This is the first post of the "tattooing gainz" series. In this series, I am just blabbing about the things I have been working on improving in my tattoo game, and the progress that I am seeing as I work through my apprenticeship. A "dear diary" if you will.
Something I've been struggling with since Day 1 of tattooing, is my linework. Well, perhaps "struggling" isn't the right word, but, it's been a major challenge for me. To be fair to myself, I don't really think my linework has ever been worse than any other apprentice with only a few months experience. But, I have a very clear idea of where I want it to be, and it just isn't there yet.
Over the past month however, I feel I've made some HUGE strides in cleaning up my lines. I attribute it to a couple very important factors
1.) Skin Stretching
Watching my good friend Ian Caroppoli tattoo my arm was an eye opening experience for me. He is pretty rough as a tattoer, but his lines are INSANELY clean. Seeing how much energy he puts into stretching the skin, was really enlightening for me. I had a big "aha!" moment, as he worked on my inner arm -- realizing that no matter how steady your hand is, if the skin is wobbling around and moving under the needle, the line won't be straight.
Being bold enough to literally get on top of my client in order to stretch their skin wasn't something that came easy. It took some guts, and the ability to be unapologetically awkward with complete strangers. But, getting in there and pushing through the awkward moment of "oh hey, sorry, I just need to climb over your face to pull this line across your chest" has really helped a lot.
Tattooing is a physical job, and it is really important for me to remember that as I try to daintily doodle on people.
2.) Breathing & Visualizing
I have heard my coworkers talk about "breathing through lines" many times at the shop, but I didn't really get what they meant for a long time. Similarly, my mentor Schaf has spoke about "visualizing his lines" before he pulls them. This all sounded very wacky and kind of out-there to me at first.
I started practicing these concepts in my own way, just to see if I saw any changes. Sure enough, much of the breathing and core stabilization work I have trained for, in weightlifting, has started to feel applicable to tattooing! Steady breathing and a clear plan as to exactly how I am going to push my needle across the skin, has definitely helped me stay on path, and see cleaner lines. Imagine the line, visualize your path, take a breath, and pull your line as you slowly breath out. Super interesting, kind of meditative, and effective.
3.) Solid Equipment
This could easily be number 1 on the list, but why not save the best for last? I recently got sponsored by my boss/mentor, Schaf, who is the owner of Flying Irons Tattoo Machines. I got a couple of new machines in the process and immediately saw an improvement in my linework. I had build my old machines on my own (under the guidance of Schaf). I build my own frame, wrapped my own coils, and bent my own springs. My coils were wrapped pretty insanely, and I assume this had something to do with the inconsistent power I was feeling with my old machines. Clearly, I don't have 20 years of building experience like Schaf does -- Apparently, that stuff matters.
The machines that Schaf build me run super consistently and smoothly. I couldn't be happier with them! As soon as I started using them I could feel how to adjust my hand speed to the speed and power of the machine. No more, sputtering power, no more - "why isn't the ink going in like I want it to!?".... shit was just .... working! This felt awesome.