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Drawing & Designing Tattoo Art Creating Masterful Tattoo Art From Start to Finish Fip Buchanan with photography by Marc Balanky

Cincinnati, OH


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Contents Special Offer Introduction What You’ll Need CHAPTER 1

The Consultation Meeting the Client Sketching and Placement Keys to a Good Composition Adding Interest Location Matters Overcoming Common Obstacles CHAPTER TWO

From Sketch to Tattoo Planning Your Composition From Sketch to Tattoo


Adding Interest to the Composition Black and Gray Tattoos Unifying Design Elements Adding to Existing Tattoos Iconic Images Asian Style Tattoos CHAPTER 3

Tattoo Style Art Transfer Designs Angel Wings CHAPTER 4

Artists’ Gallery Chris Walkin Craig Driscoll Jen Lee Juan Puente Kahlil Rintye Shawn Barber


Mary Joy Scott Robert Atkinson Shawn Warcot Fip Buchanan About the Author Dedication Acknowledgments Copyright



I began tattooing in 1979 and it became my career in the fall of 1984, right after I graduated from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. I have drawn all my life and was inspired by my mother in that direction at a very early age. I do


remember asking my mother what a tattoo was as a child and she responded “Don’t ever get one of those, you’ll get blood poisoning!” Well, I’ve gotten way more than one of “those” and still don’t have blood poisoning! Fortunately the health aspects of tattooing have much improved through the passage of time, and those risks are way less than they were in days gone by. Now most health departments require that tattoo artists get blood-borne pathogen training, along with having strict guidelines about sterilization and sanitation that every tattoo shop has to follow. Tattooing has evolved a great deal since I’ve been involved with it. There are so many styles and trends that have come and gone, and some of the better ones have stayed. The language of tattoo design has expanded tremendously, which is one of many reasons why tattooing has become so popular. In the good old days of tattooing, the imagery was very limited. A lot of those standard designs, and the style they were tattooed in, is now referred to as American Traditional. Even when I first began tattooing in 1979, eagles, skulls, anchors, cartoon characters, weren’t part of a specific genre. They were just tattoos. Now there is American Traditional, Tribal, Black and Gray, Celtic, New School, Realistic, Biomechanical, Japanese, and who knows what else.


With the expanded design options, more people can relate to tattooing, and find, or create, a design that resonates with them. Therefore the demographic of tattooing has expanded. With unlimited design choices, the tattoo clientele has also become unlimited. Gone are the days of pointing at a design on the wall and saying, “I’ll take that one!” Custom tattooing is now the norm. Anything and everything can be adapted as tattoo imagery. But whatever it is, there are certain principles that always apply. Doing artwork as a tattoo on a human body is different than working in any other medium. There is no defined border to your “canvas” per se. And the surface you’re working on varies inch by inch as far as contour, and even texture. It’s very important to consider the placement of the tattoo, the flow of the art with the body, even the colors and how they’ll look on the skin you’re working with. How will age affect the look of the tattoo? How detailed should the design be? Is the person in the sun often? There’s a lot to consider when applying art to skin. In this book, I hope to help you learn to create masterful tattoo-oriented designs with the knowledge I’ve gained with thirty plus years of tattooing. I won’t be going into how to actually apply a tattoo. That is way too involved a process to cover in any book. To properly learn to


apply tattoos, you would need to seek an apprenticeship with a qualified tattoo artist who is willing to spend the time needed to train you. My goal with this book is to help you to better understand the art of tattoo and how to apply the principles of tattoo design to creating your own unique tattoo art, and enjoy doing so. Have fun with it—I do every day!


What You’ll Need The materials you’ll need to get started will include various pencils, a kneaded eraser and tracing paper. You’ll also need colored pencils, cold-pressed illustration board, watercolors and/or liquid acrylics, permanent markers and paint brushes. It’s also a plus if you have a drawing table or a drawing board, but these aren’t essential and you can improvise if need be.

Drawing Tools Fine, medium and brush permanent markers; a kneaded eraser; 2B, 4B and 6B pencils; and a 6B graphite stick.


PENCILS A common 2B graphite pencil can be used for most applications. The softer the pencil is, the darker the line will be. Sometimes you may prefer a very soft pencil, like a 4B or a 6B if you want an even darker line. A soft pencil is also good for making a transfer sheet, which we’ll cover in a later chapter. A soft graphite stick, like a 6B, works even better when making a transfer sheet as it will cover a greater area at one time. ERASERS A kneaded eraser is the type of eraser that artists generally use, as it doesn’t make the dust that a pink eraser will. It is also more gentle on the surface you’re drawing on, and won’t damage it easily. You can use one for a long time because you simply knead it to clean it, which is another advantage. MARKERS AND COLORED PENCILS I use Faber Castel permanent markers for my black linework. I get them in fine, medium and brush tips. I find them easier to control than a brush or croquill pens for lining, but you can certainly use those too. Good colored pencils that have a waxy texture really lay on tracing paper nicely and almost glow when applied 12

properly. You can also do nice blends with them that mimic the shading techniques of tattooing. When done well, marker and colored pencil can look like a painting.

Liquid Acrylics Liquid acrylic colors can be mixed, although they come in a wide variety of premixed colors. PAINTS Liquid watercolors work well for tattoo type artwork, and so do liquid acrylics. The advantage of watercolors is that they can be reanimated for some time by just using water to blend them out. The problem is that same attribute can work to your disadvantage if you’re layering colors or trying to build up layers of paint as 13

they can run together and get muddy. Make sure you get lightfast watercolors as some are not and fade out very quickly so all your time and effort will disappear! Liquid acrylics have the advantage of staying put once they’re on the surface, but the disadvantage is not being able to be blended out after only a few seconds. You have to work very quickly with them. Another thing that’s good about acrylics is that they can be layered up, and you can do aging techniques on top of them easily too. For these reasons I prefer acrylics over watercolors personally. But you should try both, and see what works best for you.


Brushes Various brushes, dilutions of black ink, tube white acrylic and souffle cups. You’ll need a wide variety of brushes depending on the size of the painting and detail you wish to achieve. Dilutions of black ink are used for different shades of gray. An “aging” color made up of brown and yellow can add an interesting patina to your art. White tube acrylic is used for highlights as it’s much more opaque than liquid acrylic. Souffle cups are useful to mix colors in. BRUSHES To apply your paint, you’ll need brushes. You can do most things with a 6 and an 8 round brush, but you’ll need bigger and smaller brushes for large areas of fill in and fine detail. Go to the art store to get an assortment of brushes and experiment with what they can do. You’ll figure out some great techniques as you move forward with your artwork. TRACING PAPER Tracing paper is great for initial sketches and can also be used to do really nice colored artwork with colored pencils. When sketching, you can do layers of tracing paper to adjust and refine your drawings. It also works


well if you’re doing a symmetrical design and need to fold the paper in half to replicate it in the other direction. You can also look through the paper to see how your drawing looks backwards, as often errors in the artwork become more obvious in reverse. To create more finished-looking tattoo-style artwork on tracing paper, you can use permanent markers of various weights (fine, medium, and brush) to create the linework, and then use colored pencils to fill in the design. Another use of tracing paper is to make a transfer sheet. This is used to transfer your sketch onto illustration board or whatever surface you’ll be doing your artwork on. ILLUSTRATION BOARD Cold-pressed illustration board is ideal for using permanent markers, colored pencil and watercolors. It has a textured surface that works well with watercolors or liquid acrylics. You should get 80 lb. or 100 lb. cold-pressed if possible, as it’s less flexible and takes watercolor better. If the board gets too wet it can buckle, and the surface can be damaged by getting too wet or overly erased.



