First Blood 210 - Custom Vs Flash

Published: 28 March, 2012 - Featured in Skin Deep 210, April, 2012

Continuing our series of short articles for those new to the scene.

Most of us can remember when all you got your first time round, was flash – well, those of us over 30 at least. These last few years have made custom ink the thing to hunt down. Both are fine and totally solid in their grounding. Let’s elaborate a little further.

There seems to be some opinion in the world at the moment that being a flash artist is not quite so cool as being a custom artist, but that’s not true. Great flash artists are the backbone of the walk-in tattoo scene, and though you’re unlikely to find them flooding convention booths on an international scale, they occupy the majority of high street studios that you’ll find in the UK and provide the best foundation for any tattooist to move on to other things.

When you’re choosing flash from a rack or book, the question you need to ask yourself is, do you really want the same thing as somebody else? Unless of course, you’re entering into some kind of blood brother pact. Even a deviation in colour or shading can make a difference to the work, but you’ll need to ask up front what your tattooist can do for you in this context.

What you do tend to find with dedicated flash artists is that they are fabulous technicians. Doing similar things time and again can only make you better at it. Our advice is to not simply look through flash books on display, but to actually see some real world work from whoever you choose. Skin Deep is very focused on custom work. To say we were 100 percent into it would not be a lie. That’s mostly because working with flash would mean publishing the same type of work time and time again, which we can all agree is probably the fastest way down for any magazine. We think custom work at its best, is the pinnacle of tattooing. It’s amazing! And that’s down to two simple things. At the top end of the scale, it involves a tattoo artist with vision and talent combined with you, the client, giving said artist a good briefing and trusting them to do whatever they wish with the idea. There are no losers in this scenario, but patience is all. These days, you can converse internationally with any artist. To give you a real world example, I’m currently working on a half sleeve that was six months in the talking before we even started. That was almost a year ago and we’re still far from finished, but when you both know what the end result will be, it’s worth every second.

Ultimately, it is of course up to you – just make sure that it’s absolutely the very best that you can afford because you will get what you pay for.

For the record, we tend to call those who deal in flash work, tattooists, and those who deal in custom work, tattoo artists. Just in case there was any confusion.

The Cover Up

There are a dozens of reasons to think about a cover-up. Most of them genuine, some maybe not quite so much, but regardless, the opportunity does exist to correct or improve on a previous tattoo if you really think it necessary.

The alternative to a cover-up is laser treatment. While laser can eradicate all manner of sins, it’s not a magical eraser with all tattoos – neither is it cheap. What it can do, is ‘rub-out’ enough of a tattoo to allow new work to be put in its place without the original having to be worked around, but that’s a whole article in itself. The cover-up is the opposite.

On a good day, a clever cover-up can be pulled seemingly from nowhere. With the skills of a great tattoo artist, all manner of things can be adjusted. Basically – and it may seem rather obvious once out in the open – you can’t go smaller than the original tattoo and you can’t lay light colours over dark and expect them to work. They simply won’t.

What you can do is take your body to a studio and talk about it. Don’t post a picture on Facebook and hope for the best, but get a proper consultation. You wouldn’t take a picture of a tooth that needed fixing and mail it in, so why would you with a tattoo (which is probably more important vanity-wise to 99 percent of us anyway)? We’ve seen some amazing cover-ups in our time here, and the best of the best are indiscernible. And that comes from being clever and taking your time.

Generally speaking, to cover-up something small, you have more than a few options available to you. For bigger or awkwardly shaped tattoos, black may be your best friend. And in the right hands it can look pretty damn classy too.

If you’re wondering why those guys you see with the faded and sometimes blotchy blue naval tattoos don’t get them covered up, well that’s a whole different conversation which brings us on to the difference between the modern day collector and those whose tattoos are mementos of a time and place in their lives. Just because your kids didn’t grow up quite as you envisaged, doesn’t mean you should disown them.