Here is the article write up i did for Tattoo Masters Magazines Feb 2016 Issue if you didn’t manage to catch it.
I have been tattooing professionally for 2 and a half years now. I started fairly late in life, I never really thought of being a tattoo artist when I was younger. I had always been able to draw from a young age and I went to college and university to do Digital media and design. It was only when I was approximately 25, when I got one of my first tattoos and the thought of doing it myself came to mind. I never really served an apprenticeship per say, I mainly taught myself for the first year or so. Tattooing myself, friends and my family members and then did things the hard way from there. I would like to note that I would never recommend anybody ever teaching themselves to tattoo. It’s incredibly hard and takes a long time, much longer than an apprenticeship; I’d always recommend people get apprenticeships and learn what I feel is the correct way. After a year or so of teaching myself I visited Viking Tattoo Studio in Jarrow where I was living at the time, the owner Chris saw something in me and agreed to take me on and he pointed me in the right direction. Over 5 or 6 months of getting bad habits out and teaching me the basic things that everybody should know, such as making needles, rebuilding coil machines etc. He let me begin tattooing a few small pieces on customers as well as pieces on family. From there I moved back to Nottingham where I worked with Danny Harkin and his team who helped me to develop further to where I am now. I don’t specialise in one particular style really but I’m becoming known more for black and grey work recently. I prefer black and grey mainly because I can see far more shades of grey that I can different hues of colour.
Reference material & tattoo design
For me personally, a good reference image either makes or breaks a tattoo, unless you’re one in a million you’re generally only as good as what you have in front of you. I have approximately 1000 reference faces, models, poses etc on my laptop and even then I’m still always looking for more. How I start is during the consultation by creating a loose composition sketch, either with markers directly onto skin or a piece of paper depending on the position. Using shapes to map out the piece as a whole. I then move onto the look of the piece by using the tattoo location to indicate the type of pose/ position I want. From there I’ll print out a few copies of my reference image and begin to tweak it for the tattoo, this is where I’ll sketch for example the make-up for a day of the dead girl or any changes to the face, hair etc. I’ll also loosely draw anything else I require on there. So for example, where I think the flow of the tattoo will go for background, where I want any type of filigree etc. After that I make a final edit of the drawing on one of the other copies using a lightbox to overlay the two and pick the bits I want from the loose sketches. I’ll then use this copy to make the stencil. My stencils tend not to be too complex, generally it takes me about 20-30 minutes to do a stencil depending on what’s on there etc. I use a pencil and biro pen. The pen I use to pick out any hard lines or sharp pieces and the pencil I’ll then use to get the different tones. Once the stencil is on the skin ill also use markers to rejig anything that doesn’t fit properly and add any flow that’s needed to a piece that couldn’t be put on the paper.
Prep and setup
My prep and set up is fairly standard as far as I’m aware, prep the skin with soapy water and shave the area. I then use an alcohol based hand sanitizer to make sure the skin is nice and clean and also to take any oil off the skin. I use electrum for my stencil, there’s no particular reason for it, I tried it, I liked it, and so I keep using it. The 1st thing I always do is put the stencil on, It takes me 20 minutes or so to set my station up so that gives the stencil plenty of time to settle in. Set up wise, generally I set up 2 coil machines, a Micky Sharpz Microdial and a Danny Harkin D-shape. I set them up with a 3 and 5 or 7 liner. I also set up and use a cartridge machine for everything else. Cartridge wise, I’m a creature of habit, generally it’s always a 9 curved 15 curved and 27 or 23 bugpin, I’ll also get a 9rs and 3rl out for white and some finer detailed bits. I currently use Sorry Mom products during a tattoo. I was given some to use recently and haven’t used anything else since. Ink wise I use either world famous grey wash or imperial ink grey wash. For a while I used to just use black and drops but found it a lot less hassle to just have bottles premade and I’ve found both these brands heal the nicest and are most consistent for me personally.
Lining & 1st stages
The 1st thing I do is line in the vital pieces, so for instance in this tattoo the hands and face, anything without a hard line I’ll line in light grey, so things like the hands, the lips and inside the lower eyelids, everything else that needs to be lined will be done in black, from there I generally go back to the bottom of the piece and work my way up in sections. For the most part I will go through my section and put all the blacks and darks in, and then the lightest tone. I’ll complete that section to 80/90% I’ll then move on to the next section. I’m ambidextrous but due to schooling I’m predominantly right handed so in most circumstances I work right to left unless I’m losing a bit of stencil on the left side or packing, as I pack left handed. So I’ll work through most of the piece like that until I get to the larger areas of face, at that point I completely flip around. I mag over all the light and dark sections with the light and then build the dark on top of that light shade. I just find that it blends in smoother on larger areas of gradual gradient. So I’ll work through the whole piece to get it roughly mapped in with the correct shades.
Shading and middle section
From that point I go back to the 1st section and work my way back through it. I begin to soften the blends with midtones and build up more tones in the features like the eyes, nose and mouth. Generally speaking I do the majority of smaller detailed areas like the eyes with a liner needle. This stemmed from when I used coil machines to shade, I like to set up a tight 3 with a long throw and shade the features of a face with that, nobody in particular taught me how to do it, I just stood watching people at conventions and asking questions and practised on myself until I got the hang of it. But now I still find it easier to do tight sections like the eyes with a 3 bugpin liner cartridge. I’ll work through all the tones until they are all nice and tight and work through the hair to start getting the textures and flow right
Finishing and pulling tattoo together
At this point I get a liner and the round shader back out and begin to sharpen the tattoo. By this time the tattoo has started to settle down so I can see what areas I need to sharpen, where needs more black and what areas would suit more black in them. I think the best bit about a black and grey tattoo is the black. It holds the piece together especially when there is not much in the way of line work, it is vital to get the contrast in a piece to keep it together, and the correct use of black is the best way to do that. So after I have added all the black I begin to start defining a few hairs with the liner, just to start adding texture and break up a bit of the consistency of the smooth shading and give the illusion of hair strands. At this point I’ll also sharpen up key areas like the eyes, using the tight 3 to sharpen the top line of the eyes and under the nose, generally places that are going to cast a harsh shadow on the face. Once that’s done I begin adding the white. Where ever possible I will do this with a 9rs. I’m always a bit apprehensive of putting white highlights in anywhere that is smooth soft skin. I prefer highlights on places that are going to be either wet or really shiny. So places like the reflection in the eyeballs, the inside corner of the eye, the inside of the bottom lid, the lips and hair.