The Consultation

The consultation process with clients is key to the composition of the tattoo design. It is during the


consultation that you will learn what image the client wants and where it will go on the body. Sometimes clients will even ask for your advice when they can’t think of what images will convey the idea or feeling they have. The same goes for tattoo placement. Some clients will have a specific idea for location in mind, others may ask for guidance. It is important for you to explain to clients what will work compositionally and what will not. You might have a client who wants too many different images in one design, and you’ll need to explain how that clutters the composition and makes it hard to “read.” Other times a client will want an image on an area of the body that just isn’t suitable for the shape of that image. You need to be able to guide clients in their decision-making. Part of your job as the designer is to explain what will work, what won’t, and why. Generally, clients will be very receptive to your ideas if they know the rationale behind them. They have come to you, at least in part, because they trust your design sense. Keep that trust!


Meeting the Client Every commissioned art project, whether for a tattoo or otherwise, begins with a consultation with the client. It is important to remember that the consultation is the first time that you’ll spend time with your client, so be sure to make a good first impression. The client will want to feel you’re into the artwork and are confident you can do it justice. They also want to feel that they’re important to you—and they certainly are. Without clients, you wouldn’t be working. So take the time and spend the energy to make your client feel comfortable—it really counts. Some clients are very specific about what they want, while others just have a general idea and are counting on you to help them solidify their concept. You’ll first want to figure out what the client wants as the principal subject matter for the tattoo. You’ll also need to know what secondary elements they have in mind and what type of background, if any, is needed. It’s often helpful to have people bring in reference photos of art that they like in order to point you in the general direction they want to go. Sometimes a client


will describe what they have in mind, and you immediately get a visual in your head of what they’re talking about. You may have the right visual, but sometimes you may not. That’s when the reference photo becomes invaluable. You can save yourself a lot of time down the line by first clarifying exactly what it is the client wants.



A Cohesive Background Ties Unrelated Elements Together The client wanted a truck tattooed on his inner arm. This particular truck was the truck his father used in his business. Below the truck, he wanted portraits of his grandparents. Note how the background ties the elements together into a cohesive whole. During this initial consultation, you may find that the client has way too many ideas for one piece. Or sometimes a client may have a specific reason for wanting to include multiple elements that do not really go well together. If you can, try to get them to narrow their focus to include only what’s truly necessary to avoid cluttering the composition. If the client insists on including everything, you could combine the seemingly unrelated subject matter into a sort of collage effect. Recently I was asked to do a tattoo that covered the entire arm with a lot of different images that were all family related. It was to include an eagle with a purple heart and an airborne ribbon, a cargo ship, scuba divers, his grandparents’ portrait and a specific type of truck. I was able to tie all the images together into a pleasing overall design by using background elements of sky and water. It is possible to make just about anything go together when it comes to art.



Reference Photos Aid Design On his outer arm, the client wanted an American eagle holding a Purple Heart and an Airborne insignia, both of which his grandfather earned in his military career. The cargo ship pictured below that was also part of his time in the service. Scuba diving was an activity the client enjoyed with his father, so it was also included in the piece. The client brought in reference pictures for everything except the eagle. The eagle is done in a traditional American tattoo style, and was drawn from memory.


From Rough Sketch to Finished Concept This was another family-oriented piece with the client’s personal icons used for the tattoo. He brought in a sketch for the design, which greatly helped with the direction of the composition. The only photo references used for this tattoo were of a hand and shark’s teeth.



Sketching and Placement Tattooing is different than doing other artwork because you don’t have a defined border like with other artwork. There is no edge of the canvas. You have to think about the area of the body the design is going on and how to make the art flow with the body. I generally trace the area where the design is going, and also take a picture of the body part the design is going on. Then you can print out the picture using regular paper, not photo paper, so that it’s easy to draw on. You can do a small, quick design of the tattoo on the photo to help set the flow and general design, then refer back to that as you draw the design on the tracing paper that you used to measure the space you’re going to fill on the body. Start with a quick, rough, loose sketch to begin the process. Trying to get the design perfect with the first draft is nearly impossible and tends to make the art look stiff. Start loose, and then tighten it up as you go to get all the details worked out. Use tracing paper in layers to refine your sketch. That way it just gets more and more refined and you don’t have a ton of erasing to do. If you feel you’ve started in the wrong direction, it is okay to just scrap the whole design and start over. Make sure


that you’re happy with your composition before you commit it to canvas, or a body. No amount of detailing, color or other tricks can hide a poor composition. A good composition is the foundation for any good piece of art.


First Attempt This is the first attempt at a tiger composition for a client’s back. A picture was taken and printed out on regular paper so that it could be drawn on easily. The client was indifferent as whether to cover “Sinner” that was already on his back or to leave it alone, so the drawing here shows a version leaving the lettering. The tiger looked way too small and it was not a great composition, so this idea was scrapped.


Second Attempt The second drawing shows covering the lettering, and to the upper left the three circles indicate where the “hear no, speak no, see no evil” monkey heads were to go. The flow of the tiger didn’t look right, and the client wasn’t going for the monkey idea, so on to drawing number 3...


Third Attempt This drawing was the one that was decided on, with the tiger in a more dynamic pose, the head twisting back, and bamboo as filler and coverup in the upper left hand corner.


Tattoo Drawn Directly Onto Skin The decision was made to draw the tattoo directly onto the skin prior to tattooing instead of using a full-scale stencil because of the coverup involved. A drawing that


is transferred to stencil and then applied as a coverup hardly ever works because it’s just about impossible to make it fit perfectly. The final sketch done on the copy paper was used as a guide for the freehand drawing on skin.


Outlined The main tattoo is outlined and all the balck is done on the tiger.

The Final Result The completed tattoo, including the bamboo. A second layer of color will be done over the coverup areas to 34

further mask the old Sinner tattoo. It was decided early on to leave the tattoo in the upper center.


Keys to a Good Composition Drawing a miniature of the design can be a useful tool in composition. It saves time and you can knock out several thumbnail sketches to decide if a design works or not. When designing a tattoo that covers a whole back, for instance, you can start by taking a picture of the person’s back. Then you can use a piece of tracing paper over the photo to get the exact shape, then enlarge it to a comfortable size for you to draw, but not so large that it’s overwhelming. You can begin by doing the drawing about 8 ½” × 11” (20cm × 28cm). At this size you won’t be tempted to add a lot of unneeded detail that will just clutter up the composition when it’s full size. When that drawing is done to your satisfaction, you can enlarge it to the size it will be when applied as a tattoo, then refine the drawing and add detail as needed. You can also color the miniature to show your client how it will look with color, and to help figure that out for yourself, too. KEY ELEMENTS OF GOOD TATTOO COMPOSITION • Subject: One dominant subject works best.


• Flow: Go with the natural contours of the body. This is especially important with background. • Points of Interest: Make sure there is something interesting to look at from every angle. • Scale: The main element should be as large as possible for clarity, detail and durability through time.


