for tattooed people, and those who want to be

Art on canvas, art on skin?


In my series of articles on getting your first tattoo (you can find the index to that series here) I talked about the issues involved in using Other People’s Art. (You can read that article here).

Besides the practical matter of getting permission to use artwork, there are other issues one should consider. Primary among them is whether the artwork you love will translate well into a tattoo. Many designs need to be simplified because the shadings and lines won’t work well on skin, and matching the colors exactly is not always possible (the combination of tattoo ink and your skin tone makes the match tricky). There are many artists who can do incredibly detailed fine line work, but the ink may spread out over time and the fine lines will merge together and blur the design.

Sometimes artwork in color translates better to skin in shades of grey, and this is often done when the tattoo is a portrait or reproduction of a photograph of a person. The artist can translate the photo freehand, or run it through photo editing software that will turn it into a “pencil sketch” to use as a basis for the tattoo.

And there’s also the issue of translating two-dimensional artwork into three-dimensional body art. What looks great on paper / canvas /etc might not do well when wrapped around your arm. Keeping the lines in the same relationship on a differently shaped surface is a challenge. And even the most precise reproduction of a two-dimensional artwork can alter over time as the body inevitably changes. (No, most tattoos don’t “sag” but skin loses its elasticity and changes color with time.)

My quest for real art

A few months ago we went to a gallery showing by our favorite local artist, Kythera of Anevern (you can see some of her work in her portfolio here). One small print called to me from clear across the room when I walked into the gallery and I bought it at the speed of light. In looking at it since I brought it home, I realize that in many ways it represents me and my mother, and it would make a great sleeve tattoo that could be coordinated with the “swoosh” of stars over my right collarbone. And of course I have the advantage of being able to commission the artist herself to adapt the work, so I know the changes would be with her approval.

If you select artwork by a living artist for your tattoo, asking the artist’s permission to reproduce the art should also include asking the artist’s permission for the tattoo artist to simplify the art if that is necessary. Not everyone is lucky enough to be able to commission the artist to do an adaptation, but the artist’s permission should always be sought. You wouldn’t want someone stealing something of yours and wearing it forever.

Do you have tattoo artwork that’s been adapted from another medium?

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Author: infmom

I got my first tattoo when I was 46. I hope the people who read this blog don't have to wait that long. I love talking about body art.

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