These procedures have taught and continue to teach me what the possibilities are in tattooing in regards to cover-ups (tattooing over an existing tattoo design with something completely new), reworks (essentially, collaboration with other artists tend to be unaware they are part of a collaboration, and who have created a tattoo that is not of a suitable quality so requires a more accomplished artist to edit the piece), and matching client ideas to artists realisations, including any aesthetic negotiations that may be necessary to ensure the best piece possible. Part of desk work is a good understanding of artist to client suitability, and ensuring that what the client hopes for is possible by consultation with the artist. My understanding of what is possible independent of secondary input has naturally increased and assumingly will continue to do so – an essential skill for when I come to tattooing in the future.
A particular observation I had made while working on the desk was that often clients are rather vague on what it is that they would like to have tattooed, and may ask for examples of artwork to view and choose from – this perspective has its roots in traditional tattoo street shops but is not the procedure in custom tattoo shops in which each client is assured an original design. Some clients may request subject matter that conforms with current trends (e.g. Greek mythology, pocket watches, mandalas), and there are many requests for the names or portraits of loved ones.
While there is of course a place for such subject matter, my inclination is that the client may either want a tattoo that is simply executed well, while allocating them to a particular subculture or tribe to which they feel identified (often the tattoo may feel like an appropriate expansion of how the client has chosen to present their identity in regards to their appearance and demeanour), or that they hope to recognise the significance of another being to their personal identity using a method which is apparent, visible to all, and permanent.
If the design choices requested by clients can be categorised to such motivations, which through a brief and light discussion, I believe they can – then it may be fair to assume that there could perhaps be stronger methods of visually communicating such ideas than what has been requested.
Coming from a design background, my methods of working with a client have always been to understand what the client hopes to communicate in the imagery through discussion, and to formulate an output which manifests their vision. An integral part of the process in my own methods is in the realisation of what started as an abstraction set out in the brief. Most of the briefs have come about through organisations/companies that are well versed in art direction – in tattooing however, the client isn’t always necessarily of a creative mind-set. My belief is that tattooing is essentially another form of design, and part of being a strong designer is the non material process of creative problem solving, in addition to craftsmanship.
While tattooing has become increasingly visually impressive and the standards of craftsmanship continue to rise, works of a less creatively stimulating nature tends to just be honoured as part of the industry standard, and perhaps acts as the ‘bread and butter’ between more stimulating work for many artists. As previously stated, though this is a worthy and legitimate practice which will always have a place (some clients are set and happy with their ideas), it could also be possible that there are alternative ways to understand what it is that some of the clients are motivated by to get the tattoo and as a designer, to assist in fully realising their vision.
There are a host of methods to apply such thinking that may be applicable, but the core of the idea is to understand the client intent and offer something outside of what is commonplace and appears to be culturally normative. While my PhD research will be of a practice based nature, it is important to understand what formally conducted academic research into tattooing from a social sciences perspective has been conducted to combine with my empirical understanding of individual motivations for design choices, in order to offer any practical solutions to potential areas that may benefit from investigation.
At the time of writing (September 2017) one conceived potential method may simply be a more in depth client consultation than traditional (perhaps ‘conversation’ would be a more appropriate term). The actual tattooing process is very tactile and thus requires a lowering of defences and physical intimacy between both the tattooist and client. Spending a little more time discussing ideas with a client may introduce more of a participatory feel to the process, and thus increase the output of the tattoo, experience for those involved, and ultimately, the financial gain of the studio.
An example scenario may be that a 35-year-old father wants the name of his 6-year-old daughter tattooed onto his forearm in script. The request can be broken down to the stage before the idea has been formulated into abstract ideas, which might be that the client wants 1/ a tattoo to express his love for his daughter and 2/ an aesthetic of formality through what might be considered a conservative font. From these ideas and through conversation of the significance that his daughter made to his life, her personality, particular memories etc. ideas for visuals may then be generated. He may have a memory of being on holiday in Lanzarote where he was swimming in the sea and felt a strong connection to his daughter, and the design may be two sets of swim fins and snorkels emerging from splashing water, with a mountainous background indicative of volcanoes. Equally, the tattoo may well be in script, but it could be in the handwriting of his daughter, and above his heart – making it a more personal expression of the intimacy of their relationship.
Though the above example is of a very superficial and mind-to-screen example of potential implications of the application of design methodologies applied to tattooing, it serves as a starting point from which I am able to consider alternative ways of demonstrating my ideas better. As I continue my apprenticeship I hope to conduct some first hand data gathering of client requests and what imagery they show to communicate their desired visual style of tattooing, in order to better understand how I may conduct my practical research.
Illustrator, Tattoo Apprentice, and PhD Research Student.