Basic Outline for a Composition This outline drawing shows the basic shape and flow of a full arm tattoo. It follows the natural contours of the body and is based on Japanese style wind background. You could use this background with all sorts of


foreground elements such as cherry blossoms, birds or anything associated with wind and be assured that it would flow or move correctly on the body.


Full Sleeve Composition A full sleeve laid out. Notice how the design follows the basic shape illustrated in the previous sketch. This is how the design looks flat. In the photographs of the actual tattoo in the pages that follow, you will see how it wraps around the arm and how it was designed so that there are points of interest from every viewing angle.



The Finished Sleeve With this sleeve, the client wanted a koi fish, a dragon and flowers, all tied together with a water background. The koi and flowers are for his daughter as it reminds him of a special garden and koi pond they visit together. The dragon is representative of his study of martial arts.



Patterns and Textures Enhance a Composition The koi is the main focus of his upper arm, with the water for movement and background. The koi follows his bicep, and the calico pattern on the fish was added for interest so that it wouldn’t be just a large field of orange. The texture of the water is to break it up so that it’s not bars of blue and black where it’s not splashing.



Stylized Elements Help Convey Feeling The dragon is the primary subject of his forearm. It has blank eyes without pupils to give it a more spirit-like feel. Again, the water is used as background and for flow.

Adding Color Flowers are used to add color, and the stargazer lilies are the type of flowers at the koi pond the client and his daughter visit. They go under and over other elements in the composition to help tie it all together. They are also the focus of the inner bicep, which can only be seen when the client turns his arm in a way to intentionally show the viewer. The inner arm is also a great place for


bright colors in a tattoo because it is not exposed to the sun and, therefore, avoids the fading issues over time.


Fun with Flow and Texture The area of water is on a part of the arm that is neither the inner nor outer forearm where the dragon is, but a space in between. It was placed there by itself for fun with the flow and texture of the water, but so as not interfere with the dragon.



Connecting Areas A splash was used on and around the elbow to help connect the upper and lower arm and to avoid putting a lot of color on the elbow. There are two reasons for this: the elbow is not a good wearing part of the arm, and it hurts more than usual to get tattooed there!


Adding Interest No matter how technically perfect a composition may be, if it’s boring nobody will be interested in looking at it. Keep the following things in mind as you’re creating your artwork and you’re bound to come up with some great work that’s very interesting to look at. CONTRAST Contrast is very important with artwork. If you’re working in shades of black and gray, make sure to have tones from a deep black to a pale gray, and even lighter. When tattooing, you can use the skin itself as highlight areas. When using colors, you have to think of how they work together to create contrast. For instance, you wouldn’t use only blues, greens and purples in a tattoo because that would look very flat. You’d need to use some warm colors such as red, orange or yellow to provide enough contrast and separate the different parts of the tattoo. TEXTURE Texture can add interest and helps create separation in a design. Patterns on clothing, scales on a dragon or snake, 51

spots on the wings of a phoenix, or fine lines indicating a soft fur texture on a tiger are all examples of using textures to improve a design. Without it, things tend to look smooth and flat. LINE WEIGHT Line weight can help separate elements and emphasize the main subject matter. Use a heavier line for the main body of a koi or dragon and a much thinner line for their scales, for example. If doing a human figure, use a heavier line on the main body and a thinner line for the facial features and hair. DETAIL Add detail to draw the eye to the key points of the design. Don’t detail everything or it will kill the contrast and leave no where for the eye to focus. Over detailing is probably worse than under detailing. With too much detail your composition will just be a jumbled mess. COLOR Mixing new colors when appropriate can add interest, too. Don’t always use the same green, or blue, or whatever color straight from the bottle. If you’re doing a design with three different types of flowers, you may


want to use three different greens for their leaves. Colors can be mixed in an infinite number of ways—use this to your advantage.


Contrast Shading Adds Dimension In this Buddha head tattoo the various shades of black and gray work together to emphasize the different parts of the tattoo. The black pushes the pale gray to the forefront. The wood grain effect adds texture.



Balance Warm and Cool Colors Notice the way the warm and cool colors play against each other. One without the other just doesn’t work. The blue of the water and orange of the tiger add “pop” to the piece. The detail on the tongue, nose and pad of the foot add interest, and the individual hair lines make for a softer look on the tiger’s body. Green is used in the eyes to bring them out from the rest of the face, although in reality tigers eyes match their coloring to help them hide in the wild. But in this case we wanted them to stand out.


Use a Mix of Bold Lines and Fine Lines The main lines of the dragon in this tattoo are bolder, whereas the scales are a finer line and offer more detail. Different textures throughout the piece also help to add interest.


Multiple Textures Add Interest The craggy surface of the branch adds another texture to contrast the smoothness of the flowers. (The colors of these flowers are not straight from the bottle but were mixed specifically for this tattoo.)




Use Details to Add Emphasis These orchids are finely detailed with spots and lines, just like real ones. Their bright colors are emphasized with the blue water behind them, and the rocks help break up the water and add their own texture.


Location Matters When deciding where to place an image on the body, you have to determine where the shape of the design would fit best. For instance, a traditional pinup girl works best on a forearm or calf due to the fact the design is tall and narrow. You would not want to place it on the chest, as it would break the plane and look very awkward. Something rounder, like a heart design, would go better on one side of the chest. If you’re using the whole chest area, a full wingspan eagle is really perfect for the area—that’s why it is such a timeless classic. Other birds also work well there, like a raven or an owl. It is key to match the shape of the design to the body part. For larger designs the placement is still crucial; however, flow now comes into play as well. Notice the way the angle of the phoenix on the inner forearm helps give it motion. If it were entirely straight up-and-down, it would appear more static. The wings hug the rest of the forearm, and the tips of the wings pointing upward direct your eye in that same direction. The tail feathers twist and turn as they cascade up the arm. The swirling


background adds to the overall effect. The background is often key in giving large tattoos movement. The Japanese depictions of wind and water are ideal for this.



Establishing Placement The phoenix’s head is the primary focus on the inner arm. The decision was made to place it there instead of the outer arm because the outer arm gets much more sun, so the important details in the face and head will hold up better over time where there is less sun exposure. The wings wrap around the arm and aren’t really visible from this angle. The tail feathers wrap up and around the arm, with one feather visible behind the head of the phoenix.



Add Interest from Every Angle The back of the arm is shown with one of the wings visible along with the tail feathers running up and around the elbow. Even though there’s not a focal point like the head of the bird, the wing and tail feathers still create interesting shapes and give the eye something to focus on.


Phoenix, Detail In this example the main body of the phoenix was put on the chest in the traditional shape of a Japanese chest panel. The tail feathers run down the side onto the ribs, cradling a Hannya, which represents a jealous woman in


Japanese folklore. The idea for the composition was the client’s.


Transition from One Area of the Body Into Another The overall side view shows the transition between the chest and the rib. The feathers twist and turn to help accommodate the flow.


Overcoming Common Obstacles SIZE Sometimes the sheer size of an art project can be very overwhelming and intimidating. Whether it’s a giant painting or a back piece or sleeve tattoo, it can feel like you’ll never be able to finish it. But don’t fear. Sooner or later, it will get done. Don’t feel the need to rush—that can actually slow you down because you’ll be prone to make more errors that you’ll spend yet more time correcting. When tattooing a sleeve, you can outline first the upper arm in one session, and then the lower arm the second session, if you have a good breaking point in between. You also don’t need to add all the details the first go-round. You can add the scales on a dragon, or the patterns in clothing, the next time you work on the project. This can apply to painting, too, where you can start with the basic art and then add more color and detail later.


