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Ask Guy Aitchison

Ask Guy 14

Q) I've been tattooing about 5 years now and feel I've hit a barrier. I want to push myself in new artistic directions. Other artists at our shop seem to be happy doing only traditional and Oriental style tattoos (which I completely respect). I, on the other hand, am dying to learn the insanely smooth color transitions and blending, and I feel I won't be able to learn these techniques from the artists here. I guess my question is: Would going to an art school open my eyes a little? I know conventions are a really good source to learn, I just can't travel too much because I have a family. I'm extremely hungry to learn, and frustrated. I watch artist's DVDs and it helps a little. I know there are more routes like getting a tattoo by someone I can learn from watching, etc. Any advice?

A) Well, if you are looking to find an answer that creates the least disruption for your family, going off to art school probably isn't the solution unless there is a good school nearby that you can fit into your existing lifestyle. That being the case, look through their catalog and see what classes you think would help the most. Some basic drawing and painting classes will show you a lot of techniques that are applicable to skin. If this isn't really an option, you can still learn a ton from within your existing situation- you just need to be more proactive. For starters, even if you are not specifically aiming toward doing traditional or Japanese tattooing, you can learn a lot about drawing and composition from your co-workers. Watching DVDs can be somewhat helpful, but unless they are accompanied by exercises or you are able to create your own learning program based on them, you won't get much new technical skill out of them- watching alone is never enough. Many of the books and DVDs offered at this website focus on specific technical improvements, but it is up to you to do more than just watch- you need to immediately apply what you see toward your work. Take notes, keep a journal with your sketchbook, regularly sit down with your latest photos and make an assessment of how well you are sticking to the program. This really is about how self-determined you are... having learning material available is one thing, while completely digesting this material and making it one with your own technique is something that comes from regular daily practice. The most successful artists in this industry are the ones with the strongest self-determination: If there is something they want to learn, they look it up, find the best available material, get their hands on it, and put it to use in every way possible.

That said, I agree that conventions are excellent places to learn. Sitting in on a seminar- and being able to ask the instructor specific questions that apply to your personal artistic learning path- is a couple notches better than watching a DVD. Even better, attending a seminar by an artist whose teaching material is already in your library and familiar to you puts you in a position to get the absolute most out of the experience by knowing exactly what questions to ask. Conventions are great because of seminars, but they are helpful in many other ways too; simply sitting with other artists and passing around portfolios can be a very inspiring learning experience. And as you mentioned, getting tattooed by an artist you respect puts you one-on-one with their technique. Many conventions these days are family-friendly, so bring the whole clan. If you are serious about tattooing, the whole family should get used to the idea of going to (and having a lot of fun at) tattoo conventions.