Be the Artist: The Beauty of Tattoo Art

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This summer’s Be the Artist series asks the question, “But is it art?”

The Diversity of Tattoos

There is so much history to the most colorful form of body enhancement; the look of the tattoo is as varied as the individuals who sport them.

The practice of tattooing goes back so far, archaeologists have even found tattooed skin on a mummified individual dating back to the Neolithic period (the late Stone Age), and they have never stopped being used. The history is something that no one little DIY project could cover, but I will note that tattoos have been used to designate everything like tribal loyalty, coming of age, and marital status to religious/social status and more. Tattoos were also used in very evil ways throughout history to brand prisoners of war or enslaved individuals.

It would almost seem the history of tattooing is an illustrated version of the history of humankind… but is it art?

Most people by now see the work done by high-end tattoo artists as a true art form—regardless of whether they like them or not—so there is no question there. But what, exactly, makes for tattoo art?

There are cultural patterns, modern calligraphy, gorgeous fine-line images, and colorful watercolor-style tattoos that just get more and more impressive every day. The whole idea of the tattoo, whatever your home country or cultural background is, is that a tattoo is very personal. There will always be a story behind them.

From 106-year-old artist Apo Whang-Od gracing the cover of Vogue to the commercial empire of Ed Hardy and the countless talented artist on social media, tattoo art has earned its well-deserved respect.

Tattoos have no boundaries for the adults who get them. Whatever your race, gender, ideology, geographic location, occupation, or even hobbies, tattoo artists the world over have reflected their own personal take on the world around them. They also have no age limit, as a talented 106-year-old tattoo artist named Apo Whang-Od made the cover of Vogue Philippines this April, influencing several people from around the world to make a trip to Buscalan to get special ink done in the hand-tapping method by this inspiring woman.

There is no one style or pattern that can exclusively claim to be a “tattoo style.” However, many people still think of old-school retro tattoo art when they hear the word, and one of these influencers was Ed Hardy.

Don Ed Hardy was born in 1945 and grew up in California. Intrigued by tattoo art as a young kid, he majored in printmaking at San Francisco Art Institute. He has written more than 30 books on alternative art and has been featured in several other books and documentaries.

In the early 2000s, Hardy’s art became the influence for a global fashion line with everything from clothing to lighters to perfumes bearing his signature tattoo style and name.

This is a similar fashion trend to when the name of Kustom Kulture pioneer Von Dutch became a high-end brand, except Hardy is still alive today with his own gallery and showing his paintings and prints all over the world. He also retains a small stake in the company that owns his trademarks.

Hardy has commented on how tattoos are something that draws attention and opinions like no other art form:

“Tattoo is the magic word,” Hardy says. “It hits people in a way that no other visual medium does. And it is not simply visual, but visceral. Everybody has an opinion about it and everybody has a gut reaction.”

The Project: Vase Tats

If there is any hesitation over the art of tattooing, it is because it is something placed directly on the canvas of the human body. For some, it is no big deal at all, and for others, it is a bit of a scary thought.

You and the piece of art will be forever bound, after all. That’s what is so cool about brands like Ed Hardy and other fashions bearing “tattoo-style art.” The wonderful art is still there, it just isn’t on your body forever if you aren’t ready for that commitment.

For this project, we’re going to take tattoo art and create an artistically tattooed vase.

Tat materials
Try out your favorite tattoo styles with an upcycled vase project. All images: Lisa Tate

You will need some acrylic paints (or paint pens), an old plain vase or jar, and your favorite tattoo ideas.

Everybody has their favorite tattoo ideas, don’t they?

Paint the tattoo design on the outside of the vase, and paint the inside with a solid color that will make the image stand out.

It doesn’t have to be the old-school Ed Hardy style tattoos either; you could find some favorite contemporary pop-culture-inspired patterns or markings that are popular for arm and leg sleeves and bands. One of my favorite tattoo artists I follow on social media specializes in bright anime- and cartoon-inspired pieces.

Make sure your vase is clean, and then draw the basic outline of your tattoo art on by hand. Fill in the color, like a coloring book. Then, go back over the outline—dark blue or black stands out best—to make it look more defined.

You can use one or two large tattoo images or several smaller simple ones.

If the vase is clear, paint the inside of it with a solid color like white or black to make the tattoos stand out.

Beginning artists can place an image inside the vase or jar and trace it on the outside before painting it.

Are you having trouble drawing on the vase? A good tip for beginning artists is to print out your tattoo idea on paper and tape it to the inside of a clear vase. Simply trace over the lines with a felt tip marker to get the tattoo outline before completing the color and final outline.

These make great ways to give an inexpensive custom bouquet making use of supermarket flowers in an upcycled vase.

Or it could be a part of the décor on its own, letting the cool tattooed vase stand out like a museum piece.

A tattoo is something permanent, and may not be for everyone, but tattoo art is undeniably varied and attention-getting.

Remember, though, to find or design your own images that have meaning to you, as well as designs you might just find attractive. It may be on a vase, but it is still personal.

Author Jack London knew this, as indicated it in one of his famous quotes:

“Show me a man with a tattoo, and I’ll show you a man with an interesting past.”

Give your plain vases a tattooed look!
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