When deciding to get a new tattoo, you may have a strong idea of the sort of design you'd like. Whether you're unsure of where to place this, or have an idea of where you'd like it, but want to check it's feasibility, it's useful to consider certain points to achieve the best possible work.
Things like the shape, size and style of your design, as well as the shape and limitations of certain body parts or existing tattoos can sometimes throw up difficulties. We hope to advise as best as possible so that the design and placement can reach a harmony and allow the work to shine.
Design and area
Generally, there are certain areas of the body that suit certain types of tattoo better.
For example, portraits are better sitting on flatter, less defined areas. Inner forearm and less defined bicep areas will allow for less distortion of the image, which is particularly important when trying to get a good likeness. Chest/back, calf and thigh areas are also possible options for portraits.
Areas of the body with more ‘terrain’ such as the ribs, can be problematic for portraits. Skewing or warping is very likely, so again something that relies on a likeness will not fit well.
A design that is wider, such as a scene that is reliant on more than one subject alongside another would work better in an area that is wider. A thigh or the back will be much more appropriate than the forearm, for example.
It helps to think of the body in shapes or planes, and envisage how your image will sit within this shape. If you want a longer image, consider a limb – the calf or part of the arm. If it’s something more rotund, somewhere with a greater surface area will allow for less restriction of design and therefore more detail and less distortion.
There can be further limitation to the placement of your tattoo if it is in either a highly visible or well used area.
Fingers and hands, as well as feet, are high contact areas, so there will always be more wear on the tattoos in these areas. Not only will this affect their longevity, but they can also be problematic to heal because of this. While the tattoo is scabbing, you are much more likely to aggravate the scab and put general pressure on the fresh tattoo, which can affect how well the ink is able to hold in these early stages.
The continued use of these areas in daily life (particularly if you work with your hands or outside) will cause further wear to the tattoo, and constant/highly frequent sun exposure will also fade the ink. For these areas, you may experience heavy or complete drop out. Therefore, a lot of artists may not be willing to take on work in these areas, as they do not want to make work that will not have the highest chance to look it's best. It's not to say that artists will never take these projects on; some artists may as long as you're prepared that touch up sessions will likely be charged, frequent and necessary.
With hands in particular, because of the aforementioned reasons you may be further limited to style. If the tattoo is already vulnerable to dropping out because of the placement, something like realism is not usually advisable in these places due to it's reliance on shading and use of fine lines. If the lines are already at risk of dropping out, you really want something as bold as possible to give it the best chance of staying.
Some artists can also be hesitant to tattoo very visible areas, unless you are already heavily tattooed. This is due to their commitment to being responsible artists. If you are already relatively heavily tattooed, you're used to living and working as a heavily tattooed person. To make an addition of a hand or neck piece, for example, will not be as stark a change, and the artists can in most cases assume that your employment and lifestyle are secure with the tattoo coverage you already have.
To add a piece on the hand/fingers, neck or face when you have little to no tattoos already is such a drastic change to your appearance that it is much more noticeable to not only yourself but to any current or future employers. A lot of artists would rather not be responsible for something that can negatively impact your lifestyle. We'd always recommend taking this in to consideration. If you're considering these placements, it's always worth speaking checking in with your artist about whether they think this is a good placement for your circumstances!
Working with, and limitations of, the shape of the body
Whilst some areas of the body can limit a design, sometimes they can also inspire one. Certain shapes of the body will suggest a natural shape to follow, such as in this example of our artist Paris' back piece. In this, Paris followed the shape and placement of the spine to make something ergonomic and striking.
Working with the shapes and contours of the body to inspire the design, or even prompt a reconsideration can sometimes make for some of the most interesting pieces. The below sternum/chest piece made by Paris was initially designed flipped, so to sit more on the ribs and stomach. Paris and her client played around with it when placing the stencil and tried it inverted. They felt that as it fit the shape of the body so nicely this way, to go with it!
Working with other tattoos
Whilst sometimes the body itself will can provide inspiration to the new design, sometimes existing work can affect the shape, elements and style of the new piece. If you already have one or several tattoos in and around the area you would like your next one, this needs to be taken into account when planning and designing the new work. Similarly, if you are planning on having many more added to the area, your artist will need to consider how to 'finish' the piece.
It may be that the gap between pieces restricts the shape and reach of the design, so this will need to be considered. Whether you want a cohesive, realistic sleeve, or prefer more of a separated patchwork of pieces, the space and seams between still need to be considerate to not encroach on, and to compliment the other work.
Your artist may avoid harsh blends at the edges of realistic pieces, and utilise certain shapes of existing or planned work to feather off towards or mirror.
In the below example, it can be observed that our artist Glen Carloss has created soft, graduated shading at the edges of the piece so that at a later date something can be almost seamlessly added/extended onto the neck and/or stomach. At the top left hand side, there are some leaves from an existing piece. Glen has taken these into account and laid his design underneath it - rather than cutting through or overlaying the work as this allowed for the best interaction between pieces.
If you have work that isn't on the same part of the body, but will sit in line with the new piece, this can also affect the exact size and placement. Often calf or thigh pieces may sit alongside something on the counterpart limb. You may want to consider something symmetrical in size, shape or design so that when viewed together they are cohesive.
The above healed work from our artist Luke shows how two different stylistically similar designs can sit complimentary of each other. By matching up the start and end points of both pieces, and making them proportionally equal, Luke worked with an existing piece so that they can co-exist and the overall look has more impact due to the symmetry.
Working to cover other tattoos
If you have some existing work that you want the new piece to cover or overlay, then the design will be very much dictated by what's already there; how dark it is, how big it is and where it sits.
The below tattoo is a cover up by Luke. There was originally a small, black lined diamond approximately in the area that is marked on the image below, right.
With an area like this, Luke had to consider the proximity to the wrist and hand, so was limited to keeping the design going up the forearm. He had to make something that could be dark enough in this area without looking obviously like it was covering something. Darker furred animals can sometimes work to cover old work, as the artist can work in a lot of dark black as areas of fur. Luke was able to balance and contrast the darkness of the fur with the lighter shading in the face.
Take some time to consider how your ideas may marry up with the intended placement, or if perhaps you were unsure of where you'd like your new work, you now have a more informed idea. Our experienced team can always advise on what and where may work best for you, so reach out if you need further guidance!
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Written by Abbie McMurray for Ladies and Gentlemen Tattoo Studio. 2019