Posts Tagged With: tattoo

7 things to know before your first tattoo

Every time I see one of those links to some article about “how not to piss off your tattoo artist” or “10 things you need to know to not be an asshole at the tattoo shop” it gets on my fucking nerves. Yes, ive had annoying customers and yes some folks act like the tattoo shop is a place to show how tough, wacky, or horny you are, but for the most part people behave themselves properly and when they do commit some “faux pas” it is usually out of ignorance, not malice. There are a lot of tattooers out there who act like cry babies when some customer acts in a way the tattoo “artiste” doesnt expect, and while some things are common sense behaviors for any place, not just a tattoo shop (dont show up drunk, do show up showered, etc), tattoo shops often have some special customs and rules that someone may not know if they are new to the world of tattooing.

It is in the spirit of assuming that “people will do the right thing if they know what it is” that I present this list of things that will make your visit to the tattoo shop more pleasant and will no doubt fill the heart of your crabby artist with joy if you come in already armed with this knowledge.

1) Wear a tank top and bring a flannel (or other warm long sleeved shirt) with you. Yes even if its July and 400 degrees outside. You never know how your body will react to tattooing on a given day and you never know if you will be sitting right in front of a heater or air conditioner to get your tattoo. Many times I have gone to get tattooed in the dead of winter only to walk into a shop that felt like an oven! If all i have on is a wool shirt then im going to be sweating my ass off in addition to dealing with the pain of a tattoo. If you start to get hot you can strip down to the tank top and if you start shivering you can use the flannel like a blanket, if you are particularily prone to getting hot/cold bring shorts or extra thick socks with you. Peoples reactions to tattoos vary greatly and Ive been sweating my face off while tattooing a client who is shivering with cold, be prepared for a costume change no matter the weather!

2) Bring food and water. I know, you are too nervous to eat, you dont want to get up to pee every two minutes, and you worry that they wont allow food near the tattoo station. Trust me on this one. Bring a snack (something neat and not smelly; bring something like a granola bar, jerky, or shelled nuts. Leave the Limberger and sardines at home. . .) and a bottle of water. Getting tattooed is stressful, and even if the stress is very minor (which it usually is) that discomfort can cause your body to eat up its stores of energy and the sweating can dehydrate you as well, particularly on long sessions. Having a snack and some water can recharge the batteries before you bonk. (bonking is what runners/bicyclists call the state where your body begins using fuel more rapidly than you can recharge it with food/drink. Bonking can lead to feeling light headed or even “passing out”) If your tattoo shop has strict rules about food/drink then take a bathroom break and eat away from the work area. The more energy you have the greater your tolerance and ability to hold still during the tattoo process.

3) You might want to bring a friend, maybe. Many of my repeat customers began by bringing a freind(s) and after a few sessions stopped. If you have a chatty tattooer a friend can actually be annoying as you try to pay attention to both (or all) the people talking to you. Besides, we all tend to want to make sure our friends are having fun, when getting tattooed this extra stress can make the tattoo (and their presence) do more harm than good. Also, be sure the person you bring is the kind of person who makes you feel more relaxed, dont bring your wild ass wacko friend who makes kooky noises and likes to bust your balls because their shenanigans will quicky go from amusing and distracting to annoying and distressing. In general the environment you want to create with your companion(s) is closer to a comfortable coffeeshop hangout than a party.

4) If possible, bring cash. This is like tipping your tattooer before you even begin. Credit cards, even where accepted are an additional hassle for the unique business model that most tattoo shops are. In most shops the artists pay the owner a percentage instead of the other way around so if the cards are run through a shop machine (some artists have their own individual services like Square or Paypal) then the artist has to wait until he gets paid out by the shop, Ive been places where this can take up to a month! Add to this the fact that all credit card processors take a cut of the money means that your artist is paying out on every transaction. If a card is all you have and the shop takes them, then by all means use it, but if you can get cash and you dont mind stopping at the ATM then your artist will certainly appreciate it.

5) Some tattooers like to talk, some don’t. Many tattooers feel that they cant properly focus if they are talking or being talked to while they work, this doesn’t equal that they are mean or unfriendly. Some like to chat and use the dialog to check up on how you are holding up or to tease out details which might add to the tattoo, this doesnt mean that they want to hear about your dramatic break up or gory car accident. Touching and being touched automatically makes us feel connected to the person but sometimes this can lead to over sharing or feeling awkward when the tattooer isnt reciprocationg the conversation. Start by keeping it light and follow the artists lead, if they dont talk then dont take it personally. Think of it as their way of giving your tattoo all the attention they need to do a good job. I have have had some deep conversations with customers, but even if you get talkative tattooer its good form to not start right off talking about who you hate, how bad you have it, or how so-and-so sucks at tattooing.