TIME CONSTRAINTS When doing big tattoos, it’s best to set up biweekly or monthly appointments in advance with the client to encourage them to come back and get the piece finished. It’s very frustrating if a client only shows up once a year, or even less, to get their tattoo worked on. By then you’ll have lost interest in the piece, and may even be approaching the subject in a different way, making it very difficult to complete. To avoid the same pitfall of never completing a painting, apply the same principle but work on the painting at least weekly to keep the flow going. OVER DETAILING Resist the urge to over detail your artwork, especially large pieces, just because you have the space to do so. It can be very advantageous to draw things smaller and then blow them up to actual size to help avoid this. If everything is super detailed, it will clutter up the composition and make it hard to read, meaning to see everything that is going on. Over detailing is worse than a lack of detail. Leaving the background and secondary parts of your art more plain makes for a much clearer picture or tattoo.


REFERENCE Don’t let your ego get in the way of using good reference material. If you’re not sure what something looks like, take the time and research it to find out. Good reference will help, especially in traditional tattoo background elements of wind, water and waves. A bad or wrong-looking background will really kill a piece. The background is what ties it all together and if it’s not right, your artwork just won’t look good. Saying, “I draw it all out of my head,” is not necessarily a good thing. In fact, it can be the weakest link in your design. It’s okay to use artwork you like as a starting point for your own work. EXISTING TATTOOS What do you do when tattoos already exist on the area you are tattooing? Sometimes the client answers that question for you and insists that you simply work around them. That can be the best solution if the existing tattoo is dark or large anyway, as often they’re hard to cover with a new design. The other option is to cover them with the new tattoo if possible (or practical). The third option is to have the client get the tattoo(s) removed and then wait an appropriate amount of time before applying


the new tattoo. Each case is different and has to be dealt with accordingly. Sometimes there are so many pre-existing tattoos in the area that you wonder what to do to fill the space and make it look like a cohesive whole. Sometimes just jamming in all you can and creating an interesting collage effect is the way to go. Other times if there’s enough space, you can add a background to tie everything together. A Japanese background of wind, water and fire goes with just about everything as it creates a nice flow and pulls it all together. If there’s very little space left, gray shading or traditional American stars and dots fillers can also look good. It’s for you, and your client, to decide.



No Problem Too Big This is a great example of how the sheer size of a piece can be intimidating. When this client came in he wanted his entire back done, plus the area below almost to his knees. He’s also about 6 feet four inches tall. If that wasn’t enough pressure, he’s also a good friend and a great tattooist in his own right. It took a period of about three years and a total of about 70 hours of work to complete the tattoo. But it got done, with many sessions ranging about two to three hours at a time. Perseverance does pay off!


Use Just Enough Detail to Keep It Interesting This chest panel is a very straightforward design with a wind bar background. Simple, right? But the details of scales, hair and contrasting colors add enough just enough detail to keep it interesting.



Working Around Previous Tattoos The solid black tattoos were already there when the client decided he wanted a sleeve done with a tiger, water and roses. The black tattoos would have been very difficult to coverup, plus the client wanted to keep them anyway, so the decision was made to go around them.



Adding to Existing Work The client already had the tribal dragon but wanted to add flowers. A traditional Japanese background was added to tie them all together. This picture was taken about twenty years after the work was completed and also shows how colors can fade over time.



From Sketch to Tattoo


After the consultation, the sketch is the next step to creating a tattoo. Work loose and fast with your initial sketch to get the flow going as you figure out the composition. Lay out only the basic shapes to begin with. Sometimes an idea can seem really great—until


you see it roughed out on paper. So don’t invest too much time working out a design unless you are satisfied with the initial basic composition. It may take several quick sketches to achieve this. If it’s a larger design, you can work on a smaller scale to speed up the process. It also helps to not over detail the composition. Once you are pleased with the initial sketch, start detailing the drawing. If you are uncertain of what something should look like in the design, use reference material to make sure it looks right. Continue to refine the sketch until you are happy with it. If you feel it necessary, make a copy of the line drawing and color it in so before you even begin the tattoo. That way you know exactly where you’re going with your color scheme in advance. “Oops! I should have used another color there!” is not a good phrase when tattooing. Do all your planning at the sketch stage so there are no unanswered questions once you get started.


Planning Your Composition COBRA AND CRANE The client who requested this tattoo chose this subject matter due to the particular martial art he has been practicing for ten years. Snake and the Crane are different fighting style movements that are put together to create Wing Chun, the martial art that he does. The different animals represent the yin and yang. The soft movements of the snake(yin) overcome the direct force of the crane’s (yang) attack with it’s beak and wings. He specified that neither should appear to be winning the battle, but to be in conflict. For the location of the tattoo he specified his upper arm and chest, so a half sleeve and chest panel is what he wanted in tattoo lingo.


STEP 1: Trace the Area The first step after the initial consultation is to trace the area that you are drawing the tattoo for. This way it will fit the area correctly. Using tracing paper and a yellow marker, hold the paper against the arm and chest and indicate the area to be tattooed. Although people’s shapes and sizes vary, this is approximately what the tracing should look like.


STEP 2: Block In the Shapes Using reference material provided by the client and also images that can be found online, draw in the basic shapes of the crane and cobra. The challenge here was having two planes (the arm and chest) to use and to tie the subject matter together. Logically the crane would be above the cobra as it would be in the sky, and the cobra would be below it on the ground. By using the wings of the crane on the chest and the neck and head on the arm, the problem of tying the arm and chest areas together was resolved. Think about the movement and flow of the piece during this step.


STEP 3: Refine the Composition Once the placement of the main images has been established, the detailing of the drawing can begin. The wings of the crane are completed, and the scales and facial features of the cobra are drawn in. The different textures created by these refinements are what separate the images and add interest to the piece. The traditional Japanese background of stylized wind and cherry blossoms are used to fill the space and give it that Japanese tattoo look. You can see that the refined sketch is reversed from the previous sketches. The reason for this is that I often draw on both sides of the paper and flip it back and forth depending on which way my


reference material is facing. Looking at the drawing in reverse is also a good way to check the drawing for any errors, as they often become more obvious that way. You can also hold a drawing up to a mirror to reverse it.

STEP 4: Modify the Composition and Add the Background This photo shows the finished tattoo on the chest. Cherry blossoms were used below the crane’s wings to create


depth. A black and gray background was chosen to make the accent colors pop. Black and brown were used in the wings, but no white. Using white pigment across large areas can often appear blotchy, so it is should be avoided. Instead, the skin itself was used for white across large areas in this case, which can be quite effective. Note how the front wing and body of the crane continue onto the arm.


STEP 5: Add Final Details It was decided that the inner arm area was not needed for the crane and cobra idea, and was saved to put in a thing of beauty, in this case a chrysanthemum . A separate stencil of the flower itself was used, and then the


background was drawn in to fit in with the rest of the tattoo. With this final addition, the tattoo is complete.


Completed Tattoo, Arm Here you see the crane and cobra in conflict, with neither being the obvious victor. This was intentional due to the client’s request, and follows the yin and yang ideal. The scales and color accents add interest to the piece, and clearly separate the animals. The awkward angles of the crane’s head, neck and feet add movement and tension to the tattoo.


