The times I have tried out new techniques prior to my apprenticeship have generally been through digital means, with the comfort of the ‘cmd + z’ command on Photoshop to undo my errors. Following such methods don’t allow for advancement beyond what I am already capable of. The apprenticeship tasks appear to have forced me to push myself into uncomfortable territory, tackling areas of my work that may have been overlooked, and tightening the overall compositions simultaneously. In yoga, each asana is performed in perfect form when every element of the body is consciously considered. The same principles of awareness are applicable to illustration, design, and tattoo’s.
My first visual task assigned was to replicate a horror-themed image of Frankensteins monster, pictured below. Bez, the founder of Triplesix made it explicit that it was an exercise in viewing and in tonal work, and not an exercise in drawing/illustrating. The image was selected due to it’s high amounts of contrasting tonal values, which in tattooing are broken down into darks, mid-tones, and highlights.
The process involved creating a stencil of the image outlines, before filling in all of the darker tones, then moving on the varying midtones, with the highlights mostly consisting of negative space. As Bez had forecasted, I found myself approaching the exercise simply as a drawing through ingrained muscle memory, spending more time on small sections at a time than I realised I should have been. The temptation is to utilise methods that are comfortable and familiar, and so to avoid this I was advised to break the image down into small sections, disregarding the image as a whole and approaching it merely as tonal rectangles.
The exercise was completed using pencil, which is a medium I utilise occasionally but in a somewhat restrictively stylized way. This method involved performing multiple passes of the graphite across sections that had already touched, building up tone in passes in a way that may be comparable to tattooing. After taking some time to complete the task (the result of which is shown below), being rather precious in the process, I showed it to Bez for feedback.
A lesson that I hadn’t quite anticipated learning during this exercise but was reminded of was to be thick-skinned, and that constructive feedback may be difficult but is essential for growth; as stated earlier, growth comes from discomfort. Bez broke down my errors bit by bit, highlighting my lack of midtones in the image, pointing out how I was still creating the image from an interpretive standpoint rather than a literal representation of the reference material. With a pencil in hand, he roughly darkened down all the areas that where still too light, that I had not had the confidence to touch in fear of destroying my image. Again, I had trouble reconciling that I was completing an exercise, and not a drawing.
My initial thoughts after the tough-love I received where that my image now looked flat, but I soon realised that it also shared a far greater likeness to the reference than it had prior, and just needed some more work to push the contrasting elements a little further. I spent some time attempting to correct my mistakes, this time with a little less of a delicate hand and a slightly less concern for the result appearing perfect. I found this approach to allow me to relax more into the process, and noticed myself deriving enjoyment from the task rather than feeling the anxiety about completing it correctly that I previously experienced. Not being as concerned about the final result allowed for a more recreational approach, as opposed to that of a work task.
Though certainly still very far from perfect, the finished result appears to have a more accurate aesthetic and greater textural properties than what I would have achieved had I not had the advice of a mentor. Though I have experience in teaching illustration to undergraduate students, my specialism is in conceptual development and encouraging lateral approaches to creativity. The specific practice of actual drawing techniques is something that I have not directly addressed for some time, but is crucial to advance to better communicate concepts. This first task of my apprenticeship has been a beneficial initiation back into studentship, from which I have a lot to learn.
Illustrator, Tattoo Apprentice, and PhD Research Student.