on drawing flash

I am assuming you are a tattoo artist in writing this. If you’re not, it’s not going to help you much anyway.

Most tattooers draw some flash, at least once, somewhere along the line. It’s common to start trying to draw flash when you realize that you’ve accumulated a big pile of sketches that you haven’t tattooed yet, thinking, “I could make a flash set, or a sketchbook, out of all this stuff.”

This is a trap.

Flash sets are more useful when they can be used. The art that someone didn’t want on them isn’t going to sell very well, to artists, or by artists to clients. Flash should be easy, fun, and reproducible- that’s what it’s for.

Think about the end user- the tattoo artist who will have to reproduce what you’ve done on someone’s skin. Did you include lots of finicky little lines that are not backed up by any background? Well, it’s a sure thing some wiggly-ass newcomer is going to want that impossible thing on their wobbly love handles. Have you ever tried to tattoo a thin, long line on that? I’m sure you hated it just as much as any other artist would.

So avoid those kind of things in your flash. Make your drawings simple, bold, and easy to apply.

Think about the size and complexity of your art, too. That big full-sheet drawing of a wicked dragon? Well, most tattoo artists will do something on that scale as CUSTOM work anyway. The client may glance at your flash and say “Something like that” but the artist isn’t going to want to invest hours upon hours into copying your work. As a matter of fact, he’s probably not going to buy your set, and it’s unlikely that if he does he’ll want to hang that on his wall. He might even get disgruntled if someon DOES ask for that piece!

So draw smaller things, the things you don’t even feel like drawing- draw the things that it’s a pain in the ass to have to draw for someone.

Did you just assemble a set of new skool art-related stuff, like spray cans, pencils, and the like? Guess who likes that stuff? That’s right- other tattooers. Same goes for old-school style pigfishicorns, and bloody severed hands. Guess who doesn’t like that stuff and won’t pick it off the wall? That’s right, tattoo clients. Most tattooers won’t end up doing flash on each other- they want to draw. In the 21st century, most tattooers are artists first and foremost. While it can be argued whether or not this is a good thing, it can’t be argued that these days flash is a little bit useless, to many artists.

Draw with them in mind.

You yourself are probably one of these people- so if it’s something you wish you had a copy of, because you hate re-drawing it, then most likely it’s the kind of thing that will go over well on flash.

If you think about it, the things that are small, spontaneous, impulse tattoos are what flash is made for. That’s the stuff that works on the wall. The world doesn’t have enough well-drawn, well-planned, easily-applied celtic knots smaller than 6″ across, butterflies that are simplistic without being a fucking joke, panther heads that are majestic and not goofy-looking. The world has more than enough sailor jerry pin-up ripoffs, skulls with various things crossed behind them, etc etc etc

The things you love to draw? Well, paint them. Make a nice 8×10″ painting of them, and sell prints. Don’t try to pass these off as flash.

Think about the easiest way to tattoo something. What can you do to make the piece easier for the artist? Breaking up long lines, keeping plenty of space between lines or dark areas, using high contrast…these help. How would YOU want to tattoo it? What would make it quicker or easier for YOU?

Of course if you don’t tattoo, none of this helps at all. You can’t draw on your own experience, your own difficulties, your own knowledge of skin and the way it reacts to different techniques. As tattooers, we have a unique perspective on art. The things other artists see as “simple” are often the very hardest to pull of on a squirming bit of flesh, while what is hard on canvas is sometimes the easiest thing in the world.

I see a lot of wonky tribble, tightly packed noodly stuff, that is just impossible to tattoo, from outsiders. I’d never in my life buy flash that looked like that…

Once you’ve got a theme for your set (think of one! I once did a thanksgiving set…once I did a set of watery stuff…it should all fit together somewhat in the viewer’s mind) decide how many pages you’re aiming for. five, six, ten, and twelve….I have seen. Less than five pages is not a set. More than twelve is out of most artists’ price range.

Then start assembling the art. I usually draw freely until I have a huge stack of sketches. Then I transfer them to 11×14 paper, bristol or watercolor paper, and begin coloring and lining. I have a bad habit of forgetting to do a line sheet until after I’ve colored- learn from my mistake!

Try to leave “breathing room” between pieces on each sheet. By this I do not mean leave half the page blank- no, you should place the pieces no more than a half inch from each other. You want to give the artist their money’s worth, but not make the page look cluttered.

Printing can be as cheap or as nice as you like. In the end, it all depends on what crowd you’re aiming for.

I’ve found that shops that are less packed with experienced talent, and shops with older owners, and shops with lots of younger artists, are the three best buyers of flash. The shops in which people are less artistically inclined need your flash, they can make money by purchasing it, and they will actually use it. This is a good feeling. This is why your art should be easy to understand and apply, when you draw flash. Guy Aitchison doesn’t need your help- Joe Schmoe down the road, however, really appreciates it.

The older artists are accustomed to buying flash, and like it. Some of these older guys have amazing collections of flash. To them it is an investment. If your art is good and simple they will eat it up.

Younger artists often use flash for reference or ideas, also they haven’t the ability, often, to pull a koi out of their ass. This is where you come in. By looking at what you have drawn, and seeing it made simple, they can learn from what you’ve done. If you are one of the younger set, you can learn a lot by drawing flash. It may not sell very well, but you will have learned a lot by the time you’re finished.

Comments, as always, are welcomed.