A secret formula every artist should know



ignore the text on it-
it’s about 80% high saturation and medium value,
about 20% black or white (low chroma, high and low value)
I’m not saying it’s a masterpiece but it works for this as an example.

The Pareto principle (also known as the 80–20 rule, the law of the vital few, and the principle of factor sparsity) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

This rule is not exact- it could be 70/30 or 90/10. But the basic meaning- that a large majority of effects stem from a small minority of causes, holds true in every field- including art and tattooing.

In making a picture, you can apply this rule at every stage of the process. 20% of the canvas will attract 80% of the attention, so finding your focal point and putting your best work right there is a good idea. Leaving the other 80% a bit more loose can help with this. Most people look at faces or figures first in any piece of art-so spending more time on these than on the wall behind them is best. In a landscape, the feature of interest should get most of your working time. If you do that part right, and the rest has some harmony with it, you’re golden. Abstract art is this principle, standing alone.

I have been told to make my values work this way too. 80% of the piece should have similar values, with 20% having either high brightness or low dark, whichever is stronger against the rest. So a daytime snow scene might be in high key throughout, but then has shadows or rocks which are very dark against it, and which account for about 20% of the scene. You could do this with color, or a particular level of detail or contrast, too.

You probably make 80% of your paintings and drawings, with only 20% of the colors you have, with 20% of the brushes you use.

Then there’s the boring marketing part, too.

  • 80% of a company’s profits come from 20% of its customers
  • 80% of a company’s complaints come from 20% of its customers
  • 80% of a company’s sales come from 20% of its products


I have sold more, and gotten more interest and positive replies to, the animal images I make, than to the portraits I have done. Therefore I now spend MUCH more time on the animals.

You probably sell 80% of your work to the same 20% of people who’ve bought from you. Probably 20% of your work, makes up 80% of all your sales.

A similar rule is the 1% rule:

In Internet culture, the 1% rule is a rule of thumb pertaining to participation in an internet community, stating that only 1% of the users of a website actively create new content, while the other 99% of the participants only lurk.

If you’re on a website and not getting a lot of response or interaction, remember that internet people are like mice or cockroaches. If you can see ONE, there are A HUNDRED hiding out there too. The difference in number of comments, and number of views, is immense. The same small number of people comment and get involved, over and over again. These people are your vital few.

“For a strong composition, you want the values to be in quite different amounts, not similar. Try this rule to start: two thirds, one third, and a little bit. (Marion Boddy-Evans)”

So what does this mean for tattoo artists and other artists? Well, it means a couple things.

  1. You shouldn’t be afraid to turn down a client who is too demanding or difficult. Remember that quote above, that 80% of complaints come from 20% of your customers? Fire those customers, focus on the rest. The rest of your clients deserve your full attention, your best work. Turning away bad clients will give you more time and energy for the good ones.
  2. You should make more of the things people like and buy, more often than things they don’t. I am guilty of not doing this as much as I should, but when I think about it I try to do more of the things that are uniquely mine, and that people want the most. If you get a good reaction to a piece, ask the people why they liked it, and use that information in your other work.
  3. When you tattoo (or paint for) one of your vital few, put your all into it. These repeat customers are your pork chops on the dinner table. You need them. If they are excellent clients, you’ll grow to love them. Go out of your way, within reason, to make the work you do for them top-notch.
  4. When you’re doing thumbnails and sketches and planning a tattoo or painting, keep something in reserve. White, maybe, or black. Or lines, or blue. Pick something NOT to use in the painting/tattoo, then at the end, go back in and use that reserved notion in the very best 20% of the work. It will help draw the eye to it, and help make it the central focus of the art.
  5. If a client bargains with you, promising to promote you in some way, turn them down. People who haggle and seek cheap usually have a whole lot of friends who do the same, and even if they ever do follow through and send you some business (unlikely), THOSE people will ALSO want the same deal! Cutrate work will starve you if you let it. For the money they’d have taken from you for “promotion”, buy a fucking billboard space, or an ad on your favorite website. I promise it’ll be worth a lot more than someone bragging about the sick deal you gave them on their tattoo.
  6. Next time you buy supplies, buy the things you use the most in bulk. You use 20% of your tools to do 80% of your work- the peripherals should be a lower priority than the daily drivers.
  7. Take a hard look at where you advertise or promote yourself. 20% of your efforts will give you 80% of the reward- stop spending time on the other avenues, and put your all into the ones that actually work well.

Some further reading if you’d like to find out more about the 80/20 rule, art composition, value/chroma, and marketing art using this principle.