6) There are some ways that you can accidently insult your tattooer if you are not aware of them. One of the most common i have encountered is the insinuation that tattoos are not “art” or that your tattooer is not an “artist”. When you talk about other forms of art by referring to them as “real art” you are implying (however unintentionally) that tattooing isnt real art to you, and when you mention that your friend who paint is a “real artist” or that you cant “find anyone to draw my tattoo” you are tacitly saying that you think of your tattooer as someone who “just” tattoos. These days most tattooers can draw what you want, and paint, and sculpt, they have simply chosen tattooing to be their “real art”.

Another no-no is being openly jealous of your tattooer in the sense of saying “you guys must make a lot of money” or “I wish i had a job where I could dress how i want/listen to metal/ touch pretty girls / come in at noon/ draw for a living/ kick out people i dont like/ etc”. Beside sounding like an accusation this also implies that your tattooer has not earned what he has. The customer sounds to us like he or she is saying “My life is not as good as I project yours to be, and I dont think you deserve/earned it”. I can assure you that if your artist is busy and talented then they have put in weeks, months, and years of struggle to get where they are now, nothing has even been handed to an artist who is good at what they do no matter how effortless they make it seem now. It is rude in general to discuss someones wages, and particularly if they are about to offer your a service and then expect payment.

In short; dont make it weird.

7) Tipping. Almost every tattooer will gladly accept a tip, but most of us dont expect it. There is no standard, and I am leery of giving a “rule of thumb” since each person has their own rule in this regard. Personally I don’t expect a tip and don’t think anything less of a customer who doesn’t, I appreciate that tattoos are not cheap and I am grateful for anything over the amount I quoted initially. Tipping is nice, but dont break the bank or stress over it too much.

That’s all for now, as you can see Tattooing has its own customs and to quote the old saying ” When in Rome, do as the Romans do”, meaning each shop will have a preferred way of doing things, but in general some of the tips above should help you and your artist feel more comfortable walking into a shop for the first time.

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How to use reference without stealing pt.2

In almost any art form directly copying another artists work, particularly if said artist has a distinctive look to their work, is considered wrong and a sign that the copier has both a lack of creativity and scruples. In tattooing this is made all the more distasteful because the work being copied is being taken from someone else’s body and then applied to another’s body! The “violation” is not only against the original artist, but also taints the wearer of the original work And the wearer of the copy!

Because of the ubiquitous nature of internet and the popularity of tattooing, people who do bite another artists tattoos are almost always caught and called out, and if the copier seems to be a serial biter a reputation for being a hack follows them. Believe me, the only thing tattooers love to do more than bitch about tattooing is to pile onto an unrepentant biter! Of course, some times synchronicity happens and very similar tattoos are created accidentally, but it’s pretty obvious when someone has made an exact copy of a tattoo and especially so when they have done it many times. Sometimes when called out the copycat will justify their thievery with some version of “it’s what the customer wanted” or ” this is what they brought me and wouldn’t let me change anything”. This excuse is ridiculous because as tattooers we always have the right to refuse to do a tattoo and in all my years of tattooing I have never met a customer who didn’t want their tattoo to be a unique creation for themselves. More likely is that the copycat is lazy and rather than do the extra work of telling the customer why they would be happier with a unique version of the art they brought in, I they just slap it on the light table and commence to half-assing it.

So biting other tattooers work is clearly bad, and yet. . . . Looking at other tattooers work is an important part of forming our own unique styles, of stirring that creative stew in our heads, and of setting a bar to aspire to. Tattooing in a vacuum often results in the “monkey house” effect. When one first goes into the monkey house part of a zoo the stench is overwhelming, shocking even, but after an hour you get sort of acclimated to it and it doesn’t seem so bad as when you first walked in. Tattooing while completely cut off from what other tattooers are doing often results in the artist doing mediocre work and not knowing it since they have no frame of reference, they have been Inside their own monkey house for too long!

So how do you use other tattooers work as reference without stealing?

One way is to look at the technical aspects of work you like but  feel are lacking in your own work. If, for example , there is a tattoo with a wing I am particularly taken by, I will try to understand why I’m so enamored of that design. Is it drawn a particular way? is it the way the wing fits in among the rest of the surrounding area? is it the placement on the body? In short, I’m looking for the key to how to take the technical elements I like  find a way to use it in my own work instead of stealing the specific image and reproducing it. Copying someone’s tattoo won’t make me any better, but understanding why I’m so taken with a particular element of the tattoo can help me to refine those areas in my own work I’m not in love with yet.

