Have you ever been curious about what it might be like to tattoo your art on someone? This art medium connects artist to client through an intimate process.The tattoo world is a vast and interesting place these days. People of all ages and cultures have embraced this medium and a wide array of artists with distinct styles have emerged as it has grown larger. I had a chance recently to talk to a tattoo artist about the creative process of this popular artistic medium. Today we are getting an inside scoop on what it's like to be a tattoo artist. Deborah Connelly (Unicus Studio) is a truly amazing tattoo artist and long time friend who agreed to answer a few of my burning questions about the art of tattooing.
I don't have any tattoos and so as a tattoo-virgin a question Deborah commonly gets is "Does it hurt?" as people try to guage their ability to sit for an entire tattoo the first time around. The sticker on her light table says it all.
How does the design process work when you are laying out an image based on a client's ideas? Is it better for you if the request is really specific or vague?
Some are too specific and others have no idea what they want. Both are evil! The ideal client has a general idea of what they want but they want me to create something for them with my artistic touch. Usually they might know the content they want depicted because it has some meaning to them but not how it would work as a tattoo. For example, a typical request might be "I would like a pocket watch that represents my granpa and I want something to represent my grandma too and her favourite flower which is a magnolia."
Are the tattoos often commemorative?
Yes, especially young people since they get a better response from their parents when the tattoo commerates a relative! Some people might get one tattoo that is commerative or meaningful and the other end of the spectrum are all the people who just want as many tattoos as possible. As time and money allow them they just keep adding on.
Once you get the request how do you move to the next step?
The day before they have their tattoo appointment I send them a snapchat of their design or they come into the studio and take a look at it. This practice protects me from someone taking my design to another tattoo artist since I don't charge for design work. Most of the time, for most of my clients, they see the design for the first time at their tattoo appointment . I tell clients to look over my portfolio on Instagram so they can see my style and decide if they want something in my style or if they want something in a different style. If they are interested in my style then they usually reference other tattoos I've done to clarify the type of shading or line work they want. The client sometimes sends some reference for colour etcetera. It's important to go to a tattoo artist whose style you like.
How do you decide on the best placement that adapts the design to the client's body?
This is a strength for me because of all of my experience of body-casting and painting nude figures. I have an eye for how the body flows and what compliments the body and what doesn't. When you take a too-small tattoo and put it on someone's upper arm it looks like a stamp, there are better places to put that tattoo.
What are some of your faourite art materials when designing a tattoo?
Light table, Photoshop, and pencil. Because I do a lot of graywash tattoos. And Copic Markers. Copic markers have so many colours and the way that they blend is great.They are a good way to guage how colours are going to look in the tattoo because they really cover a wide range of colours. They are ready to go unlike paint which you have to blend to get all of your colour range. There are other markers but Copic's range of colours is best.
When you are tattooing someone what are some of the conditions that you have to manage to make sure that the process goes smoothly and how can you see what you are doing through all the blood?
I usually won't do the more painful areas for a first time tattoo- just in case they don't make it through the whole thing. No ribs, waist, collorbone unless it's very small. There's not that much blood but the ink gets in the way more than the blood does. Due to experience you get to the point where you are looking more at where you are going next than what you are doing at the moment, like driving a car or riding a bike, you look at the direction you are heading in. I make sure the clients are comfortable, big TV, Netflix, a really comfortable studio that is private and has a relaxed atmosphere and a very comfortable tattoo chair.