I love tattoos. A lot of my friends also love tattoos. There’s not a person I meet in the alternative community who isn’t rocking at least a sleeve or two, or drawing up their next sketches for work they want to get done.
Body art—and modification in general—is a huge staple of alternative culture, and for many of us it is a way to express ourselves, our love for certain things, and the symbols that may hold personal significance to each of us. But, when it comes to darker skin, there’s a bit of this underlying awkwardness between tattoo artists, inked folk, and the culture in general.
One of the first things that I always hear is how “difficult” darker skin is to work with. When studying portfolios of popular and well-acclaimed artists, I’m often greeted by beautiful designs… but only a photo or two of my skin tone. When searching for shops, black tattoo artists—and especially black female tattoo artists—are seemingly overshadowed by their much more hyped, familiarized Caucasian counter-parts. And why is that? In this day and age—and especially when alternative culture is filtering more and more into mainstream society—it should be easy to have a variety of artists and inked skin within the community. It’s not like we don’t exist. In fact, now more than ever—and especially within the millennial generation—people of every color, age, and creed are getting tattooed. The only issue though, appears to be this vague, unspoken notion that, when it comes to tattoos and tattooing, pale skin is “easier”, shows designs better, and is more aesthetically pleasing than tanner skin. Which—of course—is simply not true.
The qualm is usually that, on darker skin, certain tattoos simply won’t work: brightly colored designs would heal into a chaotic mess of smudges, and fine lines on super deep melanin skin would simply disappear. And while it is true that different skin types call for different techniques, considerations, and after-care, it does not mean that one has to bar an entire set of skin shades from a certain style, technique, or type of body art/modification. There has to be more effort in recognizing the diversity of people who are coming in for body art, and accommodating them as such.
As a tattoo artist, it simply means taking the time to study the craft on different skin types, and devising techniques that would work for all types of skin tones. It also means building a portfolio that is diverse and not solely focused upon one skin shade. There shouldn’t be the excuse of “But if it’s not (blah blah blah) it won’t look as good!!1one!” Part of being an artist is growing and challenging yourself. If you can’t step out of your comfort zone and attempt new things, are you really living up to your creative potential?
On the other end, those of us with tattoos should do more to find like-minded spirits and build a collective showcasing our amazing ink! Wear your art with pride, and find more like you who are eager to find representation in such a colorful field! And if you want to become a tattoo artist yourself? Do it. Nothing—not skin tone, gender, orientation, or anything else—should stop you from doing something you’re passionate about. Instead of asking yourself “why?”, think of it like this: why not?
With all that being said (and if any of you are currently in the market for tattoos), here are 4 bad a** black artists you should definitely book for your next ink: