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August 2, 2010

Complex tattoo coverup projects two

August 1, 2010

Greetings from Tattoo Education!

This is the second in a series of complex tattoo coverup projects that I'm chronicling here at tattooeducation.com. In last month's entry I showed a backpiece in progress, covering a relatively light pair of old angel wings that had plenty of open space in them. This time I'll be showing a different type of project, where the unwanted tattoo is dark, dense and fills a significant part of the zone that the new design will occupy. This is a classic coverup challenge, and at stake is not only the ability to hide the unwanted tattoo, but also to create a new piece that does not have the dense, muddy appearance of an obvious coverup tattoo. The client had a torch design centered in his upper arm, filled with detail and without much open space within the design. There isn't much color apart from the red in the flames, which will be incorporated into the color scheme of the new tattoo.

tattoo half sleeve coverup

After working out the basic idea in my sketchbook, I drew the design on the skin using Sharpie markers, starting with a yellow marker and working my way to darker colors as the design was dialed in more. By starting with a light marker, you can prevent a dark and muddy finished drawing and avoid the need to use alcohol to erase and correct the design as you go. In this case we opted for an abstract design incorporating a strong, easily readable S-curve, plus a second layer of flowing organic elements. I made as much effort as possible toward working with existing details in the old design and converting them into usable details in the new drawing.

One widespread misconception among much of the tattoo community is the idea that you are covering the old tattoo with the new one. In reality, once two years or so have passed, all remaining pigment in the new piece will have settled into the same layers of skin as the old unwanted tattoo; therefore, you are mixing tattoos, not covering one with another. So it is essential to plan as much as possible on using the old piece as a foundation for the new one. You can see how the shapes in the new design make use of the strongest (and hardest to hide) aspects of the older piece. In the first session I laid the whole thing out with a 5 magnum, lines included, then skimmed through it with a 7 round to clean up the lines, strengthen the edges of the dark areas and give strength to any details that were placed in the design with the purpose of masking old stuff. Since time was limited, not much color got done; instead, I concentrated my efforts on rendering detail in the coverup zone, and, near the end of the session, packed white pigment in over the remaining exposed parts of the old piece. Although white will not cover darker pigments, it can lighten them by a small amount- after healing, roughly 7-12%. Enough to be worth doing.

coverup half sleeve tattoo

Six months of settling later we did another pass. This also had to be a relatively short session because of time constraints, so even though it was tempting to work on the rendering of the non-coverup parts of the piece, I knew these areas would only need one pass, so I continued to focus on the coverup area. This is a good practice- in a multi-session coverup, it's important to spend at least part of every session layering over the coverup area so that by the time the whole piece is finished it will look more or less even with the non-coverup parts. I have seen cases where the artist evidently was not eager to work on the hard parts and finished all the easy parts first, causing the client to have to come in more times for what must have seemed like less satisfying sessions... so keeping the focus on the harder parts from the very beginning of the process will get you ahead of the game. Here you can see the healed results of the first session, followed by the fresh photo of the second pass where I packed color through the whole upper coil, hiding the dark red flame, and another layer of white over the still-exposed lower parts. You can also see how, in this pass, I focused on sharpening the details that are crucial in hiding the unwanted tattoo.

coverup half sleeve tattoo

Below is a healed shot of this second pass, another six months down the line. You can see how the two passes of white have had a small but significant impact on lightening the unwanted piece... not enough to ever dream of making unwanted tattoos invisible by whiting over them, of course, but enough to make a noticeable difference in the overall clarity of the new tattoo. This time we were able to sit for a healthy long session, where I started by using a 13 magnum to pack color through the whole piece. During this stage I worked at deepening the organic background areas while keeping the foreground shapes lighter; I also focused on trying to bring the coverup and non-coverup parts of the shiny coil material into roughly the same value range- crucial for hiding the old piece.

coverup half sleeve tattoo

With a solid pass of pigment through the whole tattoo, I then went through with black and a 7 round to re-darken the outlines and bring more focus to the details, while at the same time making sure not to go too dark with any of the foreground features. This helps to sharpen and define the new design while pushing the old one deeper into history. Next, still using the 7 round, I continued sharpening and refining edges and details using color, especially in the red chrome effects in the coils, which are an important part of the coverup strategy, since the reflective details are capable of covering unwanted old details without breaking the continuity of the large foreground shapes that give the new design its bold graphic impact.

Finally comes the next pass of white highlights; many of these are placed in areas that have been left blank for the purpose of highlights. Some white is also packed over strategic areas within the coverup zone, although this time, instead of attempting to lighten whole areas, small points are being pushed a bit lighter to give the piece a sense of sparkle.

coverup half sleeve tattoo

I fully expect to make one final pass on this piece to really be able to call it finished, but you get the basic idea: Rather than simply blasting over the old piece with anything we wanted, I carefully designed the new one to be able to incorporate some of the movements and details of the old piece, guaranteeing a cleaner overall result. Also, instead of just going dark over the coverup zone (making the new piece into an obvious coverup- and if that's the case, why even bother...?) I made an effort to break the tattoo into clear light and dark areas with strong contrast between them, and carry this high-contrast look through both the coverup and non-coverup parts of the project. You can see how some strategic detail can go further in hiding an old piece than a field of dark color would. Next time you have a coverup project in your schedule, try applying some of these principles and see if you can't make it look a lot less like a coverup.

Also this week, I have a couple new entries in the Ask Guy section of the site, this time focusing on pigment reactions, general inspiration and developing more of a steady hand. Check it out, and feel free to post any of your own questions... the more challenging, the better. Happy tattooing!