bar lines should be solid. Alternatively (or additionally), you could render it with something like Lilypond, which is all about making your music look great.

Also, because your first bar is that beat-and-a-half pickup, when you start again (as visible towards the top of your pic) it stutters and jolts, losing the sense of an infinite cycle that I think you're going for. You might do better with repeating the first 2 full bars, since the second includes that pickup. That doesn't fully solve your problem when you get back to the beginning with the clef and all, but potentially you could cut the previous bar short to give each bar the right length, or perhaps you already have another solution in mind.
posted by inexorably_forward at 5:26 AM on April 20

I have nine musically correct measures of the Fantaisie-Impromptu tattooed on my back. Shop around!
posted by sevensnowflakes at 10:00 AM on April 20

Mr. Wuzandfuzz (my wife answered above). I agree, look into a blackwork specialist.

Here are some cool artists that do blackwork that I personally like, if it helps give you an idea of what the style can look like!
posted by wuzandfuzz at 12:57 PM on April 20

Thank you all for some excellent advice. I have cancelled my original appointment. The work shown at Ink & Water as suggested is, well, night and day.

Iris and I_F, thank you for the content-related feedback. The answer is indeed "Layla" by Clapton. I knew of some old rumblings that weren't quite politically correct but that link was a shocker. Is Clapton really in the same realm of repute as say R Kelly?

And I haven't come up with a solution to the half-bar lead-in. Nice catch. But Lilypond looks extremely cool and I look forward to playing with it.

Will update if/when anything develops. Thanks again. Happy Easter.
posted by raider at 8:17 AM on April 21

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