It’s been a few months now since I came back to work, so I decided it’s time to check in on how things were going.
As I returned to work, I found it all coming back to me like riding a bike. My machines sprang back to life with very little tuning required. As I held them in my hands, I felt as if a limb I had lost and forgotten was suddenly reattached. The warmth spread up my arm and straight to my heart. ”At last! My right arm is complete again!” (Sweeney Todd)
But something was different this time. Something good. I was humbled. I approached the craft with the respect it deserves without my ego getting in the way. I hadn’t done so much as a doodle aside from class assignments in the 2+ years I’d been away from my professional home. This left me open to start at the beginning again, focusing on the traditional elements of design as they pertain to tattoos. It also helps that I had taken a class on the elements of 2d design in the interim. Now instead of approaching a tattoo as a painter or a sketch artist, I approached the tattoo as a tattooer.
In some ways, I’m not sure if my skills have regressed or if I’m just now recognizing shortcomings I’ve always had as an artist. Imperfect lines, blurry details in pieces meant to be photorealistic, a need to push past the initial drafts of a design to create one more complete and harmonious, with depth and feeling. In other ways, possibly related, I think I’m coming along better and faster than I did before, and those ways are absolutely rooted in my newfound humility and deepened respect for this medium. My approach to clients is more professional and warm, and seeks to peel back the surface of the mundane and get at the heart. This not only makes the experience better for all of us, but makes the tattoo better as well. I very rarely settle for the Pinterest tattoo someone brings in, I almost always get to redesign the image in a way that serves the individual in a way more unique to that person. But I’ve also gotten better at accepting when the Pinterest tattoo is what the client really truly wants, and still treating it with all the reverence due an original piece of art. My compositions and general processes have gotten stronger, too.
I look back on my career and the development of my abilities and see a weak foundation, missed opportunities to grow, a lot of time wasted. Though I began tattooing in 2005, I almost want to discount those first 5 years as 1 year of progress. The things I see apprentices doing these days blow my mind. To be fair, the industry has changed immensely since I was an apprentice too. I think I’ll always go along feeling like my apprenticeship never ended, I’m just looking for new mentors everywhere. And that’s a good thing.