One of the more interesting things about being in tattooing for some time is that you become aware of patterns in your tattoo life. These aren’t like the regular patterns like every friday is garbage day or every November 14th is my anniversary, rather these are like the patterns of the wind blowing through a field of grass or the ripples of rain on a pond, somewhere there seems to be some set of rules that all those blades of grass or ripples follow but there is no way to figure it our with logic. In the same way we might find ourselves doing 4 owl tattoos in a month and then none for a year after that, or one piece after another with a lot of orange or pink or whatever in the color-scheme. I usually do quite a bit of Japanese type work and have a bunch of pieces out there in various stages of completion, but of late my tattooing has been full of more traditional Americana and European, nouveau-esque stuff. While I didn’t decide on what I would be doing a lot of this month I am really pleased for the small change of pace if for no other reason than its nice to finish some pieces in one sitting!
I did a painting of this cobra lady a few months back and its been my business card image ever since. The original of the painting is hanging in the shop and a customer who was getting another piece saw it on his way out, liked it and asked if he could get it. Hell yes he could get it! The whole she-bang took less than 2 hours and I was really happy with how it read as a tattoo. Years ago when i worked at Eye Candy, Brian and I would fill the slow days by painting watercolors pieces, once we posted a few of these online we noticed that people would come in requesting the paintings as a tattoo. This begat a wonderful cycle of us pushing ourselves to paint more and better work while simultaneously generating some much-needed business. I didn’t know it at the time, but this also led to me becoming a better artist with the hours of “practice” we were putting in doing flash and paintings. When Cara began working full-time at the shop and wondered if she would get to do the sort of work she likes to do I stroked my long white beard and said wisely, “Just do a painting of the things you want to tattoo and you will do them.” It still works like magic. . .
This customer had an appointment for some time before iI could get her in, but it wasnt until a couple of days before her tattoo that i really got the idea to add the semi nouveau aspect to it. I just don’t do straight wildlife portraiture very well so i always look for the graphic angle to anything I do. Additionally I knew the design was to be only about 1/5th of her back and I didn’t want something with an outline border or hard straight edges to impose on her shoulder. I figured the softer edge of a color border and the skin tone negative space running through and out of the frame would ease the “sticker” look of a (relatively) small tattoo on the space. I am a strong proponent of the “needs more black” school of tattooing but this was a calculated move, Egrets are white and in order to give that effect i needed a solid background right against the bird but I didn’t want to lose the feminine angle with strong blacks.
So this skinny little thing posed an interesting challenge. The client had seen a tattoo in one of our waiting room books by Eli Quinters, it was a skeleton lady in Victorian garb with an umbrella. It was a pretty specific set of things that she liked about the tattoo so the thing would be to do a tattoo which incorporated all that and kept the spirit of Mr.Quinters excellent tattoo without making a copy of it. Step one was to put the book with the original tattoo away and not look at it again, images tend to work on my brain via osmosis so even having it open i believe would have limited my piece to what Eli had already done. Then I looked up several Victorian references for dresses and hair and hats, I picked about 3 dresses that had bits I liked and drew a combination of them, not only did i not want to copy the other tattoo but I didn’t want to just trace a picture of a Victorian lady and slap a skull on the existing face, I think that felt too much like laziness or cheating to me. The other challenge was traditional, typically anything with a face (a portrait, an eagle, a dragon etc.) is tattooed facing “forward” or toward the customers center front. It’s a good rule of thumb as having a pretty lady looking behind you on your arm just seems awkward and wrecks the flow, in this case 90% o the Victorian skeleton was to face backward but her gaze would be forward. I always wonder in these cases do i turn the body toward the front or the face, usually the face wins and so it did here.
Ok obviously this kapala wasn’t done in one session, but I did finish it this month and am super excited with how it came out. One of the many lessons I have learned by studying Shige (of Yellow Blaze Tattoo ) is to not be afraid to do elements of a tattoo very large if it compliments the body part, this skull is about 2 and a half feet high but is part of a back piece and fits the body really well. there is a correspondingly large Buddha head on the other side of his ribs and when its finished will connect to a tattoo that goes from the client’s neck to the backs of his thighs, in this situation anything smaller would, I believe, be a waste of space and impact. It was interesting how quickly this piece got done considering its size and detail, I guess you could compare it to building a grandfather clock instead of a wristwatch, the smaller scale would actually have slowed things down as we stopped and readjusted to get all that detail into something half the size.
So that’s what I have been up to, we just returned from a tattoo convention in Toronto which was super fun and as soon as I organize those pictures I might have something to show from that.