When Crash asked me to write for the TAM Blog I said, “Yes, of course.” Then it hit me; “Now I have to think of what to write about?” Well, I am happy to say that with a little patience it has fallen into my lap.
More so, the opportunity to see a back piece done from start-to-finish by an artist that I have looked up to and consider to be one of the best in the industry, and has been an inspiration since I was doing some of my first tattoos, was something I could not pass up.
So in mid-March we came down to Jinx Proof to look at the sketches and Lizzy gave the go-ahead. I met Dave and actually did a trade with him. A painting for a page of the ‘92 set of flash from him… -it was a total score.
A week or so later Dave sent Lizzy a final drawing for her back. It was an epic piece involving a naked girl lying under a unicorn with a mystical background including cities in the clouds, planets and rainbows. Something you might see on any great album cover from the 70s. Now to have Lizzy ask Dave if I might cover the process from beginning-to-end, including sketches, stenciling and just a general insight into how an artist goes through the process of undertaking large-scale work.
If I’m lucky I might even get to pick his brain on reference, machines and needle groupings used in the process. He kindly agreed.
So it is now April 6, 2011 and we are here for Lizzy’s first session. Everyone is in great spirits. Dave joking around about being nervous and needing more caffeine to help the shakes. I can relate, and it is a bit comforting. I get really anxious and shake like hell when I tattoo. Dave dissects the drawing into roughly five pieces to make up the stencil. Puzzling it together, as I call it.
He tapes three of the pieces together, which are mainly the girl, the unicorn and part of the background. Two other pieces make up the sides, which are mainly background plants and grass. The stencil goes on smooth only requiring minor refining with a sharpie. Things seem to be on schedule and the tattoo gets underway around 2 p.m. and at about 30-minutes into it the girl is outlined, and I must say I am impressed at how smooth and quick he makes progress on such a refined tattoo.
It always amazes me the conversations that take place in shops between client and artist during sessions and how they are even more X-Rated when there is a long friendship involved between the two, as Lizzy and Dave have known each other for quite some time now. Let’s just say the banter is all over the place ranging from drug addiction to herpes in the ass. All the while major progress has been made in just an hour.
The girl and unicorn are almost completely outlined and it might be time to adjust Lizzy from sitting to lying down. Spirits are still high as noted by the funny banter going on. As Clutch plays on the radio it is time for a stretch and an adjustment.
So it is now 3:30 p.m. and it is back to work. Dave starts with sketching a bit more, again refining areas of the stencil –mostly areas of the background. Sketching is once again done and time to do some outlining on the side areas of the tattoo. The machine is buzzing as Dave quickly gets back to work.
So as another half-hour goes by, the left side of the background is now outlined and time for another adjustment to work on the right side of the background. Again starting with some sketching to refine some of the background. Two hours down and it looks like the outline is about half done. As another half-hour goes by the background on the right side is almost complete, and I still sit in awe of how quickly Dave moves and how clean the work looks.
Rounding two-and-half hours in and the shop gets bit hectic for a minute, which rattles a few nerves but I think Lizzy and Dave have made it through the commotion. Time again for a small break and a seating adjustment. Now it looks as if they are about 75 percent of the way through the outline, all seems well and the shop is quiet again, except for the sounds of Superfly.
As we move into just under hour three, the outlining continues, working on the city in the clouds and the shop seems peaceful. Lizzy is now sitting up and it seems as if it is just the upper shoulder areas that are left to be done. Although, I must say some of these areas seem to have the majority of the tattoo’s detail.
Progress still seems steady and on schedule. Just over three hours and close to completion. At this point Lizzy’s endurance is fading and that is understandable after having your whole back outlined. It is good for her that the first session is about over and everything considered, everyone’s spirits are still high… –now outlining the rainbow and few sprucely spaced planets.
Back to finish a few small spaces at the bottom around the girl involving background. Now for a brief break to make a few more stencils of some stars and planets and at just over three hours everything that was initially stenciled has been outlined.
The stenciling resumes with a few random stars and planets above the rainbow and it seems that the first session will be over. Stencils on and now back to work. Now at 5:30 p.m. this is the last little bit to be outlined. As Dave starts the countdown on the last line 10… 9… 8… –the first session is complete.
Lizzy and Dave seem to be happy with the session and I am impressed with her stamina and his efficiency as a tattooer. I cannot thank Dave enough for this opportunity to document and pick his brain a bit about working on such and epic back piece. Until session two… we are done here for today.
(Hunter Spanks is a contributing blogger for Tattoo Artist Magazine and was previously in TAM Issue #11. He currently works in Baltimore, MD at Have Fun Be Lucky Tattoo.)