How to Design a Painterly Tattoo

Updated on March 19, 2020
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I teach English and Speech Communication, and I dance Flamenco and study tattoo design in my spare time.

Choose La Scapigliata by Da Vinci for a design idea.
Choose La Scapigliata by Da Vinci for a design idea. | Source

No one doubts tattoos are an art form. Whatever you think of tattoos and the people who get them, you have to admit that they are an art form.

Now, some tattoo artists are taking their art to the next level. They are creating painterly tattoos.

Tattooing as an art form has been metamorphosing over the last decade. People still go in and get tribal symbols—or even Chinese characters they think they understand. Cartoon characters and graphics will always have their place. Now, though, some patrons are deciding to get swaths of color that appear to be swipes from a paint brush. Some are getting Picaso-esque masterpieces on their bodies. Tattoos have become painterly.

You may need to travel to the Czech Republic to get THIS painterly of a tattoo.
You may need to travel to the Czech Republic to get THIS painterly of a tattoo. | Source

Art in Tattoo Ink

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What Makes Painterly Tattoos Different?

Painterly tattoos appear to be painted on your body. In some cases, the artists include brush strokes. Amanda Wachob, New York-based artist, permanently inks swaths of color onto her clients' bodies as if an artist was testing color. Berlin-based Peter Aurisch creates cerebral works that mix Paul Klee and Picaso influences. Czech tattoo artist Ondrej Konupík, or Ondrash, utilizes not only gestural brush strokes but also ink splatters—he's even been known to create permanent graffiti on his clients.

You don't need to travel abroad or even New York to get a painterly-style tattoo. Just know what makes painterly tattoos different from the standard variety and find a talented artist who is willing to work with you.

  • Painterly tattoos are not outlined in black. There may be black in the picture, but outlining all of the elements in black is akin to a coloring book picture.
  • Painterly tattoos have layers. Shading is an integral aspect of these tattoos, just as they are in art.
  • Painterly tattoos are often based on works of art. Alternatively, they might feature blends of style as in Aurisch's work.
  • Painterly tattoos are original. If there is a stencil of the picture, it is not a painterly tattoo.
  • Painterly tattoos are more expensive. When it comes to permanent ink, you get what you pay for.

Consider starting with a Monet and having your tattoo artist ink spots of color that create a delicate picture on your skin.
Consider starting with a Monet and having your tattoo artist ink spots of color that create a delicate picture on your skin. | Source

Examples of Amanda Wachob's Designs

So How Do I Create a Painterly Tattoo Design?

Choose art you love, but try not to be cliché. Everyone does the little Da Vinci angel—go for the "Leda" (Young Woman with Tousled Hair). Or choose a theme and look for abstract art that represents that theme. There are flowers and there are flowers. The flowers in the picture are painterly, but check out what Amanda Wachob does with flowers. Visit a painterly tattoo artist and get recommendations.

Get personal. At the conclusion of a Rammstein concert in Denver, I realized that the German boys were, in fact, middle-aged men. Hell, the über-sexy lead singer is a grandfather. Point being, they might never perform in Denver again, and I might never see their brilliance live again. This is a band I have loved for a decade and a half, and whom I followed across Europe, in my almost-middle-age (ahem) fulfilling a teenage dream. I have permanently inked myself for less noble reasons than commemorating my fading youth (wanting to get inked for the first time and wanting vivid color—not emotive reasons).

I started playing with a design that included the band's logo, and lyrics from my favorite song of theirs, "Frühling Blutet in Paris." As I pondered the song, I realized part of my youth was years spent abroad. The two lines, in French and in German, nodded to Europe, but I wanted a piece of Morocco. Add a hibiscus flower, which flourishes even in "winter."

I posted my desire on Facebook, and my friend—of Kastav Film Festival fame—turned me on to the painterly tattoos. Once I comprehended the possibilities, I threw away the original image with its hibiscus garishly outlined in black and started afresh. I kept O'Keeffe's red amaryllis as the centerpiece for almost a year, just because of the blatant sensuality. Then, after I had already made my appointment, I reverted to a painterly hibiscus.

Do not be afraid to reach for painterly stars—Van Gogh's "Starry Night" would blossom in the needle of a painterly artist—because this tattoo will be a part of your body forever. Do not compromise unless you have chosen elements that absolutely will not work. I knew even as I was designing the original that breaking up the band's logo with lettering would be tricky. Design an image that truly represents some aspect of yourself that you want to commemorate.

And save up for the tattoo. Skimp on almost anything else before skimping on a tattoo. That image will be with you unto eternity.

Imagine the impressions swirls of color a la Van Gogh's "Starry Night" will garner when you get a painterly tattoo.
Imagine the impressions swirls of color a la Van Gogh's "Starry Night" will garner when you get a painterly tattoo. | Source

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