Tattoo Smarter not Harder
By Mickey Schlick
I’m always trying to find answers to as many of the little issues that life throws at me as possible. I wanted to share some things that I think are applicable to our life in the shop. Often, I notice that many tattoo shops, especially street shops, lack adequate space for that most important or our chores, drawing. I wanted to cover a quick fix for this: a low cost, zero floor space, cheap drawing table.
Since my first gesture drawing class, I have been hooked on lap boards and I think they are a great solution when needing to move around is a must. Sitting in the chair and having the board at an angle against a table or the back of another chair gives a large drawing area and a much more comfortable angle. The other thing that most people don’t really notice is how much a horizontal surface can potentially skew a drawing.
Personally, I was looking for a more permanent fix and so I did some “figurin'” to come up with an idea that matched all of the benefits of having a large drawing table without loosing any floor space in the shop. The one thing about this plan in particular (which I am hoping that some of you will turn into ideas of your own) is that it is not very adjustable. So, as the old adage goes, measure twice cut once. On the upside, it is so cheap and easy that you can have multiple drawing surfaces in the shop that work for different people or drawing styles or projects for well under $100.
In our shop, most of the artists like to draw pretty big which we like because you can get a lot of life into the work when drawing with your whole arm. Personally, I’m about the newsprint because I would rather retrace my design with a marker on tracing paper than slide the rough onto the copier, or photograph it and deal with it digitally, but sometimes I can go big with it or sometimes I can work out a whole bunch of thumbnails on one sheet. Most papers have a larger style (I like 18×24), just think about what you like to draw on and then buy your table based on having enough room to draw and support your whole drawing pad and arms and whatever else you need, while still fitting the space. Obviously, you don’t need to go that big, but you could go larger or smaller on the table or paper (all of the measurements for this will be unique to you and your situation, so I’m not going to get too deep into that. ) Just read this, think about the logic of it, then go out and build your own that is perfect for your situation.
I started with a very complicated idea, which I won’t get into, but I will say looking back that I don’t know how my head got that far up my ass. I had spent all this time planning out this awesome drawing table with a support frame and a bunch of super heavy wood with a crazy detailed stain. Sounded good until I realized that it was going to be entirely too heavy for the wall and the stain didn’t go as easy as I thought it would. In the end, what worked the best was to keep it simple, use this 24″ x 48 1/2″ MDF for like $10. I just had them cut right there at Home Depot, to like 24″ x 36″ then painted it to match the wall that it was going to hang on with paint from the shop, so that you can barely tell it’s there at all. Very low impact, even visually. It’s great!
Think about a cabinet on any wall…. Now keep the door, take away the cabinet and put the door on the wall hinges up. There you go… in theory at least. In practice, you want to be sure you cover a few loose ends.
Anyway, that’s basically it. Build away, but I will tell you a few things to keep in mind so you don’t screw anything up too badly. And if you do screw up, don’t tell anyone I told you to do it! If you need a babysitter so you don’t fuck up your shop, then call yo momma!
- Measure Twice Cut (or drill) Once: Seriously… don’t fuck around.
- Get a stud finder, and I don’t mean your lady. They’re like $10-$20 at Home Depot. Read the manual so that you can hang this heavy wood in a place that it won’t fall off the wall mid-drawing and will support you leaning on it a bit. You may possibly have to hang a support from the wall to then hang the board from, depending on your situation. Making sure the hinges get screwed in to a stud (or solid base in any event) is much more important than making the hinges even on the table. Get it? The table should hang level and swing properly, but the hinges can attach wherever.
- Next look at the hinges pictured. You will want to avoid the type of hinge with one arrow and go for this type of hinge with two arrows. The reason is that even though I want it as tight as possible on the wall when considering floorspace, that extra step gives just enough clearance to use THESE to clip the paper to the board so it is good to have that extra 1/4″ in the back so that it fits back there and you can still swing the table out from the wall. If you check out the diagram, you can see in the second set where the clip would hit the wall on table A. That will piss off a building owner real quick and looks like crap. You may use a different way of attaching your canvas.
- Use a level, if you don’t, its like hanging a door diagonally on a wall and trying to open it straight, it will be crooked for every drawing forever so just take the extra 2 minutes and make it right. Where the hinges attach to the wall is more important than the where they attach on the table so figure out that part first
- Figure out how you want to attach your paper and get hinges that facilitate that. Maybe you like spiral watercolor paper and you can hang the rings from hooks. I like to use these binder clips I got at the local college supply store because it works for a pad of newsprint but also would work to hold a short stack of any paper and you can use them to hang reference from it during tattoos. With little to no effort at all it can also be made to accommodate a canvas.
- Get a board light enough for your wall, but heavy enough to lean into and large enough to hold your paper plus whatever elbow space you need to be comfortable or attach a reference to. Think about it, test it with cardboard or something and know what you want when you go to the store so you can have them cut it. I went to Home Depot, in and out in under 20 minutes with everything I needed measured and cut. I think the wood, and hinges to do it the way I did it was under $20, but then I got some screw sets and a stud finder. For very little extra you can add some support legs which I will get into in a minute.
- Think about how you are comfortable drawing because this design is not adjustable (although that wouldn’t be too hard to plan). For me, I was already using a lap board and I have a very comfortable chair so the easiest thing was to put the table at a height where I just lift it up, roll in and rest it on my legs. When I’m done and walk away it hangs flat on the wall and I can choose to leave the sketches on display or not. One of the other artists at our shop likes draw standing up so I am going to put that into that into the design and make some sort of fold out legs behind the table so it supports itself at the exact right angle and height. Probably this would be easiest by cutting a pair of wedges and attach them to the panel with more hinges, but this time you can use the smaller flatter hinges, just be careful to use small screws and don’t kill it when you drill it because if they come through the other side or rip out, then you’re not making drawing table, you’re just screwing yourself
- If you want to attach a more permanent clip at the top or a strip of something to catch your pencil at the bottom, or a nail on the side to hang a pencil cup from obviously you can do all of that and anything else you can think of pretty easily.
- Begin with the end in mind as they say…. seriously, don’t fuck around.