From Sketch to Tattoo DRAGON In this demonstration you’ll see how a dragon tattoo begins as a drawing and ends up the finished tattoo on skin. In this case the client already had a tiger tattooed on his left arm that went from just above his elbow and onto his chest, so he wanted the dragon to fill a similar space. The tiger’s head is on his chest with the body going down his arm, so the same composition was decided upon for the dragon on his right arm. He also requested water to be the background, and it to be blue as opposed to the more traditional black and gray that is more commonly used in Japanese style tattooing. A black and gray background gives you more options for color to be used in the subject matter as you don’t have to worry about the other colors being lost in the blue water. On the other hand, using blue makes everything very bright, and I personally feel that blue is the prettiest tattoo pigment there is.


STEP 1: Apply the Stenciled Design to the Skin This is the paper stencil being applied to the skin. This stencil is made by using a machine that prints the original drawing onto a special paper that transfers the image with moisture. The skin is moistened and the stencil is carefully applied. It is important that the client holds very still to avoid any misprinting of the stencil.


STEP 2: Adjust and Modify as Needed The purple pattern is left on the skin from the stencil paper. At this stage any adjustments and modifications can be made with a skin scribe before the actual tattooing begins. A skin scribe is a specific marker that is used to write on skin, primarily before surgery, but it works perfectly in this situation, too. When applying a large stencil that wraps around a body part, some corrections will almost always have to be drawn on. 96

The Finished Outline Tattooed Into the Skin Note how the main outline of the body of the dragon is heavier, and the scales and the hair are a thinner line. This adds interest to the piece and gives detail that is important to keep the eye intrigued by what is going on.


The Finished Tattoo, Front View Note how the orange and yellow of the belly, back, beard and eyebrows contrast with the blue water to pull the dragon out of the background. The red of the flames and the pink in the mouth, ear and paw also provide the separation needed from the blue and contrast nicely with the green of the dragon. Black was added to some of the


scales for added interest, and the eyes were done without pupils for a more mysterious look.


Adding Interest to the Composition KOI AND WATER Koi are a very popular theme in tattooing and from about 2010 seemed to accelerate to the front of the line in Japanese-influenced designs. They stand for good fortune and luck. They also represent perseverance in adversity, strength of purpose and courage. Along with all these admirable traits, they present the opportunity to use lots of bright color, and being in water it’s easy to create a good flow with the design. They work well on the arms and legs in particular, but can be designed to fit any part of the body well.


STEP 1: Create a Rough Sketch In this case, the client wanted the design on half of his chest. The design was also to include Benkei, the warrior monk, battling a giant koi. This quick sketch was done to establish the placement of all the main elements.


STEP 2: Add a Border, Texture and Patterns In the finished tattoo, you can see that a water splash was used around the nipple. Flowing water was also used to establish the inner border near the center of the chest.


For the fish, a calico pattern was used along with red and orange to create texture and add interest.

The Finished Tattoo, Detail Side View Adding fine details to the scales and the warrior’s face helps to pull the viewer’s eye into the design. Fine detail in the clothing also adds interest to the overall design.


Black and Gray Tattoos HEARTS AND FLAMES Both hearts and flames are very common themes in tattooing, and roses are the most frequently used flowers. In this demo we’ll be using all three, along with clouds and a light ray effect. This tattoo is also done in black and gray, with no color. This client wanted to fill the last bit of space on his inner arm, nearly in his armpit. The flames flow to the side to maximize the size of the heart and use the available skin to the best advantage.


STEP 1: Create a Rough Sketch This is the first sketch with just the basic shapes mapped out, but it’s still pretty clear what it is. At this point the roses are indicated by circles.


STEP 2: Refine the Composition A traditional style rose with leaves is roughed in. Begin with a small circle in the center and add the petals around that. In the middle of the rose the petals are very small and folded tightly.


In the finished tattoo, you will see three whole roses plus another partial rose on each end for a total of five. Remember odd numbers make for a better composition.

STEP 3: Add Light and Shading This closeup of the flames in the finished tattoo shows how shading was used behind the flames to give the illusion of the flames’ brightness. When drawing flames, think of the negative space between the flames. The base of the flames’ negative space is a teardrop shape, and the flame flows out from there. 107

STEP 4: Add Final Details The roses were kept much lighter in color to provide contrast to the heart. The flames themselves were left unshaded so they wouldn’t get lost in the mix. The heart was made as dark as possible with plenty of added highlights to make it appear shiny. Light rays were added to cut through the clouds around the heart.


Unifying Design Elements DAY OF THE DEAD SKULLS The Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, is a Mexican holiday but is also celebrated throughout the world and in other cultures. It’s a holiday for family and friends to get together to remember and pray for their departed loved ones. The celebration includes making altars that make use of decorated sugar skulls and flowers. These skulls and other images associated with the Day of the Day are popular among tattoo enthusiasts. Skulls in general are used frequently in tattooing and the beauty of the decorated sugar skulls make for a striking tattoo design.



STEP 1: Establish Patterns and Create a 3-D Effect The client wanted a tattoo of Day of the Dead sugar skulls extending from her inner thigh around to the back of her thigh. During the consultation phase, a pattern was designed to emulate the frosting decorations of sugar skulls. The skulls themselves were kept to a very simple design since they are depictions of sugar skulls and not at all meant to be anatomically correct. Black roses were


placed behind the skulls to help push them forward, giving a 3-D effect and making the skulls the primary focus of the design.


STEP 2: Unify Design Elements The client had an aquatic theme on her other leg, so the element of water was used to tie the skulls and roses in


the Day of the Dead tattoo together, as well as to unify it with the aquatic tattoo on the opposite leg.

STEP 3: Balance the Composition This is the other side of the same leg. Note how the water flows clear around the thigh for continuity. The skulls are very similar, but the eyes and decoration make them different enough from each other so as not to be boring.


Adding to Existing Tattoos ROSES, ORCHIDS AND GRANDMA This particular piece started as a single orchid on the top of the client’s arm. To her the orchid represents how life blossoms and grows or withers away. She got the first orchid when her stepsister passed away, and continued to add orchids because she loved the beauty of the flowers and wanted a half sleeve rather than just one flower. The lower part of the arm is dedicated to her grandmother and mother. She got roses because they reminded her of them both. Included on her inner forearm is a portrait of her grandmother. On the elbow is a stargazer lily that she decided to get for no symbolic reason, but just because she liked the look of it.


STEP 1: The Original Tattoo This picture shows the first orchid that started it all. There was no preliminary sketch for this three-quarter sleeve because it wasn’t planned as a sleeve in advance. Rather, it was added to over time from what started as a single flower.


STEP 2: Add More Flowers and a Background More flowers were added to the inner arm area. All of the flower designs were taken from books on flowers for a more realistic look. Stencils were made for each flower and placed carefully to enhance the composition. The background was drawn directly onto the skin. Blue was used for the background (instead of the traditional black background as used in Japanese tattooing) to make the tattoo brighter and more colorful. The swirling forms of the background were inspired by Japanese artwork. The blue also contrasts nicely with the flowers. No leaves were used with any of the flowers because we wanted the blue against the color of the orchids and roses rather than green, and we wanted to keep the design relatively simple overall. Note the flow of the design


created by the background, which is essential for the flow of the composition, tying it all together.

