Tattoo Illustration: Designing with Lines

3 Videos (30m)
  • Creating A Direction

    • Drawing From Inspiration

      05:12

  • Pen to Paper

    • Drafting Your Sketch

      12:20

  • Vectorizing Your Design

    • Refining With Illustrator

      12:19

Class Project: Create a Line Art Tattoo Illustration

Creating A Direction

  1. Create An Idea Of What You'd Like To Draw

    Formulate an idea of what you want to draw/illustrate for your design. 

    Jot down your ideas, thoughts, and rough sketches first and foremost. I find this to be helpful visually when creating an idea or concept.

    Another helpful tip is to keep your idea simple and not too complex. This will help in the long run, especially for a tattoo piece. The 'Less is More' idea is useful in this creative process. It will also help streamline your design once you get to the illustration portion of the design. If you're going for an intricate, detailed design, than this rule does not apply.  

    Once you have your idea ready move onto the next step!

  2. Research Your Idea For Inspiration And Direction

    Go to the places that inspire you the most to generate ideas online and off:

    Online resourceful sites may include your go-to design blogs, second hand e-commerce sites (ebay, craigslist,etc), public archives, or message boards.

    Offline resources could be your neighborhood thrift stores, garage sales, public libraries, or your favorite bookstores. If you dig deep enough you'll find some great emphemera that will jetset your creative juices and inspire you to make something cool.

    Once you have an idea, research in more detail toward that one direction or image you'd like to design. Piece the images of inspiration together of what you'd like to incorporate in your design to make it your own.

    This compilation of inspirational pieces will become your mood board and driving pieces of influence for your creative direction and idea.

  3. Mood Board: Compile All Of Your Research And Inspiration

    After researching and collecting your pieces of influence, now is the time to assemble your mood board. I recommend that you take all your online finds and print them out. It helps to make a collage of all the images, photos, and/photos all layed out in one place. It also helps to compile your offline pieces with any tangible ephemera you find.  

    Place all of your items and finds in one place, compiled in a single mood board. Pull pieces that help you focus on one solid direction that is uniquely yours and conducive to your idea.

Pen to Paper

  1. Simplicity Is Key: Equal Line Weight

    First, you need to lay out the groundwork for your image. Take your pen or pencil and start! Be smooth with your curves and lines to encourage fluidity in your piece.

    Try not to overthink the entire composition all at once. Give focus to each portion of the desired subject you're choosing to draw and take your time. 

    Choose your own starting point and try not to lose momentum when laying out your drawing. Carry your lines out to good meeting points, but start and stop and your own pace. 

    Have fun exploring the direction and movement of your carried lines too. Let it be an enjoyable, natural, theraputic process for yourself. 

    Feel free to erase (if you're using pencil) or start over all together if you're not feeling the direction of your lines. Also feel free to give yourself small breaks in between drawing all the sections. It's never a bad idea to step back from your drawing and analyze your drawing's progress. Walking away and coming back to your design is also helpful sometimes if needed. 

    Two key rules to keep in mind throughout this process:

    1. As mentioned before, simplicity is key in this creative process. The more simple of an illustration you have, the better it will translate as a design, especially for a tattoo.

    2. Carry an equal line weight throughout your design. An equal line weight used for the entire composition will highlight and focus the entire form into one cohesive unit.

  2. Negative Space: A Balance Between Line Weight And Space

    For tattoo art it is important to keep equal spacing between the lines to prohibit line bleeds. Having your lines too close together when side-by-side can be problematic. You want your design to breath by keeping space between the each line. Give as much attention to the negative space as you would with your own line work. This attentive practice will give so much balance to your composition and bring your design to another level.

    Another goal is to keep your eye moving through the design and not get trapped in busy sections or details of the composition. Let the negative space have a lot of voice in your piece. Eventually you'll start to see a balance between the line work vs. the negative space. 

  3. Symmetry And Balance

    Between negative space and line work, make sure you can see the symmetry in your piece. Make sure lines don't meet up too much creating crowding in your piece. You want your line work to breath by having that balance between your equal line weight and equal negative space. 

    Each part or section of your design should have a consistent "flow" to it. It's imperative to give attention to all these parts yet still tie them together through your linework. A helpful component to this practice is using a single line weight as suggested earlier.

    If any section feels offset, incomplete, or just not meshing with the others, spend time refining that section until it feels right in your design. Never settle if it's not there. It's worth the patience and practice to refine your design until it feels right and ready for the next step.

Vectorizing Your Design

  1. Scan Your Drawing

    Scan your image in at a comfortable size so you are able to trace your design easily. Make sure your lines are clear and legible enough to view when opened in Illustrator.

  2. Trace Your Scanned Drawing

    Once you've imported the scanned drawing, select the pen tool in Illustrator and trace over what you've already drawn.

    I also recommend using a brighter, contrasted color for your line stroke (I use a hot pink color). This will help you differentiate your line work from your scanned drawing.

    Don't try to be too perfect, the less anchors you use the better. You can go back and revise after you've traced your image. 

  3. Clean Up: Refine Curves and Anchor Points

    After you've traced your image, you are able to clearly see where you need to adjust lines so that you keep equal spacing throughout your design.

    Round your corners to keep the image fluid. Also give attention to your end points with each stroke. Attention to detail is crucial, especially for a close-to-perfect line art tattoo. 

    After you trace each line, delete your imported image so that you just see your new vector line artwork. This is a good place to check your negative space, line work, and overall balance of the composition.  Make adjustments accordingly; try to not rush this stage of the process too. 

    When the image is sized down or enlarged it should look fluid and balanced between the equal line weight and negative space. After this stage is achieved and all points are refined to your liking, your artwork is good to go for permanent inking. Have fun! 


Additional Resources
  • You can check out my moodboard for the Pegasus piece here.

  • Here are the two final, cleaned up designs that I completed in association with this class. Hope you like them!