If I have a tattoo coming up and am not totally confident with my ideas I will often look at similar tattoos for a clue as to how I can tackle my own upcoming tattoo, but I only do this once my own drawing is already finished (more on this later). The idea is to use the other tattoo to tackle specific areas technically, not to copy the previous work wholesale. For example, if we stick to the wing example, lets say I have a chest eagle tattoo coming up but I’m concerned as to how to keep the wings heavily shaded but not to the level that they become muddy or look like a cover up, I might take a look as several other tattoos of chest eagles and examine the ones whose wing shading I like the most. In this example I am still looking at other tattooers work, but applying the technique to my own drawing, not lifting the actual drawing of the other tattooers wing.

What, then, do you do if the customer brings you a picture of an existing tattoo and wants you to do the same thing on them? Personally, I start right out by gently explaining “I know that you want an original tattoo and I can’t copy this directly, but I am excited to draw you something with the same feeling that is custom for you”. This allows me to start out with my line in the sand (I.e. I won’t copy another tattoo) but let’s me present it without insulting the client or expecting them to have knowledge of tattooings arcane etiquette about copying. The fact is that most customers don’t know biting is considered a bad thing, it is our job to teach them (kindly) while at the same time showing them that we can do better for them. If they are adamant that they will only accept an exact copy (which has never happened to me in 16 years of tattooing) then I would politely decline to do their tattoo. However,  I doubt this will happen to you, and even if it does, there are always other clients. You only have one reputation and sense of self-respect, it is never worth it to devalue both for money.

Ok then, how could one use the clients magazine/internet print~out as reference to create an original tattoo? At this point I actually have a “technique” that has worked well in letting me capture the essence of what the customer likes without (deliberately or accidentally) biting the original tattoo. First, I will take a good look at the original photo, for about a minute or so, study the elements the customer expressed the most interest in, and then put it away from me. I literally put the original picture face down and away from my drawing area, and then begin my own drawing. The rule I establish for myself is to never, from that moment on, to look at the original photo while drawing. What I am trying to do here is use the fact that few of us have perfect memories to allow my own style to mix with my fading memory of the original picture. I might have tons of other reference about the subject matter at hand, but no pictures of tattoos, any tattoos. At this point the process is about my sketching of an idea divorced from the influence of any existing tattoos.

So, If the clients photo is of a rose tattoo; I’ll study it, put it away, then use my reference pics of real roses, and start drawing. I believe that the original minute of studying the client source photo is enough to get the gist of the theme and from there my own imagination takes over, but with the general memory of the original tattoo added to the mix of influences. When it is time to apply the tattoo I will allow myself to look at the original picture to see if there are particular technical elements the customer wants which I can transfer to my own drawing. It is important to note, as mentioned  above, that at this stage my own drawing is already finished and I’m not pulling specific imagery from the original work. In this way a customer who likes a particular color combination or level of dark/light can get a tattoo that feels like the one they brought in, but is unique to them and will never be mistaken for a copy of the original.

I’ve done this for years now and what never fails to amuse me is how different my drawings are from the magazine/print out picture and yet, every time, the customer loves it! They almost always tell me that they like “their” version “better than the original”. I believe that this is because even if they don’t know that it’s a tattoo culture taboo to copy anothers tattoo that they still want an original with all the personal elements in it that a straight up copy of another tattoo wont have. You might make a customer “happy” by biting a tattoo but i don’t believe that you will form that connection with them the way that a tattooer can if we take the time and effort to personalize the tattoo for them specifically. The difference between tattooing a person once and making them a part of your clientele is making them feel your genuine respect for them and the art of tattooing.

Respect seems to be at the core of all of this. In general, biters seem to be lacking that respect; for the customer, for the original artist, for his or her client, and saddest of all, for themselves.

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Great Unsung heros of tattooing (part 1)

If you are a tattooer chances are that you know the names of the people who paved the road of tattooing before us. Giants like Sailor Jerry and Ed Hardy, if you have dug a little deeper you might know some of the slightly less famous folks like Cap Coleman or George Burchett upon whose shoulders we all stand. But most tattooers don’t really know about the people and inventions which have directly and pointedly changed tattooing into what it is today. These people and milestones aren’t just important because they left a legacy of artwork or an ethic we can aspire to, in many cases these folks literally invented the stuff we use daily and we don’t even know about it!

