Tattoo Smart is proud to introduce “Advancing Digital,” an interview series featuring profiles of professional tattoo artists. These artists set a high standard for what can be accomplished with digital design using different tools, techniques, and processes. In each installment of the series, we will highlight one artist’s transition and approach to digital design, the software and tools they use, and their digital and tattoo work. Our goal is is that their work inspires you to learn and grow in all aspects of tattooing, and shows you what can be accomplished at the highest levels of the craft.
When did you start using digital tools to design tattoos?
I was introduced to digital art in 2003 when I started college for graphic design. I dropped out after two semesters but this gave me a brief look into Photoshop. This became useful a few years later when I began tattooing. In early 2016 I purchased an iPad Pro which led to my full transition into the digital world.
Why did you make the switch to a digital (or mostly digital) workflow?
I switched to digital design as it seemed a logical step of progression for myself and the tattoo industry as a whole. Not having to carry around multiple sketch pads, pencils, and markers was a literal weight lifted off my shoulders. I find designing digitally is a much more efficient workflow for myself. This allows me to keep all of my drawings in one folder and organize them by the date they need to be ready. In addition, being able to backup files is a huge advantage, without having to worry about losing or tearing a sheet of paper. Working digitally saves me a lot of time (and stress) and makes it easier for clients to see my vision; I can fully render pieces quickly which gives them the opportunity to see a fully realized piece.
What software platforms do you use most often?
I use Procreate almost exclusively for my design work; I love the layout of the program and the finger gestures are very useful. I use Photoshop to render larger print projects that were originally drawn in Procreate, and for all of my finished graphic design work such as business cards, banners, flyers, and portfolios. Astropad has been a great tool for me to link the iPad and my MacBook Pro. This allows me to run Photoshop on my laptop but have the ease of drawing on my iPad. Handy is an excellent reference tool for the iPad, I use this program a lot for skull and hand gestures. With this you can change the angles any way you would like them, as well as the light source from three directions at once. I will usually draw or paint on top of the reference once I have my angle and light source set the way I want. I was previously using Paint Storm for my symmetrical drawings, but Procreate has recently added a symmetry tool so Paint Storm is no longer necessary for me.
Describe your current design workflow, from concept to stencil creation.
When working on a project for a client, I ask them to go through my instagram and find tattoos or artwork of a similar style to what they are looking to have done, and this gives me my starting point. I always draw on a picture of the body part where the tattoo is going. I prefer to have a picture of the actual client, but that does not always happen. In this instance I resort to a stock image or the Body Planes E-book by Gunnar. Drawing directly on the image of the body helps me achieve the fit and flow that I desire and makes for a more impactful tattoo. I begin my drawings with a loose sketch in a light green or light red sketch brush from my brush set. I then add new layers, dropping the opacity of the previous layer and slowly make the sketch darker. Generally I will have four or five sketch layers before I am happy and ready to line the drawing out. I render my line drawings similar to how the tattoo will be executed; including tapered lines, line weights, and no shading markers. I keep my shading markers on a separate layer and will shut that layer off before showing the client, this helps them see a very accurate representation of how the tattoo will come out. After the line work layer(s) are finished, I start rendering the piece on a separate layer using my line work as a reference layer. This eases the process and saves the time of having to freehand lasso anything. I usually start with my mid color first, moving on to the lights and darks on the same layer, then add black and highlights on a different layer above the color layer. Once everything is finished and approved by the client I will print out a few different sizes to find the perfect fit for the tattoo.
What early problems with a digital workflow did you encounter and how did you solve them?
The first problem I encountered when switching to the iPad was deciding which program to use. There are a number of drawing/painting applications, it can take a bit of time to sort through them and use each one enough to know if it works for you. Once I decided on Procreate there was a learning curve as I only had used Photoshop before this. I downloaded the Procreate user manual and read the entire book a few times. This helped teach me the features that may not be obvious in the application, such as finger gestures and the use of reference layers. The next issue I encountered was drawing things to scale. Being able to zoom in, I was adding way too many small details and making my line work far too thick when printed on paper. This took some practice to get used to. As much as I enjoyed the Procreate app overall, a number of the brushes did not seem to act the way I expected or wanted them to. I created a set of brushes to address that problem, which I use almost exclusively.
What questions do your friends and colleagues ask most often about your digital process?
The majority of questions I am asked about lean towards technical or program specific areas. For example, how the reference layer, alpha lock, and finger gestures work in Procreate. Other questions focus on customizing or making unique brushes. I do my best to make my workflow as efficient as possible and I help others out with anything I see they could accomplish quicker or easier. I am a long time apple user so helping others with general iPad or iOS use questions is also common.
Please share some other artists and/or tattooers whose digital designs inspire you.
Some of my favorite tattooers that use digital tools are Nicholas Keiser (@deadmeat) and Dean Kalcoff (@deankalcoff). I feel both their digital work translates into the tattoos they do seamlessly. It’s easy to over render things on an iPad or make overly detailed drawings that wouldn’t work well as a tattoo. In my opinion, showing your client exactly what the tattoo will really look like is a key feature. Both their design work is striking and very well executed. Another of my favorite digital designers is Takuro Mori (@takuroflashart). I’m unsure if they tattoo, but the design work is very much tattoo oriented and beautifully rendered. Takuro posts a lot of sketches, fully rendered art, and time lapse videos. All of which are very inspiring.
What new software or digital tools are you interested in learning?
I would like to learn more about creating vector images and working with Illustrator. I have used it a bit, but not enough to get the hang of it. I do graphic design work and logos for some clients and feel that learning illustrator would speed up my process. I would like to get further in depth with Photoshop because it is an intensive program that I know is capable of a lot more than I currently use it for.
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