Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Hannya and Snake

The first session on this new sleeve.
We recently finished his whole leg (koi, skull, flowers, toad etc.) and he was back to start the arm a couple weeks later.  As with his leg, he had a very clear idea of the images he wanted for the sleeve.  He brought in great reference, expressed the color tones and vibe he was going for very well, and now it's pretty much in my court.  It is a very ideal kind of collaboration for me.  He's got a great eye (which is really one of the most important traits to have in this business I think) and understands good design.
There will be another snake on the bottom of the arm wrapping through a stylized skull and lots more peonies (oh yeah, and we're covering an old arm band).  I'm thinking the look we're going for here is going to be minimal background at best, and really fill the open spaces with snake body and flowers.  He's talking very dense and very dark color scheme, and I'm digging it all the way...

Monday, April 23, 2012

Karashishi and Peonies

Only a couple of weeks in between visits this time.  Day one we colored in all of the rocks and did the peony on the elbow.  I can't really remember how long it all took, but it was a long day.  
the flower on the elbow isn't especially big, but it was a challenge.  It can be a tricky area to pack it in solid and get things nice and tight.  Also not the most pleasant place to get a tattoo like that, but as always he sat like a champ (almost too well...made me feel wimpy for getting a little tired toward the end).
Normally long days can be a bit of a strain on me, and generally I prefer 2-3 hour sessions tops, but that's been changing a bit.  It's really the mental strain that gets to me after several hours.  Depending on what you're working on and where, it can take all you've got and then some to stay 100% focused and in the zone for 6 plus hours...
I haven't been sleeping too well lately, and the week leading up to this session I was up late watching lots of documentaries on life in Zen monasteries in Japan.  Not the most action packed viewing for most, but I really find it relaxing and incredibly interesting.  To see the amount of focus and awareness they bring to every single task, not to mention the extremely rigorous zazen practice (seated meditation performed several hours daily), is very inspiring.  It serves as a reminder to really shed layers of my self and the world around me and just tattoo, and gives me a high mental standard to aspire to.

Day two was a shorter session.  We colored in the top and final peony.  It was a perfect and managable session that was a nice follow up to the previous marathon day.

The plan for next time is finish the whole shishi in one go.  That would make it a total of seven sessions for this arm...not bad at all.  Also, he put down a deposit to start the other arm and we're gonna do another shishi and more peonies.  They're often represented in pairs, and to be able to do two matching sleeves of this theme as someone's first ever tattoos is pretty cool in my book...

Bonus inner arm shot:

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Tiger Sleeve

And the bottom tiger is colored! (minus the tail...)
Originally my plan had been too go through and do all of the bamboo leaves for this session.  The logic was that I'd have all the same color out and I'd just get into a rhythm and knock em all out at once.
Then I realized that although necessary and productive, that would be a really boring session for the both of us.  That morning I just had a tiger stuck in my head and couldn't shake it, so that's where we went with it.  I had told him about the all greenery day before and he was cool with it, but he's been such a great client that I wanted to stoke him out with a little surprise change of plan.  I'm sure it's been much more fun looking at this than a bunch of leaves (although I did get a few in there).
Looking forward to seeing this again soon, as those warmer ochre/orangey/goldish tones tend to look better healed in when you can see the different shade variations more...

New York Trip 2012

It almost that time of year again...
I'll be working in New York from May 13th through the 20th.  I've been going almost yearly for the last ten years or so and working with The Diamond Club (Bill and Junii Salmon, my tattoo family).  It's always been a blast travelling and working with them, and I've got tons of great NY stories and memories.
Unfortunately, this year Bill and Junii won't be attending, so I will be representing the Diamond Club in their absence.  For me this is a huge honor, and I really appreciate their trust and faith in me.  At the booth I'll be joined by my friend Shunho from the Horitoshi family in Tokyo.  We had a great time working there together last year, and are both very excited for this year as well.  I'm looking forward to seeing a lot of familiar faces and having fun diving back into the craziness that is the NY show.
As a huge added bonus and honor as well, I'll be flying in a few days early and guest spotting at New York Adorned (  It has an amazing reputation and has been home to so many amazing tattooers over the years (I've always really dug the vibe of the place and been amazed at the volume of high energy and cutting edge tattooing that's come out of there).  It was very surprising and humbling to get the invite, but I'm super excited and couldn't be happier...
I've got a few days booked already, but if anyone out there is interested in some work, feel free to email me and we'll see if we can make it work.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Good Luck

Once in a while I am told that I can do whatever I want as a tattoo.  I have never been comfortable with the karmic responsibility that went with that freedom (although I appreciate the trust), but I finally took someone up on it.
For some reason, this one just clicked for me...for better or worse.  Right person at the right time with the right vibe.
At first, I had no idea what to do, but then I remembered a conversation I had with his wife about his lottery dreams.  He's got a little weekly ritual for buying lotto tickets and although I don't partake in that kind of thing, I understand people putting their energy and hopes into it.
I wanted to create a good luck charm for him to bring in those big dollars, so this is what I came up with.
The frog (a symbol of increasing wealth in some Asian lore) is riding a uchide no kozuchi (a magical Japanese mallet that grants wishes) and holding a hoju (sacred/lucky pearl) with seven pieces of gold scattered about.  The idea was to inject maximum good fortune mojo into one piece and have fun with it.  I get to do so many cool and interesting tattoos, but it's usually a serious type approach, and I really needed a break from that.  There are some thought out symbolic forces at play here, but basically it's just kind of light hearted and fun.
Color next session...