My first candidate is also my personal choice for the tattooer who has done the most for the technology of modern tattooing, Bill Baker.  Id be willing to bet that 90% of tattooers reading this right now don’t know who Bill baker is, note that i said “is” not “was” because he is still alive and still doing stellar work in Toronto at the Pearl Harbor Gift Shop. In the late 80’s and early 90’s He did the first real scientific testing on tattoo needles and eventually came up with a theory of needle manufacture that led to the first high quality, textured, really sharp pins available in various thicknesses. Today it is a given that needles made specifically for tattooing are available, but prior to Bills work the vast majority of tattoo needles were actually milliners needles or other sewing type needles.

That should be enough to consider him an unsung hero of tattooing, but he didn’t stop there, he founded a company to make and supply those needles called Eikon. Through this company he released his research for free online for any tattooer to study, also through Eikon he literally changed the way we all think of tattoo machines when he created the very first power supply that not only powered your tattoo machine, but told you real, heretofore unknown data about how that machine was running. What do I mean? Prior to Bill producing the EMS power supplies and meters it was commonly believed that a tattoo machine ran at about 25 to 50 strokes per second. Imagine our surprise upon hooking up those first power meters produced by Bills company and finding that our machines ran hundreds of cycles per second! Some power units could tell you how much voltage they were sending to the machine, but none told you how “efficient” it was (the percentage of time the needle was in the extended position vs. the retracted, Bills meters did. In short and overnight we went from a world of tattoo superstition and old wives tales to hard facts and, perhaps unsurprisingly, it turned out that most of the “common knowledge” out there was flat-out wrong!

So these things would definitely be enough to put Mr. Baker in our hall of fame if he had gone no further, but, of course, he did go further. In a series of “zines” put out by Eikon over several years Bill broke down the functions of a tattoo machine scientifically, tested, experimented, tested again and all the while he made this information public! He figured out exactly why and how a tattoo machine works, how to adjust it, and how to make it do all this efficiently and using repeatable, testable, information. Information that was only gather-able because of the meters he invented! He didn’t hide it like most “old timers”, he wanted to better tattooing as a whole, and he most certainly did. Because this blog is open to the general public I wont go into technical details, but rest assured that dozens and dozens of technical things about tattooing changed from the way they had been for decades! I can’t speak for other tattooers, but those zines were the Rosetta stone of tattoo machines for me, I could finally know exactly what I was doing when I built and tuned a machine, my tattooing got better almost instantly and a load of phony tattoo “lore” went out the window. The great shame is that Bill was forced out of the company he founded and provided the innovations for, if he hadn’t been sidelined by the ouster and ensuing legal battles how much more would he have been able to contribute to tattooing?

Every modern tattooer is using some piece of the knowledge that Bill Baker contributed to our world, if you use needles and a power supply to tattoo then something Bill created, modified, or perfected went into making them better.

To finish off this first episode of the great unsung heroes of tattooing id like to briefly mention the contribution of a piece of technology so common today that we seldom notice it, the Ink Jet printer. It’s almost impossible to imagine at this remove what it was like before cheap, highly functional photocopiers/printers were as ubiquitous as they are today. The fact is that even as recently as the late 1990s a copier was huge, expensive, and seriously limited in its functionality. One of the great advantages to the shop where I served my apprenticeship at was that it was half a block from a Kinkos copy center. I’m not kidding, this fact alone made us stand out from the more suburban places where the tattoo you got was the same size as the one on the wall and that was it! Today it is no problem for a customer to ask for a tattoo to be 10% bigger, but until the availability of the modern inkjet this meant either a trip to the copy-store or using some contraption to enlarge the image in order to retrace it.

Perhaps, then,  it is no surprise that since the advent of these copier/printers that tattoos have gotten larger and larger as the artist is able to take a small drawing and blow it up until it fits around (and with) the contours of the body. The irony is that a technology which made doing the same image over and over has actually helped steer clients away from flash and towards one-off client specific tattoos. The cheap copier made accommodating the customers preferences easier and helped to make custom tattooing the norm rather than the exception.

