Biggest Project Yet!

As an artist, I work for myself and enjoy the privilege of constant creation; but I am also called upon from time to time to execute projects for the community. I find this to be a vital way to fulfill myself and add to the visual appeal of the region. It is a dual role that any artist covets. Thus I was pleased to be asked to paint a mural on the side of a school building along with a close friend. We make a good team and can work together in harmony with equal spirit. This isn’t easy since artists are notorious for being individuals first and foremost. It is the nature of the enterprise and who wants to share their talent? This blog is devoted to a new kind of attitude in the arts, especially when it comes to helping beautiful a neighborhood.

Most of you see such murals in your area done by street artists who just like to do their own thing. If it is better than graffiti, it may stay on a wall and not get destroyed by city officials. My project won’t face this kind of obliteration since it is sanctioned by the local government. No one wants to labor over a massive creation only to have it erased. The work that my friend and I are working on will be an asset to the area, at least we hope so. We are carefully crafting a concept that befits a school and the values of education. Of course, it will contain children at play because the subject has universal appeal. Colors will be vibrant and the texture rich. I want this mural to stay intact for decades. If we plan a timeless composition, this should be guaranteed.

To execute such an enormous project on a grand scale, we are going to use an airbrush gun with a mini air compressor made by Compressor Force that my friend owns. This is the perfect way to accomplish the execution quickly while maintaining craftsmanship and a personal touch. Little brushstrokes just don’t work on large surfaces. You are not working with paper or canvas so your technique shifts. We want to be proud of our final product and are taking the care and time to do things right. I am excited about the results and hope we get some good press. Publicity will help us get other commissions. This is what keeps a professional free-lance artist going. Income doesn’t just flow in on its own when you are in a creative field. You depend upon people and organizations to see the benefit of your work in their spaces. Thus, you can see that I work on a small and large plane depending upon the client. I also create for myself and have a stash of paintings and drawings that will someday be revealed. Perhaps a gallery exhibition is in the works in the near future.

Why Tattoos?


My family was really kind of pissed about the idea of me “wasting” an art degree on something like tattooing. Granted, I consider myself lucky that my parents don’t think I’m wasting a college education by getting a degree in art, so I don’t take it all that personally. I think they were kind of hoping I would go into graphic design or become a film animator or something. The idea just never appealed to me. I take classes like that only when I have to. I’m so tired of dealing with what I call the “Pixar” people. The ones who think that if they do well enough in the CG classes, they’re going to go straight to work for the best animation company of all time. Because it really happens that way, doesn’t it? Personally, my philosophy is that if I’m going to sit at a desk in front of a computer all day, I might as well become an accountant or something. Yeah, it’d be cool to live in a treehouse and make a truckload of money, but the idea of sitting at a desk in an office all day gives me the heebie-jeebies regardless of what it’s for. I got into drawing because I was bored in school and would sit there with easy access to a pencil and paper. While the idea of getting paid to draw is absolutely appealing, I just couldn’t picture my stuff hanging in museums or galleries with price tags attached.

You can see my dilemma now, can’t you? I didn’t want to be a “fine” artistand the thought of computer anything makes me want to scream. So that left…well, stuff like cartooning and tattoos, basically. I would love to be as successful as that marathon-running, Tesla-driving Oatmeal guy, but you have to have something to say when you’re cartooning. My sister says I’m not smart enough to sustain something like that. She’d know, she’s the brains in the family (but here’s a secret: she can’t draw worth a damn, so she can go sit at her boring desk job the rest of her life and be smug about it for all I care). I have something to say maybe once a month, although I’ll make an effort for this blog, OK? Just don’t blame me if it is a post about nothing.

