As with any other form of art, tattooing requires skill, creativity, and a lot of practice. If you are a beginner, understanding techniques such as lining and shading may feel overwhelming.
So, let’s start from the very beginning.
From cleaning your workstation to the equipment you’ll need and how to perform common tattooing techniques, we’ll share it all in this 101 guide for beginners.
Principles of Hygiene
Before you grab your tattoo needle and start your work of art, it’s important to make sure your studio is sterile to prevent cross-contamination.
As you are working with the skin, you are likely to come in contact with blood. Taking necessary precautions will help you avoid possible contamination and reduce the risk of infecting yourself and your clients with blood-borne diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis.
To learn in-depth about the steps you need to take to achieve the necessary level of hygiene in your tattoo studio, you are required to take an online course on cross-contamination and learn how to protect yourself and others.
Your workstation containing your equipment must be sterile. Many artists opt for a steel tattoo trolley to keep their equipment safe and nearby while they work.
The equipment you’ll need as a tattoo artist includes:
· A tattoo machine
· Tattoo ink
· Ink caps
· Wipe down fluid
· Process cream
· Distilled water for needle cleaning
· Paper towels for wiping
· Protective Gloves
· A power supply
· A sealed needle package
· Tattoo stencils
Now, that you have all you need, let’s discuss the techniques that will help you bring your tattoo designs to life.
The lining is simply tattooing lines over a sketch you have applied to your client’s skin via stencil. To practice this step and follow along at your own pace, check out YouTube videos that show how to line in detail. For example, this video on drawing a dragon easy can help you practice this step on paper, before moving on to create an actual tattoo piece.
To produce perfect lines, your tattoo machine needs to be angled properly. The secret to achieving an ideal angle is to align the machine with the direction in which you want to make a line. Also, be sure to run the needle against the tube back. This way, you will achieve a consistent pull of ink. Another option is to make an s-motion where the needle runs against the side of the tube.
As a beginner, thick lines are typically the easiest to achieve. Thick lines require larger needles, and you can determine the needle’s thickness by the numerical value (01-14 — 01 being the finest, and 14 being the thickest). However, keep in mind that the thicker the needle, the more difficult it is to insert the ink in the skin.
To make straight lines, employ the three points of contact method when holding your tattoo machine. This means putting the pinkie finger of the hand holding the tattoo machine against the thumb of the stretching arm, then placing your elbow against the massage table (or your ribs) and setting your wrist against the tattoo chair or table.
To make a sharp line, push the needle forward. If you angle the needle to the side, it may become fuzzy.
To produce thin lines, use thinner needles and go over each line once. Hold the machine as you would hold a pen or pencil, and evenly press the needle against the skin slowly, as you press the foot pedal to turn on the machine. Whenever you complete the line, step off of the foot pedal.
As you tattoo, make sure you stretch the skin in the direction of the line and not the opposite way, as doing so may result in wavy lines.
Another factor playing an important role here is speed. Needles can move at the speed of 50-3,000 times per minute. The speed depends on the type of design. Six volts is a recommended voltage for the speed used for lining, while shading should be done at a slightly slower speed.
Many tattoo artists rely on the sound of the tattoo gun to determine and keep an even speed while tattooing. The slower the speed, the deeper the sound.
Shading is a technique that makes tattoo designs look more realistic. Depending on the effect you wish to achieve, you can use different shading techniques, including packing, whip shading, brush shading, and stipple shading,
Let’s look at each type.
Packing is mainly used for areas done in solid colors and can be achieved by using a magnum or a 3-round liner. Magnum needles contain 2 rows of needles with space in between and they allow for full-color coverage or a smooth shadow. As opposed to magnums, liner needles are usually grouped in a tight circle. They can be used for bold outlines, as well as details.
To successfully perform packing you need to hold the tattoo machine at an angle of 45 degrees and make tiny circular motions.
Whip shading is usually used to create floral sketches. As this style resembles a pencil drawing, it is popular with clients who prefer minimalist tattoos. You can achieve this look by using a 3-round liner and holding the tattoo machine in an almost vertical position. Make a swift movement in the shape of a curve, without using too much pressure.
Brush shading is suitable for portrait tattoos and soft blending. To achieve this type of shading, rock the tattoo machine back and forth, allowing a long taper needle to go in and out of the skin while firmly holding the machine and only moving your wrist.
Stipple shading is a type of shading used for creating a dotted effect. You can either use whipping motions or use the needle as a brush.
The voltage and the speed of your movements play an important role in how far away dots will be from each other. The more quickly you move, the farther apart the dots will be.
The best needle to choose when stipple shading is a 3-round liner with a long taper. A taper constitutes the length of the needlepoint. Longer tapers (6mm) are used for delicate work on portraits, smooth blends, and shading.
As a beginner, make sure you study and practice all the different types of lining and shading on paper, fake skin, or pigskin before you move on to human skin. Keep your workspace and equipment clean and sterile to avoid cross-contamination. Stay curious and creative and, of course, enjoy the process!