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Where Do Tattoo Artists Get Their Inspiration: A Deep Dive

Tattoo artists are a unique set of individuals. They possess a variety of skills from artistic talent, industry knowledge of tattooing, apprenticeship, and customer relationships. The industry has shifted over the years, with a variety of artists, styles, and knowledge. Being a tattoo artist is not your typical 9-5 job. It requires a unique level of skill, knowledge of the industry, cultivating a customer base, and creating unique tattoo designs. What is it like to be a tattoo artist? Who provides the best tattoos? Where do they get their inspiration from? How do they develop their style? We are going to deep dive into these topics and explore a new realm of the tattoo industry. 

The first source of inspiration for an artist is sought through fine art and more specifically drawing. Tattooist may visit art galleries for inspiration or travel to places such a New York City to connect with other artists. Famous artists such as Matisse, Picasso, Salvador Dali, and Vincent Van Gogh all serve as inspiration through various means of technique, color, and imagery displayed. Each piece of art serves as unique inspiration. Artists will often keep a personal sketchbook or drawing tablet with a variety of pieces. Some artists even create flash sheets, where they can offer flash tattoos for drop-in clients. Artists also seek tattoo ideas through social media, scrolling through their Instagram feed and seeing what styles might be emerging, such as floral tattoos or specific ink tattoos. Moreover, tattoo shops, studios, and tattooist share their works of art within the community. Coupled with this is the emergence  of large, collaborative events where artists gather for tattoo conventions to share techniques, art, and inspiration with each other. 

World Tattoo Events is a site that lists all of the tattoo conventions by country and specific location. From NYC to Seoul, social media has connected artists. Your next tattoo may be inspired with an international flavor as the tattoo industry is growing and is global, with events all over the world. This can be seen through large conventions such as the Tattoo Arts Convention in Dallas, Texas. The event will be three days, with artists flying in from all over the world. Some famous and well-known artists include: Tyler Nolan, Megan Jean Morris, and Cee Jay to name a few. By fostering a tattoo enthusiastic environment, the convention highlights new technologies, tattoo vendors, and entertainment. With such a rich environment, tattoo conventions ensure the flow of ideas, exchange of information, and enthusiasm within the industry. Often, competitions are held and awards are given to the various artists.

The goal of such conventions is to foster a collaborative and energetic environment. The tattoo industry is built off of years and years of knowledge, technique, and adaptations of various styles. In order for an individual artist to develop their own unique style, they must first build the fundamentals and then seek inspiration. Such inspiration may be derived from art around them, the environment, other artists, or their own personal preference. In looking at the fundamentals, an artist must first establish the basics of their technique. This includes lining, coloring, shading, and lettering. We will explore each of these techniques and how they tie into tattoo inspiration.

The first basic skill, also known as lining, is the technique of creating basic lines or shapes on the skin. The specific needle used for such a technique is a group of round needles, varying in thickness, dependent on the line the artist and client wish to achieve. Artists may also combine varying lining techniques to create a more complex or a layered illusion for the piece. Lining may seem as though it’s quite a basic technique, however, lining is critical when providing structure and definition to a piece. The lining of a piece also plays into the style. Some artists are known for their complex and detailed line work, such as Jojo Chronic, owner of @chronicink and @skindipbeauty and tattoo artist. Her work is light, airy, and focuses on the movement of fine lines to create beautiful shapes. With a simple black line, Jojo can create a beautiful outline or silhouette. Jojo’s technique and style focuses on line work as opposed to coloring and is rooted in a minimalist approach.

Coloring may be understood as a type of fill, or quite literally the coloring of a designated. The techniques used for coloring vary by artist, with some using a layering technique to create depth, while others use a series of small circles to fill the desired space. The pressure said artists uses with the needle and ink can create a variety of shading effects on the skin. Artists normally work from the darker, more concentrated areas of the piece, outwards, easing pressure as they move to the outer layers of the skin. There are two primary reasons for this approach. The first being the isolation of colors as the artists works on the piece, ensuring the darker and more concentrated areas do not easily mix with the lighter areas. And the second being the use of resources. Each color an artist uses requires a new needle, tube and tip. So as to reduce the insanity and concentration of the color. This plays into the artists shading technique, which each develop over time and can create a 3-D and visual representation of real objects, scenes, or individuals.

Tattoo shading and the various shading techniques can help to set an artist apart. Artists tend to shade with both black ink and colored ink. It is through the layering and shading of various inks that artists can create custom colors, variance, and realistic art. Depending on an artist style, they may adapt their shading techniques to the desired piece and their client. Bright colors are often achieved through layering techniques and advanced shading. 

The final technique, while looking at an artist skillset, is lettering. Lettering refers to the letters a tattoo artist designs in order to spell out phrases, write names, or add letters to pieces. The kerning required to achieve visually appealing letters takes time to develop. It also requires the artist to have an advanced skillset in order to understand how to lay the letters on a client’s body in order to best represent the piece. Each of these core techniques plays into the skillset an artist cultivates.

The tattoo community is arguably one of the largest sources of inspiration for artists and each other. From the moment of apprenticeship to the tattoo studio an artist works at, the style, concepts, and inspiration for art is continually influencing an artist to create amazing tattoo's. This inspiration may have been ignited through formal art school, trade-shows, tattoo conventions, favorite artists / mentors, and the advancement of certain skillsets. A tattoo artist is constantly evolving and fine-tuning their style. A community of artists serves as the ideal environment to refine and enhance ones style.

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