Watercolour tattooing

In this blog I am gonna try and give some of my thoughts on “watercolour tattoos”, some advice about how to get a good watercolour tattoo and what to be looking at. This is all only my opinion and other opinions may be available, but I hear myself referred to as a “watercolour tattoo artist” relatively frequently so I guess my thoughts are as relevant as anyone’s.

Firstly, let’s define the terms. Of course there is really no such thing as a watercolour tattoo (or an oil paint tattoo or a watercolour oil painting). All tattoos are done with the same inks and that ink is pushed into the skin by needles. What people are usually referring to is a tattoo with no bold black outline, sometimes no black at all, soft colours, and a watercolour effect. There is quite a range within this definition, but I’ll get to that. 

Now some people say watercolour tattoos don’t last, or don’t age well etc and there may be some truth to that if they are done badly. Not every tattoo needs a big fat outline to last, but super soft colours, with no black and no outline, are a very hard thing to get right and to have longevity. That isn’t to say it can’t be done – some people do it very well, – but it is very common to see it done poorly.

It is important to realise that a lot of tattoos on instagram or Pinterest are filtered to death and just don’t look the same in real life. I really recommend the IG page tattooed truth fairy for examples of IG vs reality. There are also a lot of tattooists who are at best naive and at worst being dishonest about what their tattoos will age and heal like. Maybe they haven’t been tattooing for more than a few years, or maybe they just don’t care as long as they get a good IG photo. 

How to do it right.

  • go bigger! When done well, it is nearly, if not always on a large scale. There is a definite minimum size that tattoos work at. Too small and in the future your lettering will just be a blur, those little circles will be one big solid dot and your lovely little rose will be a smudged cabbage. 
  • Create an edge without actually having an obvious line. Sometimes this is done by the contrast of two colours, sometimes a coloured line and sometimes a black line which is lost within the shading. 
  • Make the lines part of the overall design. Lines do create a hard edge that works well artistically and also there is a theory that they scar the skin in a different way that helps the tattoo hold up over time. But not all lines need to be heavy black, as mentioned above they can also be grey, coloured, or hidden.
  • Have areas of tight detail, boldness or strength, and then softer edges. Maybe the edges will soften over time, but it doesn’t matter too much. There is still a strong tattoo in the centre of it all. 

Pitfalls.

  • Very soft and subtle flesh tones, on the body’s natural flesh tone for instance, will look very different once healed, and may be barely visible. Unless you create an edge with another colour or black, as previously mentioned. 
  • Coloured outlines are very unreliable and often drop out or blow out. Even a tattooist who is the best liner in the world, can’t be as consistent with a colour line as they can with a black line. It’s the nature of the ink in the skin. That coloured line – if it is on its own with no colour or shading coming off it – probably isn’t gonna give the look you want. 

    I think that is about it. If you are thinking about a watercolour tattoo, I hope this helps.