After almost a year as Artist in Residence at Fine Line Tattoos in Oswestry, I did my first ever tattoo yesterday – admittedly, just on artificial skin, but it was still the first time I’d ever put ink to [artificial] skin. Up until yesterday, I’d only ever drawn three or four lines; yesterday I did a whole tattoo – linework, shading and colours.
I wanted to start with something Old School, and thought I should start with something quite simple, like a swallow. But Stuart suggested that I go for something a bit more challenging – “After all,” he said, “You’re supposed to be an artist – you wouldn’t pick something easy if you were just going to draw it, would you?” Fair comment. So he pulled out an Eagle/Phoenix and set me to work.
It was both easier and more difficult than I’d imagined. I know I’ve been watching Rena at work for the best part of a year, but she’s been doing this for years and years, and she really does make it look easy.
But the gun itself was much more awkwardly-weighted than I’d realised: always pulling your hand back, away from the skin. It took me a little while to figure out how best to hold it, too, as the tube and grip aren’t very long, and so my hand felt quite cramped between the motor and the actual needle. As a result, I found it quite hard to do longer lines with great precision – but I guess that’s not an uncommon problem, even for people who’ve been tattooing for years. The shorter lines I could manage a fair degree of control over, and that got even better with practice. The nature of the artificial skin didn’t help, either – it’s weird to work on, and Claire – Fine Line’s current “proper” apprentice – says that it’s nothing like working on real skin.
By the time I got to the grey-shading and colouring-in I felt like I had figured out how best to work with the gun, and so I was able to do a lot more with the inks by that point – feathering and blending in different ways. I didn’t have a full range of colours to work with (I was only using out-of-date inks), and so in the end I used magentas instead of reds, greens instead of blues, and didn’t really have a suitable final highlight colour to work into the magentas –
– but I loved it!
It really did feel like I’ve been working in this medium for years and not really realising it. It’s obviously got a lot in common with the comic-art that I do, and it even shares a lot of its techniques with finds illustration. Katy, if you’re reading this, you’ve got to have a go – it’s just like drawing with a buzzy Rotring pen!
I was quite pleased with the end result, and Stuart said that for a first go, it was pretty good; in fact, he said that there were a lot worse tattoos out there on real skin. Rena, too, seemed very pleased with it – so much so that she said she was happy to keep teaching me.
So I am now officially learning to tatoo. I’ll continue to come in one afternoon a week, and learn alongside Claire – but I suppose, in anthropological terms, I’ve stopped being an observer and started to be a participant. Who knows where all this is going to lead?