Custom Design Process

Last updated 6.26.16

Hello! This is the beginning of my documentation of my design process to better help clients understand how it works and the time that goes into it, and perhaps to help other artists develop their own process. This is only ONE of MY (many) examples of how a design can go. It is always a little different with everyone and is certainly not the way all artists function. My process has also changed with the times, technology, and demands, which means I've done a LOT of processing to figure out what works the most efficiently and effectively.

1. Consultation

These days, for custom work, I open my books up during a "booking period" (usually announced beforehand on IG or via emailing list). I ask clients to fill out of a form that answers most questions that I need for the design. The more descriptive, the better I can get a feel for what you're looking for, though not everyone has as thorough thoughts for their design.

I don't have as much in-person consultations these days as I travel a lot and time can be limited, so most of the communication is done via email. With Mandy, I got to meet in person for 5-10 minutes to hash out some of the details. Usually people need to talk through sizing and placement ideas, with that I am able to determine an approximate quote and receive a deposit.

On the spot, we came up with a loose composition (layout) idea that I sketched out on the middle right of the page, which is what I will be going off of for the design. That is what I may call a "thumbnail sketch."


2. Drafts (via email)

Here's a photo of the usual state of my desk (not even fully pictured). The sketch to the right is the first draft I sent to Mandy. Sometimes the first "draft" that I send to clients is more of a "thumbnail" sketch, depending on how I'm processing the design in my brain. With Mandy's, it is a bit closer to the final as we had come up with a plan at the consultation.

There's a few things added into the design that we hadn't discussed in the consultation, such as the moon, the hole in the background, mushrooms, and the bi-sected birch trees. Those were all things I added on my own, or "artistic liberties." I'm a surrealist at heart so my personal touches tend to be a little weird and whimsical/magical.

Mandy got back to me that she decided against the rabbit running from it's skin, which was the initial idea we had agreed on in the consultation. It happens and it's okay to change your mind! I think that's a totally reasonable detail to want altered. She suggested just a single figure of a rabbit in the foreground running along the path. I decided to add in the knife inside the rabbit in relation to the song that the design is based off of, which she loved! I think this was the right choice in design as well, by simplifying the previous concept I believe the tattoo will hold better over time.

I have to admit, Mandy didn't see this version of the draft until the day of her appointment because of the time crunch I was in during this time. It isn't a practice I like doing but it happens sometimes. I did however make the decision to do so based on how happy she was with the design in general with the first draft. It didn't need much work from then, just the rabbit added in.

3. Appointment!

On the left is the final linework mapping out the tattoo and on the right is the final tattoo. You probably noticed by now that I didn't add any of the dotwork or linework details that I typically do in my work in any of the drafts. That part is generally discussed before the tattoo starts. I ask whether the client would like more dotwork, more linework, a combination of both, etc. Some clients prefer one over the other, want certain details in certain parts, or don't care and let me do what I think looks best (I personally tend to lean towards having a combination of both in a fine balance).

The reason I do it this way (keep the details to a minimum for the drafts) is because the amount of detail I can ACTUALLY put into a tattoo differs depending on the size of the tattoo, placement on the body, and skin type. I can show a general idea of how it will look, but it won't ever look exactly the same because paper and skin are completely different surfaces. It is also common for the final size of the tattoo to change slightly from the size that I drew the design, which means the density of the details changes (smaller=less detail, bigger= more space for detail).

Freehanding details is also the fun part of tattooing for me. I have always loved the idea of being able to render a whole picture in just solid black, without gray shading or color. I understand why clients would want to see exactly how their tattoo is going to look in the end (it's for life!), but part of coming to ME with a design is that you are getting MY artwork and there is a certain level of trust & patience that must be met, otherwise it's just not going to work out.

In the end, Mandy was happy and gave me permission to document and use the experience we had as a good example of a typical appointment with me! Thanks Mandy!

Now imagine doing this about 8-12 times a week! This is just a medium sized piece that went over very smoothly, it's not always the case. Some designs and clients will need more attentive time than this example, which it totally fine and expected as it cannot be determined. It is a lot of work to create an imaginary image from nothing. To cram so many designs in a short period of time makes me have less time to be thoughtful to each piece, which is why I only take one (sometimes two) custom pieces per shop day. I also charge 50$ for most drawings/designs alone because of the long thorough process. My goal is to create a unique and personal design for every client. This is the way I do it! I hope it is helpful information for you.