So anyway, I got a tattoo. I drew up a union soldier with a flag behind him and brought it to a local shop. You know that was coming with my name and childhood and all that. The owner/head artist, Jimmy, was manning the desk when I went in and he really liked my drawing. It took two incredibly painful sessions to get it on my arm but it’s there now. While Jimmy was doing his work, we really got to talking and I thought about how great it would be to have a job like his. I mean, I understand that it isn’t easy and that you live and die by the work you do and how many clients you see and all that but…. Art you put on the wall is boring. Tattoos are LIVING art. You are the canvas. My dad couldn’t even really be mad about the tattoo, which was too bad—I had this whole “you made me this way” speech prepared and everything, maybe I’ll post it here one day. Mom was pissed though. “Why’d you have to get it so big?” Because it was the only way to show some of the details, Ma. “You’re going to be stuck with that for-ever!” Now you’re getting it!

I’m here in art school learning techniques and styles in the hopes that I’ll be able to satisfy clients with anything they can think of. Plus my parents told me that I had to either get a job or go to college, and all the tattoo shops around here don’t pay tattoo apprentices, (in fact, I have found so far that it is mostly the opposite) so I figured I had better start my apprentice now while I’m blowing through the money Mom and Dad so graciously socked away for this exact purpose.

My Favorite Styles of Ink

Every artist has a style that they are most comfortable with and is their preferred medium. Makes sense, right? I would rather not put a drawing permanently on somebody in a style I suck at. Some people get so well known for their work in a particular style, they are able to focus on it exclusively, honing their skills and charging a premium rate. How great does that sound? I have not picked up a tattoo machine yet, but I am practicing various styles to create a portfolio that shows I am a versatile artist. And to be honest, I could use the practice. I would much rather experiment with pencil and paper instead of on someone’s skin, you know? Yeah, sorry, not sure how to draw lotus flowers yet, whoops!

I think my favorite style is American Traditional. I just love the colors and the style. The clipper ships, in particular, amaze me. I would love to be able to draw those well enough to do Sailor Jerry proud. Did you know he made them nautically accurate? Talk about putting pride into your work! I like the fact that this style has themes and rules but that there is a lot you can do within those constraints. The history and pride within traditional American tattoos are something I never get tired of researching. This style of tattoo in the States is equivalent to cave paintings in the art world. This is where it started, and everything else from artists here comes from that imagery. Once I am finally in an apprenticeship, I am really going to hit these hard. It will definitely get my outlining work in shape in no time!

My second favorite style has got to be New School. I love that basically anything goes in this style and you can be as wacky with the color scheme and image as the client will let you. It’s a cross between so many different styles that it can almost be hard to pull off. I’ve been drawing boardwalk-style caricatures of people and animals to learn the exaggerated proportions that set this style apart from others. My drawings so far have been pretty goofy looking, but that is kind of the point. It definitely has made studying color theory less boring, since I am learning a lot about what colors go together and which are gonna look terrible. It can only help me improve, right?

The last style that I have been practicing is photorealism. Let me tell you, that stuff is HARD. It’s really obvious when you make a mistake. I’ve started with flowers. I sit down with a reference photo and try my best to replicate the image I see as far as lines, colors, and shading. It has been slow going and a huge challenge but I think this is something that is very important to get right. From here I will move up to animals, which are a little more complex, and then people. This will help me when it comes time to practice the one I am dreading: portraits. That’s one that you really CANNOT screw up, right? If somebody cares enough to get someone immortalized on their skin, the least I can do is make it look like that person. Yeah. I would much rather draw Japanese dragons for the rest of my life (hahahanot really. I am still tracing that stuff. I have no ability to understand the anatomy of them yet, very possibly because they are not real) than mess up a portrait tattoo.

So that’s basically what I do all day long. Practice, practice, practice. My parents would be impressed with my diligence if they didn’t think this was such a bad idea in the first place.

Choosing an Artist


I think it is important that if you’re going to get a tattoo, you do your homework on shops and artists to be sure you’re getting the best tattoo possible. While your artist’s drawing skills are only half the story on how the end result is going to look—they also have to be able to execute the stencil—if you start with a bad drawing, you’re guaranteed to get a bad tattoo. Whether you’re walking in on a whim or you’ve been planning your visit for a long time, look at the artist’s portfolio. Most artists nowadays have social media accounts (I have found Instagram to be the most helpful) you can browse in addition to albums at their shop.

