A couple months back I started on Kevin’s back, his wife has been kind enough to take pictures showing the progress. Most of the time I shoot pics when the piece is finished and it was neat to see the evolution of this thing so far. Its not done yet, but we are closing in on it. Each picture represents between 2 to 4 hours of tattooing each session.
Aside from the neat time-lapse quality of these pics, its also instructive to see just how long this kind of thing takes. In traditional Japanese horimono (traditional style tattoos) the client knows that they are signing up for months (if not years) of repeat visits right from the start. Its an interesting contrast to most American customers who ask “how much longer is this going to take?” by the third session. (For the record, Kevin is not one of those customers, he is extremely patient and appreciates that quality work is often slow going)
On to the pictures.
This is what Kevin came to me with already on his back. Its about 10 years old and looks pretty good for its age. This dragonfly looks huge, but as we put the rest of the stuff around it, it keeps looking smaller and smaller. . .
So we decided to do a sort of pond/waterfall scene to incorporate the dragonfly. I stencilled on the flowers and some of the waves, drew on a bunch of the rocks. Usually I prefer to just stencil on the flowers and draw all the rest on, but this was Kevin’s first tattoo with me and he wanted to see some of the background worked out more thoroughly ahead of time. Cant say that I blame him, so with a preliminary drawing and some markers we got the outline of the lower section on.
We put a couple lotuses (loti?) and a peony/chrysanthemum and a bunch of cherry blossoms. the Cherry blossoms will be important later since we will be doing clouds and wind above the dragonfly and filling that area with blowing cherry blossoms and petals.
For the next session we began shading in the water and rocks. In this picture it all looks like black shading, but the water is all various shades of grey. When i was learning to tattoo this was the toughest part for me, greywash, because you need to trust how much the wash fill fade into its appropriatete shade in a couple weeks.
In this next picture you can see that the greywash from the previous session has faded down while the solid black in te rocks stays pretty much the same. I figured Kevin was pretty tired of watching grey slowly take over his back so we put color into the peony. it might be hard to tell here but that flower is a good 8 or 9 inches across and took an hour to color in just by itself.
More color! This time we took care of the lotuses. Anyone who knows Japanese tattoos will recognise the color scheme and style cribbed from Shige at Yellow Blaze tattoo, I still put my own spin on it but I consider Shige a teacher and mentor (though he has never met me) and am unashamed to try to reach the level of perfection his work has achieved.
You can begin to see how the color pieces ‘float’ on top of the layers of black. In Japanese tattoos its often the color that makes people catch their breath, the wonder how do these guys get it so bright!? Frankly the background is the secret, without the proper proportions of black and contrasting negative space the brightest ink in the world would fall flat. There is a good reason those guys spend twice as long on the background as they do the “main” subject.
We finally get around to re-lining the dragonfly! though you cant see it too well in this picture, most of the time on this session was spent shading the water on Kevin’s lower left rib/love handle area. We are connecting this piece to a rib panel of a koi and water he got at another shop. We did manage to get the cherry blossoms and waves all finished (except the blossoms on the right side, I like to keep the tattooed area limited to one side if possible to make sleep easier while it heals )
This picture I shot to show Kevin what we were about to outline. This is how most of my Japanese style stuff gets put on, with markers. I don’t do this to show off, if possible i would much rather stencil my tattoos on instead of drawing them on the skin (I like to work out the details on paper so i don’t waste the customers time) but with the flow and balance so critical to horimono tattooing there really is no better way to lay it out than drawing it on. This way you can allow for the bumps and shapes that the persons body has that a paper stencil simply cant take into account. At this point I find it much harder to draw finger waves on paper than I do on skin. We finished this outline and about a third of the shading at the top but i don’t yet have pictures of that.
I think we will have this bad boy wrapped up in a couple more sessions. Thanks to Kevin for letting me do it and the pictures his wife shot for us! Ill post a finished pic when we get there.