As a more contemporary art style, tattoo technology and style have evolved quite rapidly. Now, many talented artists are even able to create photo-realistic designs and portraits. It takes artists many years to master the realism tattoo technique on skin, since it is already a difficult and detailed process to learn it on paper. Therefore, the realism wave has produced many talented artists that can make your photo come to life.
One of the two styles that is seen commonly in realistic tattoos is the black and grey technique. Similar to its name, the artist uses black and grey ink to create a hyper-realistic image, which can resemble old black and white photography. Experienced artists use different shades of grey and black to add shading, which will bring the design to life and make it appear almost three dimensional. Check out this cool design by @cachotattoo, where the artist used darker ink to create shadows and shading. This really helped add emotion and expression to the face, as well as making the body look realistic. By creating fine lines, the artist was able to make micro realistic tattoos, which are smaller in size, yet still very detailed and realistic. The other realism style is the full color tattoos. By introducing different color options, artists can widen their design options, and make the image more vibrant. Through this method, the skin can transform into an artist’s easel, and make painting-like designs.
But since there are more elements to consider with different colors, the tattooing process can take longer. This is also because some colors require more layers to appear bright depending on skin complexions. Similar to black and grey designs, full color tattoos also rely on shading and highlighting. Therefore, access to a variety of colors can make layering and shading more detailed. Take a look at one of @hermanaldowibowo’s designs - in this Star Wars inspired tattoo, Herman used a blend of colors to illustrate Grand Moff Tarkin as a conductor, and the space background behind him as well. The detailed highlighting creates good lighting for the piece, and makes it very realistic. Every artist has their own preferences and styles. In an interview, tattoo artist Pony Lawson explains how he prefers black and grey portraits because “it’s easier applying the tattoo, it’s not as messy. With colors, colors tend to go everywhere, it dries on the skin a little bit more, so you have to wipe a bit more, and use a little bit more soap.
They also tend to hurt a little bit more, because you’re normally going wall-to-wall color, full saturation (...) With black and white tattoos, you’re doing a lot of feathering in, which can be a lot more delicate, and it hurts a lot less. Also, it tends to be a bit quicker (...) because I don’t have to be in my head trying to decipher ‘is this the right color?’” For realism tattoos, you have a lot of freedom in choosing any image you desire. Most often, customers like photo-realistic portraits, whether it’s a family member, a significant other, or a celebrity. Another sentimental and popular design is pet portraits.
Not to our surprise, pets can be amazing lifelong friends for humans, and tattoos can be a great way to commemorate your companionship. Cacho’s black and grey micro realistic tattoos do an amazing job in capturing the emotion behind our fury friend’s eyes. Since no pet is the same, realistic tattoos can be a great way to implement those unique details, and make your tattoo very personalized. In addition, realistic nature tattoos can also be breathtaking subjects. Whether it is a large landscape depiction of a striking sunset, or your favourite flower, intricate tattoos are a great way to showcase nature’s details.
Pony Lawson also talks about how portraits do not always have to be realistic, and realism does not always have to mean portraits: “the difference between realism and portraits (is that) portraits can or cannot be realistic. You know you can have a portrait of somebody that’s got a little more style to it, but realism is always going to be realism. You’re always going to try and achieve exactly how the photo looks.” When asked about the difficult aspects of this technique, Lawson explains that the “hard part about it is that you are only working off one or two photos so you have a general idea of what this person looks like, but these people have known them their entire lives so to give somebody that and it actually looking like the person is really tough, because you are only working with what you are given. I like references with wrinkles, with facial structures, with highlights and shadows.” When tattooing realistic portraits, Lawson shares that these details are the most crucial part, because without the wrinkles and highlights and shadows, it is difficult to make smooth skin appear realistic - “I like tattooing old people, I like tattooing iconic people that people know and they look at it like ‘oh that is so and so’” Lawson adds.
He also explains what goes into making a good portrait tattoo: “usually my first step in creating a good portrait tattoo is finding a reference. You need to find a good reference, and the more photos you have obviously, the better. So the first step is trying to find a really nice photo with nice lighting and nice contrast that is nice and clear. Secondly, I’ll load it into Photoshop, take my iPad and desaturate it. I’ll take all the colors out and I’ll play with the tonal variations by bringing out the darks and adding extra highlights; just so it has a little bit more 3D structure. Then I’ll load in my reference into my tattoo stencil app, press the button and my stencil is made. From there, I’ll put it on the person, we let it dry and start coloring!” Many artists outline specific parts, like noses, eyeballs or the outside of the face, because without a lining structure the tattoo can fade over time. The outline will also help accentuate the facial features, and make them pop. Finally Lawson advises artists to always take skin complexions into account, and adjust ink shades accordingly, so the highlights and details do not wash out.
In this case, a needle can capture a thousand words and work wonders with an image you want to capture forever. By finding the right experienced artist, you can get breathtaking results. So, if you are hoping to carry a special someone on your heart (and body) forever, you can check out our matcher and find the right artist for your design or Get Inspired for incredible realism designs!