Traditional tattooing can be considered simple and graphic in aesthetic, as designs where created in keeping with the capabilities of the available tools of the time (early 20th century). Contemporary tattoo machines are significantly more
sophisticated in their design, which has lead to new aesthetic possibilities within tattooing practice. Traditional tattooing remains as a timeless aesthetic however, and is considered relatively simple to execute (though more difficult to design).
The task was assigned in order to progress from the mark making stages of the previous fake skin explorations, into tattooing a design to be considered for its visual properties. The traditional Sailor Jerry rose was deemed appropriate for the early level of competence, and provided a strong foundation to practice lining, ‘whip-shading’ and colour packing.
Lining refers to the black line that is the basis of the tattoo design. Good linework is judged on consistency and ‘cleanness’ (i.e. no evidence of wobble in the line, a consistent width of line, etc.).
During the tattooing of the fake skin, the booth (the area in which the tattoo takes place) was set up as it would have been had the tattoo been on human skin.
This involves wearing gloves and using a medical grade cleaning product to wipe down all surfaces that may be touched by the tattooist or the client during the process. These may be the trolley (a metal unit that holds the filled ink caps, power supply, kitchen towels etc.), arm rest, and/or the massage bed.
Once cleaned, the gloves are then binned and changed, before re-spraying the surfaces. This acts as an extra hygiene precaution, while also functioning as an adhesive for cling film that is then wrapped around each unit. Once the trolley is wrapped, a stack of kitchen paper and a packet of baby wipes are then placed on top of the trolley, which are used to wipe away ink/bodily secretions that occur in the tattooing process. A disposable cup filled with filtered water and often anti-bacterial soap/witch-hazel is also added, to rinse needles when changing co- lours of inks using the same needle.
A yellow medical waste bag is secured to the trolley using either micro-pore tape or magnets, which is disposed of after each client in a medical waste bin (though only a regular bin bag was used for tattooing of fake skin). The machine power supply is then ‘bagged’ with a disposable plastic wrapping, in addition to the cables that are attached to the tattoo machine. Once wrapped, the machine is placed on the trolley. The tattoo machine is often also wrapped with cling film, and is cleaned with alcohol wipes after each use. The ‘tube’ for tattooing, which is the attachment to the machine that holds the needle and is gripped during the tattooing process, is either disposable or can be cleaned using an autoclave.
Tattooing a full design similar to that pictured, from outline to finish, may take many artists around 90 minutes, however due to my inexperience it took around 4 hours. What was learned in the initial exercises was implemented in regards to hold- ing the machine in such a way that the finger regulates the depth, working from the bottom left to top right of design to avoid rubbing off the stencil, and being sure to stretch the area with the non-tattooing hand so that the area being tattooed is taught, thus saturated.
Apprentice Tattooist and PhD Research Student