By Chris Crooks
First off, I would like to say how much of an honor and pleasure it is to contribute to such an important blog, in the company of some of the best tattooists in the world, and it is also exciting to track one of my backpieces from start to finish as even I forget how much work goes into the planning and preparation...
I guess I should also give a short intro into who I am and what I m about, As the title above states I am Chris Crooks, the owner of White Dragon Tattoo in Belfast Northern Ireland, I am 26 and have been tattooing for eight years, I specialize in Japanese tattooing and I strive to create large scale Japanese tattoos with the utmost respect to the art, the artists of Japan, its tattoo culture and especially to the Tattooists that paved the way to Westerners like me that are following in their footsteps.
Being from Northern Ireland it is an honor to have the clients that make the commitment to wearing full body suits in Japanese style and to work on the ideas they bring to me, and creating something special. I am always trying to create something different, a task that is not easy with so many amazing artists putting some of the most epic designs on the body in the Japanese style.
The piece I have chosen to follow is of Fukurokuju and Baku. It is not a traditional pairing and the story I brought together is one specific to my client. And as with all my tattoos, I try and stay true to Japanese folklore and respectfully tweak things to create something unique.
Baku is a Japanese creature that devours dreams and nightmares. Traditionally the Baku was depicted as sort of an elephant-headed tiger. More recent versions often show the Baku looking like a tapir. It is hard to find good references for Baku but over the years I have collected a serious library of books many with amazing ukiyo-e prints dating back many centuries and in the video clip you can see the reference for Baku against the design in progress.
Fukurokuju is the god of wealth, happiness, and longevity. The bearded Fukurokuju has an unusually elongated forehead. He is typically shown in the customary garments of a scholar and holding a cane with a scroll attached to it. In my design I have a crane near him, which is an icon of longevity in Japan.
The reason I paired the two characters together is up to interpretation, but for my client it represents the balance of the journey in life to success, and the the things that cross our path trying to devour our dreams. This back-piece depicts Baku staring menacingly up at Fukurokuju who seems at ease in his wisdom at the achievement of longevity and happiness. The waves adding energy to the relationship between the two characters.
Designing the Backpiece
I do all my designs full-scale, starting with a rough sketch and then adding the details laid down on a the measurements of my client so that the design fits perfectly. I used to draw everything directly on the skin but I found that I was making decisions on the skin and sometimes I looked back and thought with an exact plan would I have done it a bit different? In the end for me a design is like a road map . . . With the map I will get exactly where I want to go, without any surprises!
It can take anywhere from a couple of hours to all night to design a backpiece, and this one was particularly difficult, even without the small details on Fukurokuju's clothing it took five hours to complete.
Once the design is done usually the night before following a consultation (and despite the distractions at home from Shelby our bulldog!) it is photocopied section by section and spliced together again. I know there are quicker ways of doing this, but I do all my transfers by hand, I just like the idea of knowing every inch of the design before I start lining. I also use standard paper for the transfer as I find it soaks up any access transfer fluid and is more rigid, as I am usually applying them myself in one go, and this avoids folds, etc.
Once the design is on the body for me it's just about getting the lines done as quick and as tight as possible. Some minor alterations are always necessary especially when covering an old piece as well. Getting a backpiece design outlined in one session is important to me, but this piece defeated me! The amount of detailed line-work in Baku just took way more time than I anticipated so Fukurokuju will be outlined in the second session, there was also a cover-up to contend with, but with careful planning it isn’t an issue, but it's always a distraction when lining!
I use a 9-liner for all my tattoos and I strangely shade and line with the same machine! with the same set-up. I don t know where this habit originated but I really do abide by the rule of “if-it's-not-broke-don't-fix-it” and despite owning a collection of beautiful custom machines I have yet to pass a volt through any of them...
It's always a bit disappointing not to get the line work finished in the first session. But it's a lesson in patience, something that is critical in planning and creating any tattoo. Especially a backpiece, as the journey is a long one and the great commitment to wear a piece so big, but thankfully the determination to keep the momentum going is shared by the client so next session is next week!
So guys and girls that’s it for this part. I know it's very much a string of information, blended together with some of the worst punctuation ever, but I promise Part II will be more relaxed and a lot more entertaining...