How to Look at Tattoos

          What makes tattoos unique from other drawings or paintings is the surface that they are drawn upon. Unlike paint on canvases or, pen on paper or spray-paint on walls it is the complex relationship of ink on flesh combined with the technique of the illustration on the body’s shape that gives tattoos their unique aesthetic. One must understand that there is a challenging process of time that must be completed before the final product of the tattoo reaches fruition, there is a long healing process in which the body scabs over the open wound of the tattoo, sheds old dead skin cells and then grows new skin that delvers the final results of the tattoo. Artists must keep this in mind when they are creating their design as they must think two steps ahead of themselves.

Image of gold and yellow coloured mandala tattoo with black shading on caucasian man's left outer wrist.
“Mandala Wrist Tattoo”, Boland, Jesse, Ryerson University, 2017

            When observing the tattoo in subject notice the combination of the colors and their relation to the skin. When colours are mixed together it also de-intensifies their original colours as they create balance with one another, as noted by Elkins [Elkins, pp. 206] which in this case includes both the inks as well as the natural skin colour of the canvas. Attention to detail must be brought to this issue in order to deliver a tattoo that neither blends in too much to the client that it feels flat and lifeless, nor pops out too much that it seems separate from the client’s body. This is why strong black lines as outlines are important as they contain the colour inside them to avoid fading into the skin colour that would appear difficult to notice. Notice how bold the lines are around the gold flowers so that they do not merge with the pale flesh to appear and unsettling jaundice colour.

            Mandalas are also common tattoo designs, not meaning the spiritual Tibetan symbols but simply round geometric shapes that contain intricate designs within them [Elkins, p. 86]. The most essential elements of a mandala are symmetry, intricate lines, and focus. The tattoo in study is symmetrical in that if it were dissented into halves they would be completely identical as everything is balanced in shape and composure. When looking at the mandala, they eye immediately focuses straight into it’s center which is the blank space between the four black hearts, before pulling out to study the colors, shapes and line that capsule it. There is also shading on the border of the tattoo so that it appears to fade softly into the arm instead of ending with blatant black lines which cause it to appear separate from the body, defeating the design of the tattoo.


Works Cited:

Elkins, James, How to Use Your Eyes, Routledge, 2000, New York, London

© Copyright 2017 Boland, Jesse, Mandala Wrist Tattoo, Ryerson University, 2017


Ø  Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.