STEP 3: Add Highlights with White The red rose was highlighted with white. White is generally not a very durable color due to sun exposure, but on this area of the arm it is well protected from the sun, so it shouldn’t be a problem. 118


STEP 4: Finish with the Portrait The grandmother’s portrait was done in a cameo shape so that it would have a definite edge when the background was added. My client loved the picture of


her grandma with her sunglasses on because that’s how she remembered her. I love the look of black and gray tattooed portraits because they resemble black and white pictures. I’m not really a fan of color portrait tattoos, mainly because the delicate flesh tones don’t tend to hold up well over the years. A black and gray portrait just softens up a bit as time goes by, and may even look better as it ages.



Iconic Images AMERICAN EAGLE The Bald Eagle is a mainstay of traditional American tattooing, and the chest eagle design is probably the most iconic form of traditional tattooing. In this piece it is incorporated with several other traditional ideas into a cohesive piece. The client is a diver in the navy, and has been in the service for twenty plus years and is currently the rank of chief. He brought me two examples of traditional chest designs and wanted them combined, along with adding the badge in the center that is part of the divers uniform. Rope was used as the border around the badge to form a definite frame. Along with the American flag, he requested the Jolly Roger on the other side to stray from tradition a bit. The anchor is on the bottom, and flowers are used as a design element along the edges. Water is on the bottom of the design to add movement, and this is a Navy tattoo after all, so of course you need water, right? And to top it all off is the eagle, front and center.


STEP 1: Lay In Highlights and Accent Colors A tracing of the area to fill was made before the drawing began and was used as a guide in the design process. The red was added to the eagle wings to bring them more to the foreground. The red sun on top is another traditional element that is often used. It also adds color and in this case, gave a raised, rounded center that the client requested.



STEP 2: Keep Stylistic Elements Simple The flag is simplified for the traditional look. It was not really necessary to include fifty stars to get the idea across.


STEP 3: Keep the Color Scheme Balanced Green water was used so as not to conflict with the blue of the flag. The rope was kept simple and only shaded with black. There was already enough color around and inside it with the colored seahorses. Keeping the color scheme limited adds to the traditional look, which typically includes only black, red, green and yellow. Some blue and brown were also used in this tattoo though.


The Finished Tattoo Note how the composition fits the body.


Asian Style Tattoos In a lot of cases a large tattoo starts out with a single piece and continues to grow as the client adds on to it throughout the years. The client featured here has been getting tattooed for approximately ten years and is currently working on covering his back. He is a fireman by profession, and his choice of tattoos reflect his strength and determination. You can see which tattoos are older and which are newer by the variation in sharpness of linework and the vividness of the colors. This client also has very freckly skin which shows through the colors to a mild degree as tattoo ink is transparent.



The Original Tattoo The koi and water on the outer arm was his first tattoo, done about ten years ago. A koi symbolizes perseverance in adversity, strength of purpose and courage. It can also mean good fortune or luck.



Use Negative Space for Emphasis The right arm was started with the image of a geisha turning into a dragon. The negative space around her head was used to emphasize her face.



Alternate View Another view of the finished left arm.

Adding Symbolism A Hannya looks like a devil head but is actually a Japanese depiction of a jealous woman. It was added on the inner arm to fill that area. Because the inner arm does not see much sunlight the tattoo remained quite


bright as the years passed. Later a dragon and cherry blossoms, which represent the brevity of life, were added to complete the sleeve to the wrist. Cherry blossoms, with their short bloom time, are symbolic of samurai who never knew when their lives might end.

Chest panels The chest panels were added later. They depict a mum and a peony.


Tying Elements Together The chrysanthemum (or mum) flower was added later on the inner arm, signifying life. Note the flow of the splashing water and how it ties the sleeve together with the addition of another mum and a peony flower. Peonies represent riches and power. You can also see how well the tattoo has held up through the years as this area of the arm never gets any sun, avoiding the fading and damage caused by UV rays.


Style and Detailing Enhance Final Results The back piece of a samurai on horseback was the latest addition to the collection. The client requested a samurai for his back, and I came up with the idea of putting him on a horse. He liked the idea, so we went with it. The pattern on the clothing, the tattoos on the figure, and the choice of coloring on the horse were all done to add detail. The horse itself is a Japanese stylized horse


rather than a realistic horse. This is particularly evident in the face.

Back Details White was used on top of the blue clothing for a very subtle effect. Note the delicate pattern of the cherry


blossom and wind tattoo on the leg and arm. A mixture of black, blue and white was used for the tattoos to give it the look of old tattoos. The blanket and horse are also patterned to add interest.

The Final Result Here is a portrait of the client where the overall effect can be seen along with the flow that was created with the tattoo designs.



Tattoo Style Art

The bold, powerful imagery and look of tattoo design is well suited for many types of artwork that are not actual tattoos. Clothing, skateboards, advertising art, posters and more can all benefit from the use of tattoo design. It is eye catching and often gives people an immediate gut reaction. Whether it’s models with tattoos or background


images, tattoo-style artwork is all over print ads and TV advertising ranging from perfume to cars. CD, DVD and book covers also use it. In this chapter, we will explore various examples of how tattoo design can be used in other ways besides tattooing.

East Meets West This circular painting, 30� (76cm) in diameter, was done for an art show by tattooists from the East and West Coasts of the United States, and is titled “East vs.


West.� It is done with acrylics on canvas, and expands the east and west theme to mean the Far East and the West, specifically the U.S. The eagle is an old standard, a classic tattoo and a patriotic design used since the 1700s to represent the U.S. The stylized tigers in the design are based on Japanese paintings and are another old standby of tattoo design. The circular format forced and/or enabled unusual design sensibilities that are not possible in the usual rectangular or square format of painting. Dark, muted tones were used to make the painting more subtle and less flashy. Partial representations of the creatures, mainly their heads and feet, were used instead of the whole bodies to make them much larger and give them more impact.

Tiger and Water Skateboard Design The tiger twists and turns to fill the space, and the stripes are spiraling to help add movement. The background color of the blue water in stark contrast to the brown, orange and yellow tones of the tiger


separates the elements and helps create brightness. Although rectangular, the fact that the edges would be rounded off when printed on a skateboard was kept in mind, so no major details were painted in the corners. This painting was done with black ink, including shades of gray created by diluting the black, then the color was applied with liquid watercolors right over the black ink. Using pigment that is transparent over a black and gray painting lets the undershading show through and adds much more dimension to the painting.


The Finished Skateboard

Trade Show Poster A poster done for the Alliance of Professional Tattooists (APT), for their trade show in 2010. The snake was used


because it is part of their usual graphic logo, and the torch was used for the “Carrying the Torch” idea. The organization was founded in 1992 to further health education and regulations in the tattoo industry. Color done in liquid acrylic was used to add interest in the central theme, while a dilution of black ink was used for the gray background. When doing this effect, mix the black and water in a large enough amount so that when you get it to the shade of gray you want, you’ll have enough to cover the area needed. This Japanese wind and cherry blossom background was made with a pale gray so that lettering for advertisements could be added in black over it.


Shop Artwork A stylized Japanese arm with phoenix tattoo, 15” × 20” (38cm × 51cm), tube watercolor on illustration board. The arm in this painting is the style used in Japanese wood block prints, and done this way as it seemed


appropriate for the tattoo theme. This was created for decoration and inspiration in a tattoo shop to give clients an idea how the finished phoenix tattoo would look on their arm. This painting was done as part of a series including a Hannya head, a dragon, a koi and other common Japanese tattoo themes. It is a good way to help figure out a layout for a large tattoo.



