By Dawn Cooke
Every day I ask myself this question. And if you think I always have the correct answer, I do not. Every tattoo that I do gets me closer to figuring out exactly what a tattoo is. Some of the first thoughts I have when I meet a client lead me to my conclusions about that particular piece. Each piece is different and every piece is a different answer to the question...
But often times when I am trying to figure out what a tattoo is I have to remind myself about what it is not. A tattoo is not an illustration. You can make an illustration for the purpose of making a tattoo but the tattoo itself is not an illustration such as the ones made on paper. Paper is a flat surface with no curves and a drawing utensil never penetrates the surface of the paper.
A tattoo is made on a curved and soft surface with a needle, which penetrates the skin, pushed by a mechanical device. This is a different thing altogether then any drawing or illustration alone. And trust me when I say that my life’s quest so far has been trying to fully understand this.
A tattoo is not a painting. A painting involves the application of pigments and medium to some flat and or hard surface generally, speaking traditionally. This is different than a tattoo because a tattoo is pigment inserted into the layers of the skin. The only thing I have taken away from painting that I can apply to tattooing is color theory and some compositional technique. Warm and cool tones create a push and pull of contrast.
But a tattoo still needs hard lines and black shading in order to help contain the shape. Unlike a painting and or an illustration a tattoo lives in a person’s skin and ages with that person. A body will overtime consume the pigment. So a tattoo needs high contrast, proper spacing between shapes, and it must be an appropriate size to accommodate the amount of detail.
A tattoo is not a graphic design. Tattoo artists are not computer printers. The beauty of a tattoo is that it is hand-made. Some amazing work still has the human imperfection as part of its quality. What makes every tattoo artist unique is that his or her hand cannot be duplicated. A vector drawing done on the computer has it’s own character and may easily be turned into a good tattoo but the human hand cannot easily duplicate this rigid straight soul-less and flat vector print-out.
When clients bring these ideas to me I enjoy collaborating with them and sharing my perspectives. I will use their ideas and transform them into a tattoo. A tattoo is its own medium and form. There is nothing else like it. It allows the wearer to take an image and idea and display it within the skin. Then the wearer can carry this idea and image with them. If your body is your home in this life than a tattoo is like a decoration. It is a representation of something residing with the wearer.
A tattoo can exist just for the sake of itself. I have many tattoos that mean nothing when I got them but I was attracted to the idea or the image represented. Later in my life I looked back and those pieces had meaning for me. As an artist my job is to take an idea and turn it into a tattoo. I never try to make a tattoo something that it is not. To me doing that is like going against nature, which has always seemed to be non productive in the course of history. The tattoo has a nature, history and tradition that should be honored.
Here are six other tattoo artists whose work you might like to know:
I've been tattooing for five years and enjoy doing tattoos based in the American traditional style with my own twists and influenced by a lot of folk art, old skateboard graphics and poster art. I also enjoy most types of tattooing especially when they challenge my skills. www.tattoosbyhenry.com
2716 SE 21st
Portland, OR 97214
I'm generally drawn towards doing what my clients desire, while striving to push my understanding of a wearable and strong visual image in the skin. Generally drawn towards Americana style stuff, but more so enjoy giving people what they are after in an educated fashion. www.sticklertattoo.com
Odds N Ends Tattoo
1349 S. Alpine Rd.
Rockford, IL 61108
From Barcelona, Spain
12 years tattooing in LTW
Now on the road...
Address : C/ Tallers 29
Zip code : 08001
City : Barcelona - Spain
Area : Ciutat Vella
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org
Website : LTW Tattoo
Opening hours : From 9am to 9pm
Phone : 93 318 36 62
819 W. Cary St
804 643 3779
Spider Murphy's Tattoo
1006 Lincoln Ave.
San Rafael, CA 94901
My name is Tim Pausinger and I’m 23 years old. I’ve been tattooing around five years now, I work currently out of my shop, Most Precious Ink in Coburg, Germany. I started traveling a year ago, since then I’ve probably had the best time since I've been tattooing... It's so much fun to work in all this great shops with all these great people and awesome tattooers. I got to learn so much from them and I really appreciate the support of all these people. If you're interested in getting tattooed by me or in my work check my Facebook for upcoming guest spots and conventions. www.facebook.com/timpausinger
Most Precious Ink
Mohrenstr 15A, 96450
Related TAM Blog Post:
(Dawn Cooke is a contributing blogger for Tattoo Artist Magazine can be found at Depot Town Tattoo, 33 East Cross St. Ypsilanti, MI 48197 www.dawncooke.net and www.dawncookeart.com)Dawn Cooke is featured in Tattoo Artist Magazine #21: