I’ve gone and got myself a tattoo gun. It’s been a thought on my mind for a long time, partly because I’m fairly well covered in the things myself and I’m a big fan of the medium but also because, every now and then, someone stops me out in the world and asks if I do my own artwork as tattoos. It’s always a flattering question, even if it leads no where. The idea that someone likes my work to the point where they’d have it engraved on their own skin is always going to be an ego boost and perhaps more than any art form tattooing has a sense of gravitas to it, there’s a literal living force behind the work which not much else can match.
I’ve only had the machine a couple of days and so far my experience is entirely limited to drawing a variety of more or less straight lines on fake skins and fruit as well as watching endless YouTube videos and repeatedly Googling what are probably incredibly simple questions about incredibly simple things. All a learning experience and it’s a dizzying world to learn about. Any artistic medium is when you delve beyond the surface but obviously one with the potential for causing permanent damage comes with a whole other aspect of protectiveness and weight which you don’t get elsewhere. No matter how badly I bollocks up a sketch it’s unlikely to give someone hepatitis after all. It’s also an incredibly defensive/aggressive field, not universally of course, a lot of people talking about it seem sound but it’s weird to see such a deep level of disdain for beginners in any artistic field.
Numerous times already I’ve looked into a group or board to see learners asking fairly basic questions only to get replies along the lines of ‘don’t ever fucking touch a tattoo machine you little bastard’. Which is kind of fair given the risks involved but then when someone says they’re tattooing an orange they’re probably not running that much risk of doing damage and to be honest ‘do a 3 year apprenticeship before you even look at a needle’ probably isn’t the most helpful advice. Either way, it doesn’t do much to put me off.
My plan at the moment is to keep practicing but to, fairly soon, move onto my own skin. Plenty of designs in mind already of course and while using alternatives is a good way to learn I know there’s no substitute for having a go at the real thing. It’s the sort of enthusiasm to get to it which is frowned on, I think, but I think it’s best to ignore the negativity to a degree. Get your hygiene and safety stuff sorted of course but otherwise, if you’re a grown up with work on you already, why not go for it? Certainly for me, at the age of 36, a small, dodgy tattoo on my leg is way, way down on the list of lifelong regrets I’m likely to think about.
I’m also looking to work solely in my own style for a while, simple black lines, abstract stuff, animal oddities – things I understand the process of with a pen at least. I think that strikes a bit of a disconnect with the serious, ‘don’t do it’ crowd of the tattoo world as well. There’s a vast craft out there, full of loads of styles and techniques and I agree you’d be a mug to start off trying to emulate something immensely complex, or which you could never replicate with any other medium. But that versatility is a function of mastering the craft, not the art of tattooing. The art of it is, to me, the ability to learn the aspects of the tools that allow you to do the things you want to do. Same with any set of tools from pens to sculpture (safety aside). The fact that I can’t draw photo realistic stuff – and have never wanted to – doesn’t mean I can’t do the sort of work I want to, nor should a lack of experience in every aspect of the forms I use bar me from working in them at all.
Anyway, for now I’m fully hyped for the whole experience and slowly coming to understand the very basic rudiments of it so expect updates as and when. It’s a brave new world…