Markus Lenhard: The End of Paper

By Markus Lenhard
It has been about two years since I have rendered my last tattoo design on paper now, and I have gotten many requests to explain why I abandoned paper and how I went about it. Let me go off on a tangent for a bit to explain how and why I make decisions, though… Since I can remember I am suffering from strong Boredom Intolerance Disorder. Most people call this ADD. I call it that BID. It seems more appropriate… 

It’s because of this, that I flunked school and couldn’t hold any other job down. Boring and un-challenging… I always start strong and with my best intentions, but as soon as I reach a peak or plateau in the learning curve, I will have to deal with my patience more than the task at hand. And that will lead to a fade off into boredom and depression. I know that this is a problem to a lot of people in this business and that many of us are here because there was nothing else that made as much sense as tattooing.

I am here because nothing else provided the kind of responsibility and thrill to scaffold my wobbly attention into focus. Something you really HAVE TO finish. Something you CAN NOT fuck up. Anything else this important would require a degree that I could never acquire to a system as stiff and reluctant to accept strange kids like public school.

I never drew or sketched a lot. I think I have filled two sketchbooks (with horrible half-assed stuff) in my first five years of tattooing. There is nothing more terrifying than a newly bought sketch book. Nothing more guilt-trip inducing than a sketch book full of half-assed shit. Of course I know that all this is bullshit, and this is not what sketching is about. But I set my own bar very high and it’s emotionally taxing. Fighting emotions with reason is something I am doing a lot anyways so I try to pick my battles.

It is only when I have something specific to do for a client that I actually sit down and draw. And even then I will wait until the last possible moment to start to provide that extra pressure I seem to need to focus on my task and get my personal best results.

Often enough my clients have walked in on me sweating over a half-finished thing, and I was tired of looking unprofessional and making my clients doubt their decisions. It is extremely unfair to them to induce any doubt over something that they will have to live with forever. The amount of trust I expected was just unreasonably high, so I had to change something. Me.

Drawing on paper is a slow and tedious process. It also doesn’t provide me with a way to do many things at the same time and so is therefore quite stiff to me. The same goes for painting in acrylics and oils. I had the most horrible guilt-trips when comparing my body of work to that of other artists I look up to. I never understood how they just sit down and paint something. Not because of my lack of inspiration but because with a canvas, there is no added pressure…

So, in my quest to become better at starting closer and closer to a deadline without losing any quality in my work or the experience of my clients, I started phasing Photoshop into my production pipeline. It just made sense.

I busied myself with photography years before I started tattooing, and when I went through a similar phase of “streamlining” those tedious steps, I replaced my dark room and chemicals with a digital SLR, a computer and Photoshop.

I first used Photoshop for this-and-that over the years, and then for putting together my portfolios. I also used it to mirror drawings or increase the contrast of my sketches for line drawings. Then I used it to turn my paper sketches into line drawings. Once I had that, I only needed a laser printer to be able to run these line drawings directly through a thermofax.

I got better and better at getting reasonable results with that. But mostly resorted to still making line drawings on tracing paper over a small printout, just so I can make line drawings quicker and scan them, where I can later print them as big as necessary. By doing this I diminished my hunger for unnecessary detail in line drawings and I learned a good deal about the art of not noodling a thing to death.

When I started using it for bigger stuff, it made sense to invest in better gear. So I bought my first small Wacom tablet to be quicker in repairing my paper sketches into line drawings where they weren’t perfect and I could be more precise. I didn’t realize what kind of monster I created… and I didn’t care, this was awesome!

I watched a lot of Photoshop tutorials and committed the stuff I could use at the moment to memory. It built a good foundation for trying to do the actual tattoo sketches in Photoshop. All I needed to do was to measure the body parts and transfer those measurements into Photoshop so I knew what I was doing.

I got better at that quickly, and I was amazed at how much time I saved and yet I found that I had much better renderings to present to my clients… and all that WITH an interactive version of their tattoo to help them understand precisely what their tattoos will look like on the body. (I do bio-mech after all… not even I understand fully what I do until it looks like it’s going to work…)

As thrilled as I was by being able to cut my production time in half while increasing the rendering quality from a colored pencil sketch on tracing paper to a full-color digital painting, I was always put off by the lack of hand-eye coordination that you get when you draw in your lap while looking at a screen in front of you.

Making line drawings like this just wasn’t giving me results I could live with. So I made the jump and invested in a Cintiq tablet.

I have never looked back. I can finally draw the stuff in my head as fast as I can think. Good ideas can be very elusive. On paper I sometimes couldn’t get something out as fast as it disappeared behind my eyes… and I could NEVER:

  • try 10 totally different color schemes within five minutes to pick the perfect one.
  • push the contrast and brightness to see with how much black I can get away with before the depth falls apart.
  • just overlay a photo of the client to see if the colors I chose will actually work with the skin tone, complexion or hairiness of my client…

And so on…

Today I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s great to know almost exactly what I am going to do. To have a full-color study of a full sleeve going into a three-day session with a client from overseas, it not only puts the client at ease, to have a good idea of what to get, it also helps me relax a lot. I can’t imagine having to do this on paper anymore…or even free-handing that stuff. Just knowing that I could have explored a 100 different nichés in way less time would make me feel as though I were short-cutting my client.

