When it comes to the tattoo industry, everyone has their own way of doing things. Tattooing is an art and art, after all, is subjective. What may be a beautiful piece to one person may be unappealing to another. That’s just how it works.
However, there is one common factor that most everyone in the tattoo industry seems to always agree upon—the use of black outlines.
If you happened to catch the most recent season of InkMaster, you would have noticed that a common critique given to one of the season 8 contestants, Kevin Laroy, was that he needed to include outlines on his work. Regardless of how amazing his work was, almost every single time the judges would tear into him about not utilizing any outlines, citing that the work would not hold up in the long run as the piece would just blur out over time. There is a reason in which the judges were so harsh on Laroy about this—outlining is a fundamental requirement in tattooing.
For those who don’t have a technical understanding of the industry let me give you a quick run-down. Black and colored inks have one major difference (despite the obvious color variation). Colored inks are pigment-based whereas black inks are founded on a carbon base. When you apply a carbon-based ink to the skin, it creates a solid line—like a barrier—which prohibits pigments from bleeding out or blurring into the skin. Now, think about that gorgeous watercolor tattoo you saw on Pinterest the other day. Can you recall if it had any solid outlines? Chances are it didn’t.
Watercolor tattoos generally do not contain outlines, but rather are free-form designs in which the colors fade off the edges of the design. It is similar to how watercolor paintings appear, hence its name. They are stunning and quite beautiful to behold when done correctly. However, this trend has only recently appeared on the scene, despite its considerable appearance on social media sites across the world. What does this mean? There hasn’t been a watercolor tattoo around long enough to really gauge how they will hold up over time.
Regardless of how well-done a tattoo is done, it will experience wear and tear over the years. Lines will blur, colors will fade. It’s just a fact of the matter. A 15-year-old tattoo will not have the same crisp lines that a 5-week-old tattoo will have. So naturally, some tattoo artists are voicing concerns about how this free-formed tattoo style will hold up with age. Many tattoo artists refuse to participate in this rapidly growing trend, for fear of having their name behind what could potentially become just a large blob of color. Other artists are joining in on the fad, but are making sure to acknowledge the potential dangers of this tattoo style during their consultation with the client—allowing the client to take on the responsibility of what may happen down the line.
A quick Google search will show you just how conflicted the industry really is regarding this dramatic style that has been rampaging tattoo shops across the world. The internet is flooded with a smattering of Pinterest and Instagram photos of freshly-inked watercolor tatts, while an equal amount of popular tattoo blogs and forums are discussing and detailing the potential danger this new concept poses to both tattooers and clients. If you’re considering the style for your next piece of ink, or if you’re just interested in keeping up to date with the tattoo industry, these articles are worth a read.
Many tattooers have taken to putting their own twist on the style in order to cash in on the trend without compromising their portfolios. These artists have taken to putting in a solid black baseline to help contain a majority of the color, leaving a small amount flowing out from behind the line to give that watercolor-splash appearance everyone is raving about. Other artists are creating designs that contain a heavy amount of dark line-work to provide a base to the design that will hold up as the image ages, leaving the client with a solid piece regardless of how the watercolor appearance varies over time.
One concern that many tattooers have voiced across the internet (and in my many interviews and chats with multiple artists) is that the watercolor fad has opened the door for lazy work. Due to the free format of the design, some tattoo artists are creating poorly-done badly-conceptualized pieces and passing them off as a watercolor design. It is important for clients to understand the difference between a well-structured watercolor piece and just sloppy, bad work—so, as I always strongly urge clients, DO YOUR RESEARCH. Don’t just type #watercolortattoos into Pinterest and take that as the golden rule of examples. Check out the top players in the game and look at their work. Skim through popular, reputable shops’ pages to find examples of watercolor tattoos. Make sure you understand the difference before you lay down your money and your skin.
On a personal note, I won’t be getting any watercolor tattoos just yet. While I love the soft appeal these designs have, I’m going to wait out the fad. I’m not one to follow a crowd, especially when it comes to my ink. However, I’m quite enjoying seeing the flood of these beautiful designs, and I’m exceptionally eager to see how they will hold up to good old Father Time.
What is your opinion on this trend? Let us know in the comments!
Featured image credit: @inkcanon