The places (or drawings) that scare us

All of us who do art for a living have things we like to draw, things we feel confident in rendering right out of our stock of images we carry around in our noggins. I have drawn so many Koi, dragons, and waves that I often draw these things directly on the customers with markers and go right to tattooing. It’s not that im so wonderful, it’s that  I have practiced drawing these things to the point where my hand knows what to do without me sweating too much about it.

Then there is the other stuff.. . . . the stuff we don’t draw as much. Maybe its the more complicated stuff, or the things with less wiggle room for interpretation, maybe its just the things we are not often called upon to draw. They are scary and I never ever, ever draw these things right onto a customer. These designs that scare me require time, reference, and many, many attempts before I have something i can deem acceptable to go on a clients skin.

When I began getting artwork together for the current set of flash I am painting I knew I wanted to work with Japanese tattoo images and I happened to have a halfway decent tiger drawing ready (I usually have some difficulty drawing a tiger I like for some reason), as I began to lay the tiger out on watercolor paper a though struck me, why not make all of the images in this set things that I’m afraid to draw? It would certainly force me to practice with these images and it would also be a way to push myself a little bit.  I have a hard time drawing Ukioyo style figures, I have a hard time drawing  birds that don’t look stiff and awkward and like I said, I have trouble drawing tigers that don’t look like they are missing a few chromosomes.

Heres what I came up with (sorry for the watermarks, flash bootlegging is out of control these days)

Kintaro wrestling the koi. Usually when I draw this it comes out like Kintaro is trying to get a fish pregnant, but I think I got the struggle aspect working here. At first the fish was just black and grey but he looked faint among all the waves and with Kintaro being all bright red i had to do a little wash of carpy green.

Kiyohime entwining her ex-lovers bell hiding place. His monk robe can just be seen poking out from under the bell. This is one of those Japanese tattoos where knowing the story and history adds so much. her kimono is printed with the traditional “Scale” pattern and is meant to imply the snake that she has turned into. When Geisha (or any woman in Ukiyo art I suppose) are shown with a pink flush around their eyes it symbolizes sexual passion, Kiyohimes desire for her little monk was so strong it immolated both of them.

so here we have Wada Heida Tanenaga slaying a giant snake. He is famous for slaying a giant snake and being a loyal retainer. I love drawing snakes but hate drawing figures and to try to get the effect of the Kuniyoshi/manga style bodies was even harder for me. I like the feet, feet are hard to draw!

A barn swallow in flight with some peony blossoms. The trick for me here was just to draw a bird that didn’t look stiff OR like a traditional sailor swallow. how did I do?

So last is the tiger I started the set with. He’s in a very traditional pose, chest out and “roaring at the moon”. Apparently tigers are so bad ass that one even roared at the moon when it rose to show his dominance over it. i wanted to keep this one super simple and bold.

That is my latest set of flash and it was fun after the nearly  year-long hiatus from painting. I am selling copies of these as a flash set for $60 (email me at to order one). I might even do another set of traditionalish stuff this year as long as it remains fun to do.

Categories: Tattoo stuff | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “The places (or drawings) that scare us

  1. Amazing artwork, Jason! Reminds me of some of the Tibetan Tantric Thankas I’ve seen in books….kida scary, but interesting nonetheless!

  2. Jason

    Awesome work. Love the traditional tiger. How big of an area do you think would be appropriate to translate into a tattoo? Would a.chest panel be big enough?

    • A half sleeve would be fine, it might look awkward in a chest. For tigers I feel like having their head/upper body aiming downward looks better on a chest.

      P.s. I draw much better tigers these days….

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