Which brings me to the downside of this: It is virtually impossible to travel with a setup like this.

It has definitely raised my personal bar of what I am comfortable doing on people to a level that is hard (if not impossible) to maintain outside of my personal studio.

And yes, it still feels great to actually put down color on a piece of paper. A screen is simply not the same, I am not kidding myself. I would never advise anybody to skip learning to draw in traditional media. Because it is harder… And we just don’t learn shit when something is easy.

I still never paint or draw in my free time. I don’t find it liberating or relaxing to paint. For me it’s mostly stress, self-loathing and struggling with losing and maintaining control from start to finish. All things that I have simply no time for when drawing or painting for a client.

Plus, bio-mech looks best on people… If I paint I would want to do way more conceptual stuff that actually makes sense on canvas. Bio-mech makes me happiest on moving skin. But I do paint for every single client now, and that makes me feels very good and content about the stuff I do. I don’t have to second guess anything anymore because there is plenty of time to try all the variables, “off-skin.”

Markus Lenhard can be found at his web site:

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14 thoughts on “Markus Lenhard: The End of Paper

  1. I bought my Cintiq (21″) nearly two years ago while working on a comic project…and I simply cannot imagine working without it now. I actually miss it a little bit when I’m traveling! 😉

    Thanks for the great post, Markus.
    Stoked, man!

  2. yeah i could imagine having a nice custom travelcase for the rig but knowing how busted my workstation looked after the abuse flying with the whole thing i just cant imagine having a cintiq in there… certainly no travelling setup at all.

  3. Definitely NO WAY to carry the 24″ or even the 21″; I have an older 12″ Cintiq that I traded for prior to the 21″ acquisition, and it could do the job while on the road…but that 9″ difference in monitor size is like carrying a 4-color, limited pallet to tattoo or paint with while traveling. It’s worth trying, I think…just needs a laptop. I’m gonna try to bring it to Paradise in September. (Are you coming to that, Markus?)

  4. What a relief it is to hear someone I look up to confess that he doesn’t draw or paint for “pleasure.” I worry about the fact that I almost never work on art without an actual assignment ALL THE TIME. I wonder how many of us there are, flogging ourselves because we’re not “ideal” artists? (Edward Gorey never drew unless he was hired to, btw.)

  5. right now i am at a point where i need to make a decision between two events because i simply cant afford to be gone for a month from home. So its biomech weekend or paradise… i am leaning towards biomech weekend. I gotta talk to gabe.

  6. I dont pride myself on the fact that i dont draw or paint for pleasure.
    But since i stopped riding myself into guilttrips about it, i have found ways to use my shortcomings to my advantage. Since i have come to terms with some of my vices, i have learned to outsmart them.
    I always hated to draw in advance for a sitting and procrastinated until the last moment and felt awful for not putting more work into a piece. Now i simply tell my clients that they will be present throughout the creative process of their piece and that i wont do anything about their piece until they are here.
    That adds pressure for me to perform well and not waste their and my own time. It also is not something anybody has ever complained about ever. So that whole negativity is completely gone out of my life…
    And really, it says nowhere that you have to crank out 5 incredible non tattoo related paintings a week to be considered a great artist. I do you one better, it says nowhere that you even have to be an artist to be a great tattooer. Being a proper artisan with good taste is enough to go a long way. And if you are a good designer on top of that, being an artist could even be in the way of having a fulfilling life next to a fulfilling job…
    then again, art is such a subjective word… I can’t even use it without making myself sound all wishy washy. What was my point again?

  7. The point that I see, (but which I’m more than a little timid about touching upon, because this is TOTAL geek stuff), is that the inherently limiting qualities of self-comparrison can and do stunt developmental potentials for individual growth…and as soon as one finds the courage to break free of just a few (practically unquestioned) assumptions, new perspectives become possible!

  8. yes… that is a more concise way of putting it. I guess i found that out by self experimentation. For me that is totally true. Also once you fess up to your problem and embrace them they might stop being problems at all. I guess that doesnt count for a proper heroin addiction though.

  9. i’m using the cintiq since a couple of years, it’s amazing, makes my life easyer. I work always on big body parts, my “developing time” from beginning to the end of a project, takes half of the time i need on paper. I don’t like to sell my paintings, i prefer to sell prints, more people can afford it, i’m a working class man.
    Tattooing, as ancient as time, as modern as tomorrow!

  10. Old post, so this might not have been an option a year ago, but…

    Look into the app “Procreate” for the IPad.

    It’s like having a mini-cintique you can carry with you anywhere. If you have an Ipad with a retina screen then you’re there on the go.

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