2017 Edit: The Update on the Big Watercolour Tattoo Debate
A few years have gone by since our post about watercolour tattoos, so we’re back with an update about developments in the watercolour tattoo trend.
Since our original post, debate has raged on between critics and supporters of watercolour tattooing, with detractors claiming the style is just a fad and should not be encouraged because it ages poorly. The truth is that with time the ink of any tattoo can begin to dissipate. Ink particles spread out, so lines become less sharp and the tattoo may begin to appear muddy.
Since the watercolour tattoo trend has really only taken off in the last 5 years, it has been difficult to find tattoos in the style which have aged at all – good or bad. Renowned watercolour-tattoo-artist Joel Wright contends on his blog that just because a tattoo may fade does not mean that it will, and other people’s speculations about the matter shouldn’t keep people from getting the type of tattoo they want.
The fact remains that any tattoo may fade and become less sharp over time – that’s the nature of the artform. The extent to which a tattoo dissipates or becomes muddy with time depends on a number of factors:
- The age of the person getting the tattoo.
- How healthy the skin getting tattooed is.
- The type of ink used.
- The skill of the tattoo artist.
- How well tattoo aftercare instructions were followed.
- Preparations taken for getting the tattoo.
- Exposure to sun.
- The tattoo design.
Aside from what you can do to improve the longevity of your tattoo at the time you get it, getting a touch-up is always an option for improving its appearance in the future. People choose to get touch-ups for tattoos of all styles – from traditional style to watercolour.
A tattoo touch-up involves adding ink to parts which have become muddy or don’t look as sharp anymore. There’s no definite amount of time after which every tattoo needs a touch up – some will need it sooner than others. The right time to get a touch-up is whenever you think it’s time.
Watercolour Tattoos That Last A Lifetime
While it’s true that tattoos with less definition and fewer bold, straight lines may fade faster than tattoos of more traditional styles, they don’t have to. If you wish to increase the likelihood that your tattoo stays defined for a long time, you can get a watercolour tattoo with a strongly-defined black base.
Artist Deanna Wardin argues as much in a blog post about watercolour tattoos and how they age. You can influence how well the tattoo stands the test of time by picking a design which is more likely to stay defined.
A tattoo with dark, bold outlines and watercolour-style details create a highly unique aesthetic. The contrast between the bold dark lines and the watercolour style can combine to create some one-of-a-kind ink. What’s more, the watercolour component can actually start to look better as it fades in one of these hybrid tattoos, since the tattoo won’t lose its definition thanks to the dark outline. The watercolour parts may begin to look more like watercolour the longer the tattoo is part of you.
Although there is no consensus about watercolour tattoos in the community, we don’t need consensus to produce great art. The watercolour style is here to stay.
Trend spotting: watercolour tattoos
Recently, we’ve had an increasing number of customers enter our Toronto tattoo shop asking about watercolour tattoos, or painterly tattoos some people call them. This relatively new style of tattoo design has the same aesthetic characteristics as watercolour paintings. Watercolour tattoos are gorgeous pieces of permanent art which are gaining popularity as more people hear about them, in the Toronto tattoo community and beyond.
A watercolour tattoo is easily identifiable at a glance because it looks like a watercolour painting on skin. A soft, subtle palette of colours and shapes is often accented with drips and brushstrokes, reproducing the characteristics of a watercolour painting.
Any image can be made into a watercolour style, with flowers and nature imagery being the most popular, but some images are lend themselves more than others to this tattoo style. Tattoo designs like lettering, geometric shapes, and most old-school designs aren’t great candidates for the watercolour style.
Instead, you can consider natural imagery like plants, animals, feathers, and designs which don’t require outlines. Abstract shapes and flowing figures look great and take advantage of the artistic techniques used in watercolour tattoos.
However, the style isn’t limited to flowers. Like most other tattoos styles, the composition of the tattoo is not limited to a certain subset and is largely dependent on personal taste.
Consider watercolour tattoos for designs unconventional designs which may not work with traditional tattoo styles, whether old school or new school.
How Watercolour Tattoos Are Done
Watercolour tattoos don’t require special tools or ink, but a tattoo artist does need a special set of artistic skills to create tattoos with the smears and gradations which painters create with watercolours on canvas.
If you’re curious about learning more about different tattoo styles, check out our article about how to pick the tattoo style which is right for you.
To create watercolour effects in tattoos, tattoo artists rely on techniques like colour bleeding, blurring, fading, colour running, shading and splattering. Anyone familiar with painting or software like Adobe Photoshop will recognize these techniques, but it takes a master to deliver the same results with ink on skin.
The Big Tattoo Debate
Tattooing without black outlines has been a highly contested topic of debate in the tattoo world, with tattoo purists arguing against innovators who are pioneering the new style.
Although there is no consensus on the topic in the tattoo community, don’t hesitate to ask a tattoo artist about watercolour tattoos for fear of being reprimanded. Most professional tattoo artists will agree that so long as the person getting the tattoo is satisfied with professional quality artwork, there’s no reason to resist this new tattoo trend. Style is a personal choice, and the only person who is entitled to criticizing a tattoo is the person wearing it.
Another point of concern for some tattoo artists is how a watercolour tattoo fades with age without defined outlines. Although some argue otherwise, the application of colour matters far more than the application of black lines in terms of how the tattoo will heal and age.
If you’re worried about how a tattoo will look without lines, then look no further than the vast number of realism designs which often do not use lines and still look fantastic. Remember that if a style of art is acceptable on a canvas or a piece of paper, there’s no reason it shouldn’t it be acceptable on your body.
Things to Consider Before Getting A Watercolour Tattoo
Any tattoo will fade somewhat over time, but sometimes watercolour tattoos can appear more faded over time because they have less ink. It’s worth noting that this characteristic can be seen as positive or negative, depending on what someone expects from a tattoo.
Because because watercolour tattoos don’t have outlines and feature minimal amounts of dark ink, the tattoo will fade sooner that a tattoo done in a more traditional style. The artistic styles which characterize watercolour tattoos are subtle and soft as opposed to hard and bold. These techniques create less saturation, so a watercolour tattoo may need touch-ups more frequently.
Although watercolour tattoos fade quicker than other tattoos, that also means they can be easier to remove with laser tattoo removal. Although it’s quite rare for a tattoo to be completely removed without leaving a trace, the softer colouration of a watercolour makes it more susceptible to the tattoo removal laser.
Since there is less ink in a watercolour tattoo, removing the ink becomes easier and faster.
Some customers ask whether getting a watercolour tattoo hurts more or less that getting a traditional tattoo. Although there is less ink in a watercolour tattoo, the tattoo artist uses the same tools to place the ink under the top layer of skin, also known as the epidermis. Ink is still inserted under the skin by puncturing the epidermis, meaning the sensation of getting the tattoo is equally uncomfortable. However, since there is less ink used in a watercolour tattoo than a traditional tattoo of the same size, the watercolour tattoo requires fewer punctures of the skin, meaning there is less pain overall.
Choosing a Watercolour Tattoo
Although the watercolour tattoo style is relatively new and still not accepted by some purist tattoo artists, at Chronic Ink Tattoo we embrace the ever-evolving nature of the art world. Watercolour tattoos are no exception. We want to continue to push the boundaries of what a tattoo can be and accept trends while we participate actively in contributing to their development.
Tattoos are some of the most personal works of art out there because their canvas is your body. If you feel inspired by some of the watercolour designs that you’ve seen, then don’t be afraid to learn more by coming in for a consultation at one of our Toronto locations.