Illustration tutorial: 5 tattoo design techniques

Illustrator and tattoo designer Ollie Munden details how to design a tattoo that the wearer will love forever.

A tattoo isn’t just for Christmas

The first thing to be aware of when designing a tattoo is that this is not just some normal illustration that will be printed in a newspaper or magazine one day, then be used to line the cat's litter tray the next. This is a very personal piece of artwork that will be on someone's skin for life.

Therefore every detail counts and things you might let slip in a normal digital artwork for print, must not be let slip for someone's tattoo. I always try to remember this and make sure all my lines are as perfect as they can be and make sure I'm happy with every detail.

Keep things bold and simple

If I were to design what I have on my arm again, I'd have it inked larger. The tattoo artist pointed out that perhaps there was too much detail in one area. Luckily I have a lot of room left and intend to extend the design further down my arm and plan to open up the design a little having less elements per area of skin so it should work out fine. Nothing like learning the hard way.

Talk it out

Good communication skills are a must. Listen to what the client wants, work with them to make sure you feel its going to look as best it can.

Sometimes you need to say "no that isn't going to look right"… but then suggest something that could work for the piece but still achieve what they want

Say no

If you just don't feel into the idea of the tattoo and compromise cannot be made then you sometimes need to turn the job down. If you’re not into it your going to draw a bad tattoo -- which is not something you should do.

Get a fresh pair of eyes

Always run your design past a number of people's eyes before it goes off to be tattooed. When designing mine, a good friend kindly pointed out that the head of the main Koi carp in my tattoo looked like a penis and suggested perhaps I should change it.

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