My interest was piqued in the art of tattoos when I read a story about tattoo designs made from a continuous line. I was immediately drawn to the simplicity and the art form. At that point I decided at the ripe old age of 53 to get my first tattoo. The only problem was none of the single line tattoos spoke to me. So, I figured I could design my own single line tattoo, but it was much more difficult than I thought. I finally settled on recreating images in line art form that put a smile on my face and had special meaning to me. Consequently, I’ve now become an inked insurance agent.
Amateur Tattoo Line Designs
My first designs came from a small piece of art work I acquired years ago in Minnesota. I can’t make out the artist’s name, but the figures are illustrated in a cubist style. It is a piece of artwork that I always like looking at and thinking about he characters depicted. My challenge was to transfer the outlines of the figures in a way that would be clearly, and easily, recognizable. My limited art education taught me that sometimes, less is more. If you try to pack too much information into a design, the extraneous material detracts from the focal point.
Insurance Agent Gets Inked
The experiment, which are tattooed on the back of my calves, also taught me about the skin as a canvass. The big lesson was that the tattoo line will bleed, or expand, 10% on either side. Consequently, lines that are too close together, may look great at first, but may eventually grow together to make one big thick line. The line bleed seems to be function of the skin, age, and the thickness of the dermis in which the ink is injected into. I’ve noticed more bleeding on tattoos on the top of my arms, which seems to have thinner skin and have more sun damage. Tattoos on the underside of the arm, which gets little sun light, are crisper. I have only received tattoos from talented professional artists and I have been diligent in the aftercare process to help the tattoo heal properly.
At first, I was only going to get one tattoo of the cubist couple. But it seemed unbalanced, so I designed the second part of the cubist couple for the other leg. Then I was hooked. I loved the creative process of taking an image I enjoyed pondering over and decided to design more simple tattoos. Only this time, I decided to incorporate my interest in clocks and watches.
Clock & Watch Tattoo Designs
My next design was of a wrist watch. However, just replicating a wrist watch seemed to staid and lacked imagination. Wrist watches are also complicated. My first attempt at a wrist watch seemed like an overly complex design that would never translate properly. I started removing elements of the watch until I got to a stylized version: hands, hour dots, and unconnected side lines. Then I added two lines all the way around the wrist to indicate the band. Finally, as a whimsical aside, I included an improbable pendulum to the watch.
Primarily I’m a clock guy who collects antique clocks. I love how then engineering, designs and construction from the 18th century created mechanical pieces that keep relatively good time in the 21st century. In the 1700s European clock makers were designing wheels and gears, coupled with either a pendulum or hair springs and balances to create elaborate time machines. Antique clocks also align with my fascination of history in general. Mechanical clocks and watches have been relegated to the scrap heap of history. But the pioneering work by so many men to design these time pieces, I believe, is fascinating and should be celebrated.
Escapements & Second Bits
Many of the gears, pinions, and escape wheels of clocks and watches are thin and sometimes delicate. The very important angles of the teeth or how the gears mesh with pinions can be to small to accurately depict within a tattoo. I settled for stylized version of some of these components.
On many watches and clocks there is a small little hand indicating the seconds. This is known as the seconds bit. I took this small round time feature and replicated it in a tattoo on my left wrist. It’s nothing fancy, but when I look at it, I know there is implicit movement of that little hand, or should be, every second. I included the letter K as if Knauss were the maker of this fantasy skin watch.
On the underside of the left wrist, I stylized an English Lever Escapement that might have been directly controlling the seconds bit. It is a fair representation of that type of watch escapement. However, the teeth on the wheel of the actual escapement are very fine. I increased the base of each tooth so they would always look like teeth. My concern was that if I precisely replicated the teeth, which are very thin, the lines would bleed together and end up looking like a bunch of knives attached to a circle.
Weight Driven Clock Striking Wheel
My next design is that of a weight driven hour striking mechanism. On a time and strike clock, one weight provides the energy to drive the time keeping side and the other weight propels the striking mechanism that chimes the hours and half-hour strikes. The wheel depicted is the count wheel. Most of them will have 90 teeth on the wheel with different depths between the teeth. If the little lever above the wheel cannot drop down between the teeth, it allows the clock to strike a bell or gong wire.
My count wheel is reminiscent of some very old clocks with a separate geared wheel next to it. When the lever drops into one of the cut-outs on the wheel, the clock will not strike. You will notice the interval between the cut-outs on the wheel increases from the noon position around the wheel. The longer interval equates to the number of strikes by the clock. Hence the longest interval is between the 11 o’clock and 12 o’clock position because the clock needs to strike 12 times to indicate either noon or midnight. Technically, there should be a few small stops between 12 o’clock and 2. A clock will strike once for 12:30, 1, and 1:30. But I feared the small interval lines would not properly display in the tattoo, so I left them off.
In order to give some spatial dimensions to the tattoo, I did not allow the wire that wraps around the count wheel arbor and then travels down and passes through the pulley to intersect with the outline of either the wheel or pulley. This whole design means absolutely nothing to most people. For me, and perhaps other people, my eyes are drawn to the mechanics and implied movement. As pointed out by more knowledgeable clock enthusiasts than myself, my designs are not 100% accurate in terms of function. This is true. I sacrificed some elements for simplification and composition.
I always wanted to be an artist, or at the very least, be creative in some small fashion. A big creative outlet for me is writing. Tattoos serve as another creative outlet. Unlike pencil sketches or painting, you only get one chance to lay down your design. If you don’t like the tattoo, you can’t tear off your leg, crumple it up and throw in in the trash, and then start fresh with a new piece of paper.
The tattoo designs I created, as simple as they are, took hours to create. I would often go through 8 to 10 different iterations before I created a design that looked good to me and I thought would transfer to my skin. Each tattoo represents 4 to 6 hours of computer work between Adobe Photoshop and Microsoft Paint. The biggest issue for me was stylizing the proportions correctly. It took a lot of work.
Even if some of the tattoos I’ve designed have not aged like I expected, or came out slightly different than I want, I’m still good with the results. The permanent tattoo, for better or worse, was designed by me. And when I look at those tats, it puts a smile on my face. Perhaps you are now inspired to create your own tattoo. Do it, just do it. Take mine and change them, the are no copyrights. Be your own artist. If you want to learn more about tattoos, styles, the process, and what to expect, Tattoos 101: All You Need to Know About Getting Inked, is a fairly comprehensive website that explains a lot.