Ink and Liquid Acrylic Inspired by a Los Lobos song with the lyric, “How long is forever?” The words were thought provoking, and a gypsy woman with her crystal ball was the painting that came from it. Hearts are a common theme in tattoos, and this one has the thorny vine used with the “sacred heart” to add religious connotations. Detail was added to the head wear for interest, and the banner was done parchment style for texture. This painting was completed, allowed to dry thoroughly, then coated with layers of a transparent aging color made with heavily diluted liquid acrylic. Less aging color was used on the eyes so they would stand out from the rest of the painting.


Advertisement Continuing the gypsy how-long-is-forever theme, here is an advertisement for Avalon Tattoo during its twenty-second year of business. The clouds and banners typical of tattoo design are used in this composition, and the purple and parchment colors work with each other to add the contrast needed to separate the elements and 151

bring them to your attention. Details in the feathers of the head wear and the stars on the scarf add interest. Her eyes are heavily shaded to add an air of mystery. This is a small painting, 8” × 10” (20cm × 25cm) and is done with ink and liquid acrylic.



Series Paintings Another female figure, this one with a large traditional style American eagle as the prominent secondary element. She is one of a pair, the other girl featuring an Asian style tiger. To reinforce the idea of a set of paintings, this girl has faded tattoos of a tiger and bamboo, whereas the other girl has an eagle tattoo across her chest. The tattoos were done to look faded as to not compete with the other detail elements of the painting. The head scarf has a paisley pattern, and the bottom portion of a broach is showing that matches her necklace. Her earring features another traditional American tattoo theme, often referred to as the “Sailor’s Grave,” a sinking ship on rough waters. The spider web was chosen as the background to pull the viewer’s eye to her face. This painting and its companion piece are both 15” × 20” (38cm × 51cm). They were done in ink and liquid acrylic on cold-pressed illustration board.



Common Tattoo Elements Used to Tie Series Together A silhouette of bamboo and a red sunset was chosen for the background to complement the green in the subject’s dress and provide stark contrast to all the fine hair detail of the tiger. The halo effect was used mainly to include the turquoise-colored marble detail, so as to have that contrast with her blonde hair and bring attention to her face. The tail of the tiger encircles her neck to simulate a necklace. Further detail was added with color to the hoop earring and was made to look like silver or chrome to contrast with the color of her hair. In this set of paintings, the girls face in opposite directions so they can be displayed together looking at each other, or away from each other if so desired.



Asian Inspired This painting is intended to be more whimsical than the average tiger, while retaining the Asian look with the style of the cat and the hawk. The background elements are also very Asian and tattoo inspired. The bamboo is rendered loosely to give the impression of movement and birds in flight. The water in the lower right flowing down is a wash over effect so that you can see the tiger through the water. The expression of the tiger’s face was inspired by English bulldogs, who often lounge about with their tongues hanging out surrounded by a random tooth or two. The bird was added as a fun element, just out of reach of the tiger who may be thinking he’s looking at his dinner! The main detailing in this painting is in the fur texture, which was created with many fine lines. White was the last color used on the fur to really bring out the texture.



Tattoo-Style Letters and Banners Aid Design This poster done for an Avalon anniversary party uses the image of the torch once again to show lasting endurance. Detail on the torch handle shows parts of a dragon with its scale pattern wrapping around it. The roses are textured with stippling, while a black Prismacolor pencil was used to shade the leaves and torch to add another texture to this bold piece that is mainly straight black and white. Tattoo banners and lettering help complete the piece.


Transfer Designs MAKE A TRANSFER SHEET There may be occasions when you’ll want to transfer a design composition directly onto the surface on which you plan to create the finished artwork. A transfer sheet is a very useful tool in those cases. Materials • • • • • •

6B graphite stick ballpoint pen lighter fluid or Bestine solvent marker (optional) tissue tracing paper


STEP 1: Cover the Surface Thoroughly cover a piece of tracing paper using a 6B graphite stick. Apply it fairly heavily.


STEP 2: Spread the Graphite Put a small amount of lighter fluid or Bestine solvent on a tissue and use it to more evenly spread the graphite and help it adhere to the tracing paper.

STEP 3: Apply the Transfer Place the transfer sheet graphite side down between your sketch and the surface you want to apply it to. Trace over your sketch with a ballpoint pen. You can then go over the transferred drawing with a marker before applying color.


Angel Wings SKATEBOARD DECK In this demonstration, I decided to go with roses and an angel wing on a raw wood, old-school style skateboard deck. The grain of the wood showing through the transparent liquid acrylics adds a texture of its own. The fact that the pigment will bleed a bit into the wood and keep the design loose is also appealing. Of course this is just one way to do it. You could also prepare the wood with clear gesso if you prefer a nonabsorbent surface to paint on. Or, you could use white gesso if you’d rather not see the grain of the wood showing through at all. Materials • acrylic paints in red, green and other desired colors • amber shellac • black ink • Faber Castell “B” Pitt Artist Pen • no. 2 pencil • nos. 6 and 8 round brushes • water


• wooden skateboard deck



STEP 1: Transfer Your Sketch to the Surface Prepare your surface as desired. Create a thumbnail sketch of your composition and then enlarge and transfer it to the deck, or simply use your sketch as a guide to freehand the design onto the deck with a no. 2 pencil.



STEP 2: Outline the Composition Use a Faber Castell “B� Pitt Artist Pen to go over the pencil drawing and put bold black linework on the deck. Go heavier in places to add emphasis to that part of the design, while keeping other areas more delicate.



STEP 3: Add Shading Add black shading to the design to create depth and layers. Use straight black ink for the darkest areas. Use water to dilute the black to shades to gray where needed. The shadow under the rose that’s on top of the wing makes it appear more above the wing. The shading on the different tiers of wings gives them separation. The dark black around the wing makes the wing itself appear lighter. It will also make the color, once added, appear brighter.



STEP 4: Add Color Paint in your color with liquid acrylic paints. Add only a tint of color to the roses, as you want the piece to be subtle, not gaudy. If you decide to add color to the wing, the best choice would most likely be pale blue. Stick to one shade of red and one shade of green for the roses and leaves, the preexisting black shading is what will give them shape and definition. Using transparent colors will allow the grain of the wood to be visible.



STEP 5: Seal to Finish Apply two coats of amber shellac to the top of the deck.



The Finished Skateboard The shellac will protect against the elements and also gives an aged and somewhat weathered look to complete the piece.



Artists’ Gallery

Along with more of my own work, this Artists’ Gallery features several of my favorite tattoo artists. They all focus on different styles of tattooing, and all are relevant to the field today. Included are examples of the Japanese style, traditional American style, nontraditional, and other tattoos that are more difficult to categorize. I hope


you will be inspired by their art and explore their websites to see more examples of their work.


Chris Walkin Chris Walkin grew up in southern Louisiana and has been tattooing since the late ‘90s. After apprenticing and working at a handful of tattoo shops between Louisiana and California, he returned to Lake Charles, Louisiana in 2011, where he opened Iron Cypress tattoo shop with his friend and fellow tattoo artist John Davis. You can visit and to view more examples of Chris’s work.





