Climb down off your high horse, by Dan Henk

Dan Henk tattoo artist Tattoos have really elevated in quality. You ask any old timer, and they’ll tell you it is undeniable. Sure, they might not be as “cool” or “polarizing” in certain circles, and people can argue all day on what makes the best tattoo, but the equipment available is leaps and bounds above what it was years ago, and the level of artistry is unparalleled.

You have people stepping out of art school and into tattooing on a regular basis. That never happened in the old days. You have commercial illustrators, and galleried painters, who become tattoo artists. Shawn Barber immediately comes to mind, but he is far from the only one.

Shawn Barber
Shawn Barber// Read an excerpt here

I interviewed with several comic companies, including DC comics. I know how little they pay. I have done covers for cds, and music artists pay even less. Book covers pay, usually about $6,000 to $8,000, which sounds great until you realize they come around only about once or twice a year. And that’s for the major publishers. I have done book covers for smaller publishers, and they pay far less. Like in the low hundreds as opposed to thousands. Many commercial cover artists have second jobs, often as art teachers. Many comic artists work insane hours and take on more than one title just to make ends meet. So it’s not surprising that tattooing, with it’s elevated artistic status, has become so appealing.

One of Dan's book covers
One of Dan’s book covers

I’m sure, at this point, you’re wondering where I am going with this. Alright, this is the major sore point I want to bring up. You have tattoo artists, people who do simply amazing work in most aspects, not following the fundamental rules of illustration. And it is holding tattooing back. In fact, this is exactly one of the major reasons why tattooing is viewed as the redheaded stepchild of the art world.

I’m talking about people, who do an amazing portrait, and then put some other part of the body next to it (like a hand), and screw up the size. Or the light source. I see it all the time. Artists Google and photoshop a hand, and throw it in with a face, not even aware of the principle that make the two work together. Another thing I’ll see, is artist s who just stack different elements together, not cognizant of the rules of perspective and focus. The eye focuses like a camera, so if something is in focus, the elements behind it, and in front of it, need to be slightly blurry. Not knowing this is why many large pieces look so flat, like a virtual “Where’s Waldo” of images. That’s not even to bring up some of the even more basic things I see screwed up repeatedly, like anatomy and foreshortening.

A great book for learning
A great book for learning

So, my advice? Step outside of the tattoo world for a minute. You don’t have to attend art school and live drawing classes (although these certainly help). Buy a book on perspective. Buy another on light source, and yet another on anatomy. I would also get one on figures in motion (Dynamic Figure Drawing by Burne Hogarth is a good one) and get a basic art principles book, like “Keys To Drawing”. All of these are fairly cheap on Amazon and will dramatically step up your game. You want your art to be taken seriously? Do the groundwork.  -Dan Henk

A lesson from Dynamic Figure Drawing
A lesson from Dynamic Figure Drawing



-Dan Dan Henk

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 and look for him on Facebook  and Instagram – Find and FOLLOW him.

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Tattoo Artist since 1990 and creator/publisher of Tattoo Artist Magazine since 2003

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