You know what the problem with flash? tattoos is? They exist.
They are cheap, unpretentious, mediocre — to say the least — and what’s more worrying, they are (still) popular…
Nearly 90% of the people who come to me for cover-ups1 or touch-ups2 have flash tattoos.
More than half of the e-mails I get from other tattooists or tattoo enthusiasts are requests for flash sheet catalogs.
So what’s wrong with flash tattoos?
Well, for starters, they are anything but original.
Flash tattoos are based on ready-made, one-per-hour designs drawn by others and sold in hundreds — or even thousands — of copies, worldwide. Meaning it’s very likely that somewhere, someone else wears the exact same tattoo, most likely done in the exact same manner (flash “tattooists” tend to replicate the initial designs ad literam) and, worst case scenario, of the exact same size and on the exact same area of the body.
They have nothing to do with art, inspiration, creativity or skill; they are reducing the ritual of tattooing to literally tracing, with the needle, a pattern that had been created by someone else, for somebody else, an insipid act that requires nothing more than getting used to follow a line with the tip of a pencil…
They are denying the clients’ longing for originality and uniqueness, which are two of the most important qualities a tattoo design should have.
Then, they are most likely to be low-quality, poorly executed, badly-needing-to-be-covered-up tattoos.
Because, let’s face it, if one who calls hirself a “tattooist” isn’t able to draw hir own designs and needs to rely on copying from flash sheets, it surely isn’t able to ink them properly either.
Tattoos are drawings, only not on a white, neat piece of paper stretched on a flat, rigid board, but on living, moving, bleeding, elastic skin. And if there’s lack of skill to draw on paper, well, let’s just say that doing it on the skin is 10+ times harder… it should be obvious that tattooing skills are rooted in the drawing skills and lacking the latter is definitely affecting — for the worse — the former.
Speaking of lack of uniqueness, flash tattoos lack one other important thing: meaning. They have no meaning to you, the client, because they haven’t been created for you — or for anyone else in particular, for that matter — and do not represent your feelings, message or reason regarding the respective tattoo.
Every tattoo should be created only based on your ideas and views, shaped especially for the area of the body where you want to have it and in balance (or should I say “dynamism”) with the rest of your tattoos, piercings, scars or whatever else you got in its vicinity. And every tattoo should have a meaning — not its intrinsic meaning of “skull” or “dragon”, for example, but its meaning — to you, tightly related to your experience, character or desire to express yourself.
How personal can it be when it’s only traced over a drawing copied from a stranger’s book?!
To sum it up — and emphasize it once more:
- Flash tattoos are neither original nor unique. There is a 100% chance that someone else already has — or will have, in the future — the exact same tattoo, because flash tattoos are copied from catalogs sold in great numbers all over the world.
- Flash tattoos are, most of the time, poorly executed and very likely to create frustration and remorse later on, because they are done by so called “tattooists” that do not have the necessary skills to create a quality artwork.
- Flash tattoos have no meaning. They do not represent you and they are not, in any way, able to express your feelings, simply because they haven’t been created for you. On top of that, they will most likely look bad (unbalanced) on you, because it is almost impossible to have a ready-made design properly fit on the part of the body you want it done.
It is a shame — and a great source of anger (pointed towards the aforementioned “tattooist” wannabes) to me – that many people, nowadays, agree to entrust their bodies, bear hours of pain and — not to forget — pay large sums of money for mediocre, insipid tattoos, only to end up hating them and, most of the times, looking to have them covered up or even worse, removed…
A big part of the fault lies in the — let’s call it — “industry” and I’m talking about the tattoo suppliers who sell flash sheet catalogs and the tattooists who buy that shit and use it to make easy money, at the expense of our clients’ frustration and, let’s be honest, sometimes naiveté.
Can’t blame the suppliers for doing it, commerce is commerce and it has always been in direct antagonism with the art.
But I can — and I do — blame the tattooists who do it. I blame them for being mediocre and unscrupulous and I blame them — however corny this might sound — for doing a job they have no inclination, skills or talent for…
But it’s not only them, it’s also that which matters most. The clients.
The client has the fault of not requesting original work, for not walking out whenever their requests are met with “choose one from this catalog” answers, for not saying no to these worthless designs.
Which says that the fault is actually ours, the tattooists’, for not educating and for not sharing enough of our knowledge with our clients, for not making a stand when we have to.
I am going to try to make up for this fault of mine and hopefully, it will work.
For you out there, who aren’t in direct contact with me and will probably never come over to have me work for you, the best I can do is tell you the truth, give you examples and advices. And ask you to never take this sort of things lightly, to think about it thoroughly and — because it’s only fair — to let your friends know too, help them out when their time comes :)
So, my first advice to you is don’t get flash tattoos!
If you see flash sheets on the walls or in catalogs on the tables in the waiting room, if the tattoist tells you to pick one from a stash pulled from a drawer, if the tattooist doesn’t draw your design free hand right in front of you but instead copies it on a piece of transparent tracing paper from from a (note)book, excuse yourself and go look for another shop!
If you’re a “tattooist” using flash extensively and – most likely – feel ofended by all this because, obviously, you think that I’m damaging your business by spreading this message, well, what can I say, I am trying to damage your so-called business; in fact, I am trying to damage it so badly you will be forced to close down the shop and go look for some other job (I’d suggest paisley patterns maker, it’s a lot more suitable to thy “artistic” inclinations), because what you do is wrong and your mediocrity literally hurts your (and my) clients. You’re getting paid — and unfortunately, sometimes even respected — for unscrupulously copying someone else’s art and putting your signature on it.
Flash tattoos bad. Say “no” to them.
Custom tattoos good. Request them at all costs.
- Catalogs or collections of ready-made tattoo designs, presented either in books or wall panels and sometimes, as kiosk-browsable websites. By extension, flash tattoos are tattoos based on these designs and flash tattooing is the act of doing it.
- To do/get a “cover-up” means to hide an old tattoo by doing a new one — most of the times, a darker, larger, completely different design — over it, using the lines, shades and spots of color in such a way to completely cover up the initial shape and details.
- To do/get a “touch-up” means to fix an old tattoo by inking anew its lines, shades and colors — most of the time, attempting to improve them — in order to give it a fresh look or fix some of the parts that went wrong when it was first done.