A Guide to: Bringing Portraits to Life on your Skin

Published: 25 September, 2009 - Featured in Skin Deep 150, September, 2007

We should go about getting a portrait exactly the same way as we would when we get any other tattoo. There are certain golden rules to follow including checking out various artists tattoo portfolios before we even consider getting some ink, along with checking their health department registrations and even TPI membership.


There are various reasons why we get portraits tattooed onto our bodies, and we are only exploring the surface of this complex subject. We can have portraits tattooed on us of members of our family, friends and loved ones to feel that they are always with us no matter where we are or what we do, and by tattooing them on us means we will never forget them, that they will always be with us and protecting us. They can also act as a personal shrine to lost loved ones in remembrance. We can have famous people including rock stars, comedians, actors/ actresses to symbolize who has influenced us greatly/ changed our lives dramatically or just to show whom our ultimate idols are! We have also been known to have religious iconography portraits to represent our guardian angels and signs of hope, faith and protection. These can also represent our spirituality and religious choices. We have customers who have had self-portraits tattooed to remember how they were at a particular time in their life, and alternatively, they have had another version of themselves to represent their alter ego or the character that they would actually prefer to be in this life. We have also been known to tattoo animal portraits including dogs, cats and horses for their owners to remember!   

Most people used to settle for the name of their loved one, but a small picture, which will blur if enlarged. It is a lot easier to work from the correct picture, rather than adding / taking away details i.e. portrait of a singer and removing a microphone from in front of the mouth as this means that the artist will have to imagine what the mouth will look like, and may not be exactly correct! It is so much easier to have the perfect picture to work from in the first place. Portraits don’t work brilliantly well if they are too small as this will be hard to put all the details and features in correctly and on the flip side, if they are too big, then you cannot see all the design in one view and have to rotate the tattooed area around to see all the design. A colour photograph can easily be changed to a black n white picture, so don’t worry if the original is in colour. Some photos can get slightly damaged during the tattoo process, so we personally cover the original up in plastic, but as we place the original as close as we can to the area to be tattooed, it can get crumpled or covered in ink splats, so if you original means everything to you, it may be an idea to get a perfect copy of it before your tattoo session.   

Some portraits look perfect just on their own but we believe that a hint of background works better than none as it makes the tattoo look in place on the skin rather than just slapped on! Depending on the portrait, to make them mean more, it can be good to put more personal touches in the background. An example is we once tattooed a dog portrait along with his favourite toys and biscuits!   

Like all tattoos, cost will depend on size, colour or black n shade, choice of artist, and the amount of time it will take to tattoo. A good portrait takes time and is usually tattooed at an hourly rate. Some studios have portraits of famous stars as flash, which will usually have a set price, but if you require a personal portrait, then expect a custom price. As we said at the beginning of this article, please check out your chosen artists portfolio before you commit yourself to such an important piece of work as anyone can buy these flash sheets, but can they reproduce the work well enough for you? So don’t forget to do your homework!


By: Ruth & Robb of Eternal Tattoos, Dorking, Surrey


Skin Deep 150 1 September 2007 150