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Karashishi and Peonies

And this one continues at record pace.
These are some photos after our third session.  The first one we outlined the shishi and peonies, and the second we drew on all the background and shaded a good portion at the bottom.  This time we finished all the background shading minus the rocks.
There are all kinds of fun nooks and crannies around the sides of the armpit that take a little while to navigate through, but he did great through all of that unpleasant stuff.  It's a fair amount of work for three sessions (and longer sessions than my usual) but he's been travelling several hours to come get tattooed so I feel inspired to match his motivation level and power through.  To drive 5 hours each way, get a hotel, and really focus all that energy on getting tattooed is very cool and admirable in my book (and it's his first tattoo!).  I appreciate his dedication and feel honored to tattoo people who are so serious about the thing that I've focused my life around.
Because of the hectic schedule, day two was a half day, but we were able to finish the bottom peony.  It takes a fair amount of time to do them in this Horitoshi-esque style, but it really is worth it in the end...

I couldn't be happier with how it turned out and am super excited to get the next ones going.
We've got another day and a half starting tomorrow so we'll be able to keep this really good momentum cruising forward.
Then time to explore ideas for the other arm...

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


This is the next phase of a peony that I outlined a few weeks back.  It was a decide on the spot kind of decision that we drew on and got outlined the first time out.
When we were talking about color, she kept mentioning that she wanted it very rich.  Colorful, but not bright.  So the goal was to really get it deep and velvety without having it just look too dark or dirty.
I've really been digging the effect of doing grey shading first, letting it heal all the way, and then layering the color right on top of it.  It looks pretty dark at first with all the deep greys, but the color really melts right over it and creates a cool look that I feel can only really be achieved by this two step approach.
Here's a rose I did a while ago on our studio manager Darci that utilized the same technique...

The darker tones come out a bit more once it's healed, but you get the idea...

Dragon Backpiece

More progress on the dragon /cover up...
This time around we got the scales drawn in and outlined on the middle body section (it will end up going over the right buttock and down the back of the thigh) and started the shading.
 Doing a big dragon is super fun, but the shading was something I was really looking forward to doing on this one.  It's a style of doing background that I've been wanting to experiment with, but haven't really had the right piece to do it on until now.
I'm really attracted to the look of the stippled (dotted) edges, and it's a direct riff off of the original Kuniyoshi Suikoden prints.  I've always found it a bit strange that his landmark series of those tattooed outlaw prints is accepted as some of the first inspiration for popularity of full body Japanese tattooing, but you rarely see background done in the original style that he did.  Here's an example...

I really love how organic and strong this look is.  I very much enjoy the style of background I usually do, and am always trying to perfect and evolve it, but there is a rawness this older style that I want to experiment with and do more of in the future...

Monday, April 9, 2012

Tiger Backpiece

Just started up what"s looking to be a really fun one.
The tiger is just the first phase of a piece that will cover the rest of his back and go down the left side on to the hip/thigh area.  It will be standing on some rocks and there will be a rooster and a chicken on part of the rock formation, and another chicken attacking the tiger's tail down on the side.
I like that the symbolism is personal to him and there's a little element of humor to it.  My job at this point is to take the elements he's requested and make it into a workable and dynamic composition.
I'm liking how the tiger fits on exactly half of his back and its neck and head arch over the other side.
A lot of times I'll take a picture of the person's back during the first consultation, blow it up to 11X17" and make a bunch of copies.  It seems like a pretty good size to draw thumbnails and work out ideas.  Sometimes if the drawing is working well on that smaller scale, I'll just blow it up and use that for a stencil.  Drawing a full backpiece actual size can be tricky...Working out proportions properly and not doing too much unnecessary detail just to fill up space.  Doing the smaller studies really helps see the big picture and understand how it will look on someone...

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Water Sleeve

Doing a 7/10 length sleeve of all Japanese style water sounds like one of the most fun things you could get to do, but man, it's not actually as easy as it sounds (and it was a last minute choice the day of the appointment).  For something that can seemingly flow however you want, it's pretty tricky to get it how you'd like...
We were able to draw this much on and get it outlined for the first session.  Next time will be finishing the rest of the lines and starting shading.  
I'm trying to go for that strong but graceful look.  Deciding what scale to do the waves at took a minute (a few really big bold splashes, lots of smaller waves that would have a ton of texture?), but I'm happy with what ended up happening and very much looking forward to continuing... 

Chrysanthemum Leg

Got in another piece of the whole leg chrysanthemum puzzle.
The idea is that it'll be pretty dense on this whole bottom section from the knee down (which is actually quite a lot of room as he has super long legs) and open up a bit as it goes up the thigh.
It's a piece that I'm super into, but it's almost a bit daunting how many possibilities there are.  So may different shape and color really boggles the mind.  I try to just go with what's looking good to me each session and not get too attached to some end goal.  I feel like on some projects, not having a set expectation lets it happen a bit more naturally...