Craig Driscoll Craig Driscoll was born in Toronto, Canada, and currently lives and works in San Diego. He has been tattooing for about twenty years, doing what he likes to call “Tattoo Nouveau.” (what the rest of the world calls “New School”). Craig has tattooed all over the world and had the opportunity to work alongside the best of the best in the industry. Today, however, he prefers to take it easy, tattooing from a private studio in his home. He now only takes on a handful of tattoo clients each year and spends most of his time painting. Craig’s main focus is his wife and three daughters, Zoey, Sara and London. It is his hope that the girls will one day join him as artists. See more of Craig’s work at




Jen Lee Jen Lee grew up “twenty-six miles across the sea” on an island called Santa Catalina off the coast of California. She planned her escape in 1993 and headed for the San Francisco Bay Area, where she studied printmaking at the California College of Arts and Crafts. Jen began tattooing in 1995 and left the Bay Area for a number of years to live and work in New York City and later, Denver. She returned to San Francisco in 2008 after receiving a call from Ed Hardy inviting her to work at his legendary San Francisco shop, Tattoo City. Visit to see more examples of Jen’s work.








Juan Puente Juan Puente has been tattooing for more than twenty years. He had the opportunity to study under some of the best tattoo artists in the business, and continues to practice his craft at Black Heart Tattoo in San Francisco. His favorite styles are fine-line, black-and-gray, and bold traditional tattooing, though he enjoys everything in between. He also loves photography. See more examples of Juan’s work at:








Kahlil Rintye Kahlil Rintye grew up a comic book-loving nerd in San Diego, California and tattooed there nearly ten years before moving to San Francisco in late 2003. Two years later an unprecedented planetary alignment (a recommendation from Fip Buchanan) gave him the opportunity of his career—a slot at the legendary Tattoo City working for his artistic hero, Don Ed Hardy. He remains there still, with plans to ride the lucky train into the mists of infinity. Check out more examples of Kahlil’s work at





Shawn Barber Shawn Barber focuses primarily on painting, portraiture and documenting contemporary tattoo culture. He earned his B.F.A. from Ringling College of Art in 1999 and A.A.S. from Cazenovia College in 1997. His paintings have been featured in exhibitions throughout the United States and are held in private collections throughout the world. Shawn’s work has appeared in advertising, music, magazines, children’s books, and newspapers. He has taught drawing, painting and the business of art at various art schools throughout the country. In 2009, Shawn and his girlfriend Kim Saigh opened Memoir Tattoo in Los Angeles, California. Shawn’s most recent book, Memoir: TheTattooed Portraits Series was released in July 2012. More examples of Shawn’s work can be seen at and





Mary Joy Scott Mary Joy Scott is a San Francisco-based tattooist and artist. She studied painting in San Francisco and at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence, Italy. She has worked in several platforms, including murals, zines and sign painting. In addition to tattooing, she makes etchings, watercolor paintings and ballpoint drawings on antique handkerchiefs (paùos). Her artistic interests are varied but focus on prison art, Victorian expression, pulchritude in its many forms, and the occult. Mary Joy’s art has been exhibited in several museums and many galleries around the world. You can find more examples of her work at as well as on Instagram at @maryjoytattoo.





Robert Atkinson Robert Atkinson is a Los Angeles native who started his career air brushing T-shirts. In 1992, some friends chipped in and bought him his first tattoo kit. After practicing for a few years, Robert started working at Melrose Tattoo. In 1996, he was invited to work at Royal Tattoo in Denmark. After a few years of doing mostly tribal tattoos, he moved to Eindhoven, Holland, where he laid the roots of what would become his signature “Western-Oriental” style of tattooing. Robert settled back in the United States in 2001 and now works privately at Dolorosa Tattoo in Studio City, California. In addition to tattooing, Robert started his shoe project in the fall of 2006. Each pair is handmade, a one-of-a-kind, special order. Visit to see more of Robert’s work.





Shawn Warcot Shawn Warcot has been tattooing for more than twenty-five years. His work has been included in numerous art gallery showings, television commercials, books and magazines. He is a member of the infamous car club, The Beatniks F.B.B.F., and is heavily influenced by monster art, comic books and pop culture in general. Shawn is the owner of Inland Empire Tattoo Studios, with three locations in southern California. Visit to see more examples of Shawn’s work.





Fip Buchanan








About the Author

Photo by Brianne Brose. Fip Buchanan has been a tattoo artist for thirty-two years, including management and ownership of tattoo studios from New York to California. Among others, he was the owner of Avalon Tattoo in San Diego from 1989 to 1997; worked at Ed Hardy’s Tattoo City in San


Francisco from 2005 to 2008; and has written and taught the class “Large Scale Tattoo Layout and Composition” at the Alliance of Professional Tattooists Tattoo trade show and various conventions for the past two years. He was elected Vice President of the Alliance of Professional Tattooists in 2011; is a Bloodborne Pathogens Certified instructor who teaches classes to tattoo artists worldwide, most recently in Beijing, China in 2011; and he currently owns Avalon Tattoo II in San Diego, California, which he established in 1997. Fip also does illustrations, skateboard designs, T-shirt designs, acrylic paintings and murals. He is a graduate of the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, and his work has been exhibited in galleries as well as published in the books Forever Yes and Southern California Tattoo Road Trip, and the magazines Tattoo, Skin and Ink, Prick Tattoo and San Diego’s 944. Fip has specialized in large-scale Japanese-inspired tattoos for the majority of his career and is well known for his bold, colorful work.


Dedication This book is dedicated to my mother, Nancy Ann Swope Buchanan, who along with the gift of life, instilled in me the love of art. A great artist herself, we drew together starting when I was a young child. She nurtured my interest in art from that time onward. Thank you, Mom, for all that you have given me. I love you.


Acknowledgments First and foremost, I’d like to thank my mother-in-law Mary Joy Thomas, for making this book possible. Thanks to my wife Rain and son Rex for their love and support. As far as my tattoo career, I’d like to thank Ed Hardy for his endless inspiration. Thanks to John “Red” Schuster and Duke Miller for their help, encouragement and patience early in my career and giving me the opportunity to work beside them. Thanks to Mike Luckett, the very first person to tattoo me. He also gave me pointers about tattooing and even lent me his tattoo equipment to start my career. Thanks to Leroy “Jeep” Dively for allowing me to do my first tattoos on him. Thanks to Jack Rudy for helping me with technical advice along with leading the way in black-and-gray tattooing in general and for his sense of humor, joy for life, and giving me the opportunity to come work for him in 1987. Thanks also to my crew now, Mike Stobbe, Dave Warshaw, Denny Besnard, Alessio Ricci, Chris Cockrill and Arnold Santos, and to members of my previous crews.


Thanks also to Marc Balanky for his photography and to Clare Finney for the wonderful book design. Last but not least, many thanks to my editor, Christina Richards, for her guidance through the process of putting this book together. I couldn’t have done it without you!


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Drawing and Designing Tattoo Art. Copyright Š 2013 by Fip Buchanan. All rights reserved. No part of this eBook may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review. Published by IMPACT Books, an imprint of F+W Media, Inc., 10151 Carver Road, Suite 200, Blue Ash, OH 45242. (800) 289-0963. First Edition. Other fine IMPACT products are available from your local bookstore, art supply store or online supplier. Visit our website at eISBN: 9781440328978 This e-book edition: March 2014 (v.1.0)


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