Art Theft

David Palacios ThinkingBy David Palacios
Tattooing is spreading like a wild-fire! I’m not sure if it’s because all the tattoo shows out nowadays, or the ease of buying tattoo equipment. Whatever it may be, the industry is being saturated with tattooers, and there is a one main thing many of these tattooers are overlooking beside the respect for the craft. I’m talking about the artwork itself. What do tattooers and their clients see as custom art, flash and theft of artwork? There is a huge lack of originality and a spike in theft of artwork with all these new tattooers and we need to clarify what the boundaries are. Yes there are boundaries…

On several social networking sites, there are tattooers being called out as art thieves and or “trace masters.” What determines theft of artwork? There are many different points of view when it comes to this topic. The main one being “the customer is always right.” I myself find that to be false, at least when it comes to tattoos. We are not a corporate run industry, we’re allowed to say, “NO.”


Judging from my personal clients, they come to me for my professionalism and artistic ability to create something custom and original for them. I don’t believe that someone who wants a tattoo is SO closed-minded that they aren’t willing to compromise. From all my experience, I’ve learned that the average person lacks artistic vision. That’s not an insult, not everyone is a visual person.

rhiannas tattoo

So instead of trying to imagine their own personal custom tattoo, they do a search for tattoos that already exists, be it online or through magazines. When that happens, since they don’t have that artistic vision, like a professional artists has, they get worried about changing the idea, which comes off as stubborn. This is where the problem occurs. This is where an artist should take the design and use it as a reference, a starting point, an idea. Not take it, and trace and tattoo it solely out of fear that they will lose that client and the money.

Day of the dead copy

Almost every single time when a new custom drawing is done, using the reference photo but doing something different completely, the client is ecstatic! They’re excited to see their idea realized by a professional artist, and knowing that someone took the time to design a one-of-a-kind piece of art for them alone. If they are the type that are not willing to compromise at all, then yes, I would definitely let them walk out the door, and I hope other artists do too. Maybe then they will see that copying someone’s tattoo is not the best idea.

Now, there are some tattoos that are iconic, and even tattooers today will create designs similar to traditional tattoos. That’s where I think if an artist that has respect for the fathers of modern tattooing, they should actually give credit, saying something along the lines that it was inspired by the art of Bert Grimm, Sailor Jerry, or Lyle Tuttle just to name a few. There are tattoos that are created from classic “flash” and there is nothing wrong with that, it has been around since the birth of modern tattooing. When it comes to flash, that is what it was meant for. It’s made to be copied.

Destroy Troy

I personally like to take that piece of flash and change it up a bit, but the artist that designed it created it knowing that it would be copied line for line, color for color… It’s something that has come to be apart of that tattoo culture. There are also artists that provide sketchbooks and prints of their personal art, that doesn’t necessarily mean they want their art to be copied. In fact, there are several books that state on the first few pages not to copy the art but use it as a reference. To be inspired by the art to create something similar but not an exact replica.


Tattoo artists and tattoo lovers, no matter how long they’ve been tattooing or getting tattooed need to be reminded that there are boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed. Bringing in a picture of someone’s tattoo that might have been drawn custom for them not only as a piece of art, but as something personal with more meaning to them than anyone else would ever understand, and then tattooing it on someone without at least trying to change it is very taboo.


Why have a matching tattoo with a perfect stranger? Why not have something that you ca be proud to wear as your own? There are so many artists out there doing amazing original works of art. Why not get on their level by doing your own thing?

You’ll never get anywhere by being the artist that copies everyone. The artists that make it are the ones that are willing to take risks and tell their clients, “NO, let me design something solely for you.” Make the client think it was their idea to change it up! Take a chance and be original.

David Palacios can be found at Tattoo Alchemy in Montclair, CA.

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7 thoughts on “Art Theft

  1. I agree 100% I won’t get a tattoo unless I or my boyfriend have not drawn personally and then I let my artist use his talent to take it to the next step. I do not want a tattoo on my body that everyone has or can get.

  2. Best put ! Tattoos were actually an art form designed to distinguish an individualism in the first place. As an artist I’ve found that it’s hard to find ways to protect your original births of imagination

  3. This has always happened and it will continue to happen. How come it’s ok to tattoo an Escher or Dali tattoo but not another tattoo artist? Putting your tattoos on the internet is like putting out a flash sheet and asking for people to copy you. be flattered.

  4. Well I completely agree with you, but … there is the other side, whenever a customer decided to get a “replica” of an existing tattoo, he will not stop until he has it; period.
    Whenever there is a fan of somebody that is by any way trying to emulate her/him, we will be in this same situation over and over. So this becomes something more that just reproducing somebody else´s art. Now We are in the place of feeding some one´s obsession… you see my point? No matter if you are offering a personalized tattoo, that fits better your customer, this is not a matter of stealing art, is a matter of psychology.

  5. Great article. Sad to say that too many clients are too fucking stupid to know about originality.. we live in the “everyone needs an i-phone” age. And on the other side the “tattooist” should have scruples enough to say “hey look, you are a complete moron if you want the same exact tat as you saw online”. But then again look at the world outside of tattooing and we all know that shit’s just going to hell…

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