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New tattoos on old friends

The patron of martial arts, the bird-like Tengu is a skilled warrior and mischief maker, especially prone to playing tricks on arrogant and vainglorious Buddhist priests, and to punishing those who willfully misuse knowledge and authority to gain fame or position. In bygone days, they also inflicted their punishments on vain and arrogant samurai warriors. They dislike braggarts, and those who corrupt the Dharma (Buddhist Law”

Sometimes you get to do awesome tattoos, sometimes you get to tattoo good friends, and sometimes you get to do awesome tattoos on good friends. Josh is one of the sweetest people I know and when he asked for something Japanese-ish to go on his chest our friendship helped me pick the perfect subject. Josh has been involved in the martial arts for years and like most true devotees he feels a spiritual as well as a physical improvement that it brings to his life. The Tengu are a perfect example of that melding of the two aspects of martial arts into one. It doesn’t hurt that they look really cool and are seldom done as tattoos (at least seldom seen by me). So we had the plan to do the outline, a Tengu mask amid a rushing stream:

The red stamp is the Haku bun seal of Joshs wife, Erica, who passed away recently. Erica was a wonderful friend and a true tattoo aficionado who loved tattooing like few other people I have met in my 14 years of pushing the pins.  I had also done this same haku bun on Ericas sister and brother, and it seems truly fitting for Josh to have it over his heart. The sternum is probably the most painful part of the torso to get tattooed but you wouldn’t know it from Josh, no complaints as I ground away on his breastbone he just closed his eyes and kept chatting with Cara and I.

For some reason I have been getting much faster at this type of tattooing lately, apparently the muscle memory finally took hold and I have become very comfortable with my graywash recently. In tattooing confidence definitely translates into speed, and when you are tattooing someone who you feel a connection with its almost like time disappears. We got the outline done in record time and Josh felt good to get some shading in which also seemed to fly past. After a short deliberation and in recognition of the 5 hour drive Josh has to make to get another session we decided to push through and just get it finished:

The whole thing ended up being just shy of 5 hours and then we went out to eat and Josh stayed over to rest up for the drive home tomorrow. I believe that we will be doing the other side in April when Cara and I work at the Baltimore Convention near where Josh lives.

Another great friend is Bert, he not only makes awesome shirts for us but can sit like a rock and picks tattoos that are super fun to do. A couple of days ago he came in to get a traditional-ish lion on his stomach. Again we started off planning to just do the outline since the stomach hurts so much usually, but once the got the linework squared away he was feeling good so we just finished.

Later on we decided to add some red to the mouth and some bit of color to the eyes and fur but not much, after this bit heals it will take just a few minutes to add those parts.

It was a great week and we are really lucky and blessed to have such good friends.

Next week Cara and I will be working the Philadelphia Tattoo convention with the great fellas at Black Thorn gallery in Mechanicsburg. In past years Philly has been crazy busy (and occasionally just plain crazy) so we should have some cool pictures when we get back hopefully including one of the new tattoo Im scheduled to get!

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Did a couple of old school moths recently.

This one in October at the Meeting of the Marked convention here in Pittsburgh.

I just did this guy last night.


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You take my life, but Ill take yours too!

When I was a wee lad growing up in the intellectual and cultural desert of Plano, texas (population: shitheads) there wasn’t much that made me happy. I wasn’t on the football team, I wasnt rich, I didn’t hunt and I read a lot of books. In Texas this means you have to get into a lot of fistfights, so I did. It wasn’t fun. Not much was. Before I discovered punk rock my very first taste of a life outside the dreary mainstream was Iron Maiden. They were amazing! The music was epic, soaring and majestic, they sang about satan and spooky stuff just like every other metal band, but they also sang about being a world war two fighter ace, a reincarnated pharo, HP Lovecraft and the Rime of the Ancient mariner, this was amazing stuff to a budding 14-year-old! It was clear that they were not pretending to be ‘evil’, they mostly talked about soccer in interviews and made fun of their own terrifying mascot, “Eddie“. When Powerslave was released in 1984 I wore out 3 different cassette tapes and 2 walkmen with my constant rotation of it. I grew my hair long, I scrimped and saved to buy an Iron Maiden t-shirt (it was too small, i wore it anyway). In short, they were a huge part of my growing up. Even as I got into more ‘serious’ music like Minor Threat and Agnostic front there was always a copy of Piece of Mind or the Number of the Beast near at hand. I can (and will) sing the entire Run to the Hills from memory at full Dickensian volume.

Eventually I got out of texas and things got better, my obsessive love affair with Iron Maiden ended, but like a first girlfriend or Citizen Kanes Rosebud there will always be fond memories of the one thing in the world that made a mopey teen with scraggly feathered hair and a denim jacket happy.