If you are looking for somebody to do some flash you like off the wall, make sure you find someone who traces well, especially if the original design isn’t theirs. Not everyone is good at everything, so you need somebody who is familiar with the style and can mimic the design well. If they have been apprenticed well, this is something they’ve been doing for awhile already. This is going to be my life for some time and I’ve already accepted it.

On the other hand, if you have a specific concept in mind but not the actual drawing, you might be better off going into a shop and talking to the different artists. Somebody might be a great artist, but if they’re not excited about your idea, maybe you go to the next person. The idea is to find somebody who gets fired up by your concept because they’re going to expand on it and totally knock that idea out of the park. Others might do a good job but will simply give you what you want instead of making it a collaborative project. And if all you have is an idea, you’re going to want that professional eye to talk to you about placement, size, colors, and that kind of thing. Some places require you to book a consultation with an artist, others will make you pay to see the stencil. It all depends on where you go and what you ask for.

But what if you already have the complete package? Maybe you have a similar image already or the exact picture you want. This can actually be the hardest because it means you have to do the most research beforehand. If it is a specific style you’re looking for, scout around online prior to even going to a shop for a consultation. Be sure that whoever you choose already has some experience in the style you want if it is crucial to your design. See how they draw. Does it work with what you want? Do you see a theme immerging from their portfolio that is in the same vein as what you want? Just because they are a great artist doesn’t mean that they will do your picture justice. Maybe the artist is more comfortable in black and greys and does some killer work that way. But he or she might not do a great job on the vibrant sugar skull you’re picturing in your head.

Finally, pick somebody you’re comfortable with. They are going to be touching you (and inflicting pain) and you’re going to be spending a nice chunk of time together depending on the size of your tattoo. Pick somebody you are OK with getting that close to you. Check out their procedures: make sure they’re wearing gloves, that the shop is clean, that they are using sterilized equipment. While yes, you might be paying them quite a bit and they might have huge reputations, you’re still the customer. So make sure that you’re happy with the stencil and its location. If you aren’t comfortable asking the artist a question, this is not the person for you.

Good luck and I want to hear all about your tattoo experience!


I Dream in Color


When I first started going to school here, I thought color theory classes were going to be boring as all get out. I mean, really. Let’s all sit around and talk about why these colors look pretty next to each other. Excuse me while I take a nap. I figured that if I wasn’t going into interior design, what the heck was I going to do with this stuff? Kind of the same way I sat through math. Like, yeah, OK, I can figure out the square footage I would need to buy if I had to put up my own chain link fence. Why should I care?

But color theory is actually very cool. You probably already know the basic idea that all colors stem from only three colors: red, blue, and yellow. They are primary because you can’t mix any other colors together and create those three colors. However, by mixing any combination of those three, you can make just about any color you can think of. You can imagine how helpful the study of color theory can be to a future tattoo artist, can’t you?

For example, there is such a thing as color harmony. That means that the colors you choose all look like they go together. The colors are all pleasing to the eye instead of warring with each other for visual attention. You have a few choices on how to accomplish this, and none of it involves how you “feel”. Colors next to each other on the color wheel work well together because they are analogous colors.  This is why yellows and greens are appealing together. Then there are colors on opposite side of the wheel from one another; these complement each other. Think purple and green. Then there are combinations you already see in nature, like the orange and white of a koi fish or the black and yellow of a bumblebee. These are color combinations that we recognize, so we like them too. Just because a tattoo is a drawing, whether it is an artist depiction of a real thing or something entirely made up, it still has to apply the idea of color harmony or it isn’t going to look good.

Another problem is that just because two colors work together on a color wheel that does not mean that they will work together well in a tattoo. You have to factor in the color of the person’s skin and how it will affect the hue of the ink. You also have to look at the color context, too. Just because orange and red are next to each other on the color wheel doesn’t necessarily mean they will look good together on someone. They may muddy each other and make your art look ill-defined. You might need something in a bigger contrast in order to make each color stand out depending on what you’re trying to do.

So it turns out color theory is actually both interesting and useful. That was a pleasant surprise. I don’t even sleep through class anymore.