Breaking the Rules | Tattooing Light to Dark | Fireside Blog
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Breaking the Rules | Tattooing Light to Dark | Fireside Blog

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A lot has changed in the 19 years that I have been tattooing. Many of the old “hard and fast” rules we once never questioned have given way to new, often superior, approaches in both technique and in the art itself. Not to say that we should throw our old habits out of the studio window. We should simply learn to understand why the rules are in place, and when it’s beneficial to break them.

The rule I would like to address today is the famous “Always work Dark to Light!”. For the first 12 years of my career, I did not think to question this rule because the fundamental idea behind it seemed very sound. If you wipe fresh black ink over a bright, fresh yellow, you will create mud. The black particles will pick up in the freshly punctured skin and immediately RUIN your tattoo. Right? Uhh…sometimes…maybe.

What I have found and many people already know is that sometimes the effects of blending a dark into an existing midtone or a midtone to a light can create beautiful, painterly effects. The dark pigments also fly into the skin with much more ease when applied over a fresh midtone. This allows me to model and form shapes with slight “whips” across the skin and achieve near perfect gradations of value and color.

If this is not a practice that you use already, I suggest giving it a try. Start with the local color of the object in its midtone and fill the area slightly overlapping into what will be the shadow tone. Then move to your darkest shadow color and fill the darkest areas. As you approach the midtone color, begin to let up on the pressure and feather the darks into the local color. You’ll be surprised just how easy the learning curve is for this technique. (Remember to always pay attention the the skin to ensure it’s not being overworked)

There are good reasons to follow the tried and true methods of tattooing as they have been proven effective for many years. However, that doesn’t mean some experimentation isn’t necessary to push our medium to higher levels.

Keep pokin’ and slingin’
Jake-

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