Strangely enough in my 14 years of tattooing I had never done a tattoo of Iron Maidens iconic mascot, Id seen quite a few (mostly bad) Eddies out there, but the stars never aligned to bring one of these customers to me. Til now.


The-motherfuckin’- trooper, y’all!

To round out my day we finished my sweet lil Caras peony tattoo on the back of her neck. After 3 laser treatments her old work had faded enough to go over with this gigantic blossom. It took two sessions since the pain was pretty serious, still she took it like a champ and will have a finished tattoo for the wedding IN LESS THAN A MONTH!

For anyone who doesn’t already know, Cara is no fucking joke when it comes to getting tattooed. She has, in 3 short years, amassed more and better tattoos than me in al my 20+ years of getting tattooed. If you count the lasering I’m having done I am actually going backwards! She has been thoughtful and insistent on quality work.  I thought Cara was the most beautiful girl in the world when i met her with a single tiny tribal tattoo on her neck, now she isn’t just beautiful, she is beautiful and covered with gorgeous tattoos, in short  AMAZING!

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Everybodys funny

One of the more fun aspects of being a tattooer is going ahead and doing stuff to yourself that you would almost never agree to do on a paying customer. Many is the convention that ended with 12 drunk guys in one hotel room hand poking something on each other left-handed. Theres about a dozen “rules” being broken during such an event, but like most trades, tattooers feel that once you have earned your way in, learned the right way of doing things then, and only then, is it ok to go ahead and do some dumb shit with your friends.

One example of this is Cara and I continuing to do tattoos on each other featuring the other person. I have her name on my wrist (don’t the night I asked her to marry me) as well as a cool anniversary tattoo we did on each other, she has my name and now she has this:

If you have never met me, then allow me to explain that what you are looking at  is my head (and gut) on a very old traditional tattoo of a boxer known as “kid slug” or the “banger”. The quote is from the George Thoroughgood song “one bourbon, one scotch, one beer” and I think its hilarious.

Now if a random customer wandered in and asked me for someones name or picture they get the lecture. Not because i wont do the tattoo, but because I want them to be fully aware of what they are getting into. If they know the deal, are old enough for a tattoo and still feel strongly enough to get the tattoo then I’m all for it. In fact I secretly love doing names of someones boyfriend/girlfriend, I am aware that many (or most) of these will end up being regretted, but I’m enough of a sentimentalist that i still think its sweet.

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Work in progress and new jonx.

almost finished with this koi sleeve/chest panel. I haven’t done a really big version of a Showa Koi before so I was a teeny bit apprehensive, but once we got the background on there I was more confident in the ability for it to pop.  The inner bicep (lotus and waves) and some cherry blossoms remain to be done, I’m really excited for how this one is coming together and the customer is super stoked coming in as often as I can make time for him.

I also did a fly reel on a great regular customer who already is wearing two Japanese sleeves I did on him and wanted to express his other passion, namely fly fishing. The reel is from a photo he brought in of a 1940s era piece of tackle that belonged to an uncle who passed away while my customer was still a toddler. But their shared love of fly fishing is something he wanted to do without it looking too much like a memorial piece. It’s on the side of his calf.

Lastly is a piece on shop friend/t-shirt printer extraordinaire Bert. He has a nautical sleeve going on his left arm and wanted to get a lighthouse to fill the vertical triceps area. I tried to keep it super simple, traditional, and scary. I lined this with a new machine that my good friend Robie made.

That’s it for now, I have at least 4 Japanese dragons in various stages of being finished and I have a feeling they will all end up done within a month of each other heh heh. More to come soon. . .

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What i done did

Just a quick update with some work ive gotten finished this month.  First some roy lichtenstein art done on a customers tricep area. We left off the word bubble that the original had and punched up the color a bit to keep the contrast up on skin. Pop art (like catholic and hindu imagery) is easy to tattoo and always looks striking on skin.

roy lichtenstein a la lambert

Next up we have an owl among roses on a great customer, she has a bunch of traditional stuff that this needed to fit in to so we kept the color palette simple and old-schoolish.


My first Black Cat tattoo done at Black Cat tattoo. J had the blue waves and purple clouds alreadty on a previous tattoo that this one had to tie into but the connection was no problem.

manaki neko mit waveage

This lovely lilly is on the inner bicep of a customer who (along with her boyfriend) get tattoos from me when they are in town to visit family from michigan. Theres a lot of talented tattooers in Michigan so im flattered thart they wait til they visit pittsburgh to get tattooed.


The shop is coming along and Im sore as a motherfucker. Real work is HARD. heh heh. . . . .

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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.

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