How to Look at a Tattoo

© Copyright 2021 Videesha Mulloo, Ryerson University

In our current society, tattoos are considered as a form of self-expression and creativity. They have become more acceptable and diverted from its association with taboos in mainstream society, thus allowing individuals to openly paint their bodies in their own unique ways.

As we look into it, what really is a tattoo? A tattoo is a form of body modification made by puncturing the skin with needles in order to inject ink, pigments and dyes. According to Prado (Business Insider), the ink needs to be inserted into the dermis, the tissue just below to epidermis and this is most commonly done by a handheld machine with a needle affixed to it. The needle punctures the skin repeatedly and rapidly, usually at a frequency of fifty to three thousand times per minute. Drawing a tattoo requires an immense amount of concentration and precision as one subtle yet wrong movement can lead to a permanent mistake however, this indicates how much work goes into making the perfect tattoo for an individual and allows us to truly appreciate the artwork imprinted on our bodies.

Mulloo, Videesha. “How to Look at a Tattoo.” February 10, 2021. Digital Photograph. Canada. ©Videesha Mulloo

The photograph being displayed is a tattoo on my left forearm in its healing stage. Upon looking at it, my attention is immediately drawn to the overall design which can be described as a minimalistic tattoo. However, as I closely focus on the details, I noticed the number of precise lines used to created the drawing. The two most important details are the birds flying which signifies a sense of freedom and growth and the chrysanthemum flower which is my mother’s birth flower. The chrysanthemum flower has a multitude of petals closely beside each other however, since the design itself is on the smaller side, it requires a small amount of spacing between each petals. In this tattoo, that space was made within the small canvas through dragging the lines with the right amount of ink – in order to ensure that the lines themselves are not too thick nor thin and thus, adhering to the minimalistic concept. In contrast, the birds focuses on the shading; a minor detail yet one that contributes to the aesthetic of the tattoo. Originally, I did not plan on getting the birds shaded whereas the tattoo artist suggested to shade the entire birds however, we reach a conclusion and decided to shade only the wings and the tips. By filling up the empty space within the birds, the artist separated them from the remaining of the tattoo and emphasized on its presence and meaning.

Mulloo, Videesha. “How to Look at a Tattoo.” February 10, 2021. Digital Photograph. Canada. ©Videesha Mulloo
Mulloo, Videesha. “How to Look at a Tattoo.” February 10, 2021. Digital Photograph. Canada. ©Videesha Mulloo.









Due to this experience, when I look at another individual’s tattoo, I look at the lines, the shadings, the shapes, the parts being focused on and the color being used. These minor details, when combined together, allow me to view the tattoo as an expression of the individual standing in front of me – whether their tattoos consists of significant meanings or simply a fun drawing, these details allow me to view them as the person they are, in the form of an artwork.


Works Cited

Elkins, James. How to Use Your Eyes. New York: Routledge, 2000. Print.

Prado, Guia Marie Del. “Here’s What’s Really Happening to Your Skin When You Get a Tattoo.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 30 June 2015,