By Dan Henk
This industry has been around a long time. People come in from many different angles, some just want to make a living and there is certainly a place for that. Others are artistic geniuses, and there is a place for that as well. The vast majority fall in the mid-ground. All are welcomed, as long as they approach it with the right attitude… And if you can do a good, clean tattoo…
Seeing the work of people like Aaron Cain, Guy Aitchison and Tom Renshaw got me into this industry. They did amazing artwork on the body and in my 20s I was convinced that was the way to go. Eleven years later, you know what I’ve learned… It is, and isn’t, at the same time.
When I went to art school I was trying to do work similar to the painters that inspired me on the skin. I figured I had the basics down, light source, anatomy, perspective, that’s all I needed, right? Wrong.
There are principles that have been around for a hundred years and they apply as much today as ever. A good tattoo needs to be readable from a distance, needs to flow well with the contours of the body, and needs to be anchored with a solid foundation of black.
It’s not just art, it’s art on skin that has to stand the test of time. That’s not to say that there haven’t been tremendous advances. Better machines, better needles, better colors and certainly much better health standards. There has also been an explosion of styles and many are just as valid as the others, as long as the basic principles of a good tattoo are followed.
It is an all day argument on how to convince new tattooers of what works and does not, and it is true that honey attracts more flies than vinegar… But in the end every tattoo you put out speaks volumes about you.
I have seen work by big-name artists, that does not stand the test of time and a bad tattoo looks worse than no tattoo at all. In the end, it is a service industry and it is the customers body, but sometimes they need to be saved from themselves.
All of which, I am sure, sounds very strange coming from me. I’m known for my realistic tattoos, and for a long time I was an advocate of the, “You don’t need black lines in there to make a tattoo.” I also thought that if I could draw it on paper, it would look equally as good on the skin.
Well, you don’t need a solid black line around the whole tattoo, but you do need some black, and a foundation of strong colors and shapes in order to stand the test of time. I’ve learned to make my tattoos a bit simpler, a bit bigger and to follow more of the principles of flow and contrast. It’s all a learning process. And I hope to keep improving until the day I die, but I have to admit, sometimes you should take the advice of your elders, even if it’s with a grain of salt.
Dan Henk is an award winning tattoo artist, illustrator, painter and author. In his spare time he’s also a contributing blogger for Tattoo Artist Magazine. He can be found at DanHenk.com and look for him on Facebook and Instagram – Find and FOLLOW him.
Read Dan Henk’s other (sometimes controversial) blogs:
- Climb Down off your high horses
- My Rantings
- Tattoo “Artist” vs Tattooer
- Sometimes the Old-Timers are Right!
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