Tattoo Cluelessness
July 21, 2008 1:36 PM   Subscribe

A friend of mine has hired someone to draw her next tattoo, and she is wondering about the best delivery format.

"Do any of you have experience with taking a piece of art and getting it translated onto your body? i.e., should I be asking her to draw it on graph paper or something to make it easier for the tattoo person? My last tat was so simple and easy that it didn't require much, but this one is going to be relatively elaborate."
posted by mkb to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
i don't think graph paper is necessary. but you want to bring a GOOD QUALITY print out to your artist, not some pixilated or blurry thing. that's all i've ever done. 20ish tattoos and counting...
posted by misanthropicsarah at 1:43 PM on July 21, 2008

oh, also, you should realize that things that turn out well on paper don't always translate well to the body. things like very fine, close together lines aren't going to do well on your body because eventually they may bleed together. i've had this happen and it's lame.

also, some artists will be able to stay truer to the original piece of art, while others may not be able to. so, be sure you go to a good artist.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 1:49 PM on July 21, 2008

have her do one that is the full color (if it is in color) and one that is just the black outline. the tattoo artist will copy the black line drawing to be transfered to her skin and can use the color version for reference when filling in.
posted by violetk at 1:55 PM on July 21, 2008

honestly, why isn't she taking the piece to the tattoo artist she wants to do the work to have them draw it up for her? it's common practice for artists to draw work for their clients. additionally, the artist will be able to talk with your friend about what s/he is and is not capable of, and what will work out differently in the tattoo than in the concept.

there are a lot of really talented artists out there. find the right one to work with, and take the idea there and run with it. i've got picasso on my body. it took me a really long time to find the right person to do it, and it's not exactly the same as the painting, but it's precisely what i wanted and only the artist could tell me what would and wouldn't work.
posted by plaingurl at 2:09 PM on July 21, 2008

I've got a large lemur in kilt doing a highland dance tattooed on me, goes from between my shoulder blades to my lower back, no colour & pretty fine detail. Got a friend to draw it, she sent me a pdf of the image, high-resolution. I emailed that file to my tattooist, they printed it out and inked me up.

2nding violetk's suggestion if you have colour, no need for the full-colourized one for your body.

@plaingurl - it's reasonable not to go to the tattoo artist, if she knows & likes the style of the person who's drawing for her already.
posted by Lemurrhea at 2:30 PM on July 21, 2008

i think the biggest factors are a) ensure your piece of art is a good representation to begin with and b) find an artist you trust to turn that into a good tattoo. some artists are better than others at this sort of thing, and should be able to show you some portfolio pieces of art they've translated onto a body. a good artist will suggest ways to clean it up or alter it ever-so-slightly to make it a better tattoo.

but yeah, find a talented artist, and they'll work with you to do whatever's needed to turn your artwork into a great tattoo that both you and they are proud of.
posted by wayward vagabond at 3:05 PM on July 21, 2008

@lemurrhea-- i understand, but i would argue that if you want the tattoo to be as good as it can be, you ought to find a tattoo artist with the style that you're looking for. i think that things tend to turn out better if the style of your artist matches the work rather than if they're simply copying something. for example, i wouldn't go to somebody who specializes and loves to do old school sailor jerry pieces for a koi sleeve. not only will they be better skilled in that style, but i think that work is always better if the artist is going to genuinely enjoy doing the piece.
posted by plaingurl at 3:17 PM on July 21, 2008

When I took in a picture of what I wanted the tattoo artist to reproduce, I figured he'd use it as an approximation and that the end result would differ a bit. Instead, he put the picture I gave him in a copy machine and printed it to some kind of ink transfer paper. He applied that to my shoulder and it left a temporary outline which he then traced. My tat ended up being an almost exact reproduction of the original image.
posted by krippledkonscious at 4:52 PM on July 21, 2008

i'm the friend in question... constantly misplacing my mefi pw but i found it again.

i'm actually not aware of any tattoo artists who work in a similar style. to give you an idea, here's the artist whose work i admire:

although i've seen portfolios of tattoo artists i thought were talented, none struck me as remotely similar. i haven't really seen anyone who has a tattoo in a similar style either come to think of it. i'm not expecting to find one whose own work resembles the artist... i'm hoping for something more like what krippledkonscious described. that'd be absolutely ideal, so if it's common practice and shouldn't be an issue i am glad to hear it =)
posted by groovinkim at 5:28 PM on July 21, 2008

I used to work at a busy tattoo shop as the receptionist, so I lived and breathed these questions for a while.

The direct copy-and-stencil technique that krippledkonscious describes is common for relatively simple designs that are already tattoo-able. As misanthropicsarah and wayward vagabond state, a lot of art doesn't translate well to skin. Sometimes a tattoo artist will be able to redraw an image to better fit the constraints of the form, but it's usually better, as plaingurl says, to just originate the idea with someone who already knows what can and can't be done.

For instance, these two pieces, though gorgeous, are not tattoo-able as they're shown.

The first piece would have to be at least twelve inches in length to allow room for the detailing in the hat and shirt. The white space, at the end of the sleeves and in the knife handle, needs room to age well. The pigment in tattoos ages in your body by spreading out, and lines reach toward other lines to kill the white space between.

Additionally, very few tattoo artists feel comfortable tattooing without black outlines. Traditional wisdom, which drives this apprenticeship-based field, say that black outlines are required for pieces to retain their structural integrity as they age. This particular illustration depends on the contrast of different shades and textures of green, and those effects are very difficult to pull off underneath pink-toned or tanned skin. Additionally, circles and straight parallel lines, like in that neckline, are the hardest designs to tattoo on the curvy, crazy human body.

You'd be hard-pressed to find an artist willing to take so many chances on a tattoo. On the other hand, this sketch could be cleaned up to work well. The artist could add a bit more space around the parallel lines, take out some detailing around the mouths, and then be good to go.

Luckily, Seattle has a wealth of extremely talented tattooists. I'd recommend approaching a few of them with ideas of your design and get some feedback on what may or may not be possible.

Much luck—I'd love to hear how it goes.
posted by kwaller at 8:12 AM on July 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

thank you so much everyone... that was *very* helpful!
posted by groovinkim at 9:46 AM on July 23, 2008

just on the offchance that anyone who gave me their useful feedback ever returns to this thread... i ended up going with erika at slave to the needle here in seattle. she did a fantastic job with the original design and it didn't have any changes made.

here's a (bad) picture of it taken by someone while i was dancing at a club:

posted by groovinkim at 5:27 PM on February 4, 2009

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