Probably the best advice I ever recieved from an art critique was when a guy reviewing my portfolio flipped through my rather mediocre work and said “Look, you need to quit trying to make masterpieces. Just make a drawing” it struck me then as right on and now, 19 years later it still strikes me as some pretty sage advice. Im an artist by trade and that, for better or worse, entails some ego issues. I have my doubts that any artist doesnt do what they do, at least a little bit, for the boost it can give our ego.
Naturally we want to make that next piece the biggest and best, we want people to see what we have done and be blown away, unfortuneately when you try to build a masterpiece its usually pretty obvious that your motivation was not in the right place. When it comes to tattooing its extra hard to be careful and restrained, after all your main audience is less than a foot away from you and is looking to you to create a concrete image out of what is, usually, not much more than a concept in their mind. When successful the results are incredibly gratifying! There really isnt anything as satisfying as that first look in the mirror once everything is done and the customer goes “Oh my god! its so much better than I thought it would be!”
the trick is not getting so caught up in the emotion that you forget to take care of the nuts and bolts of a good tattoo. Clean lines, strong contrast, and solid fill are the boring parts of tattooing but they are absolutely the foundation to an effective tattoo. You can have 50 multi-colored highlights and a truckload of detail, but without the fundamentals it will still end up looking like ass. On the old Read Street tattoo forum we would post our work for critique and when one of these colored-highlight, no outline, painterly ‘masterpieces’ would be posted the first or second comment was usually “too much icing, not enough cake.”
The icing is the fun stuff, the white outlines, the amazing color palette we have these days they can really distract from the essential underpinning. Those roman ruins stood for millenia because they had strong foundations not because their pretty (but useless) filigree adorning the nuts and bolts structural backbone.
Ive seen a number of tattoo trends come and go and one has to be careful not to turn into the old curmudgeon who thinks anything he hasnt, cant, or wont do is bullshit. Still the recent trend of color photorealism scares me a bit, not technically, ive done enough of these kinds of pieces to know I could bust them out just fine, but because they really do require an artist to ignore some fundamentals.
When i do photo realistiky stuff the customers love it, but i really shy away from it. id much rather do something like this:
which might be called “cartoony”, frankly they are a lot more fun to do than simply reproducing some magazine picture, and I remain convinced that they will hold up far longer.