By Uncle Tim Heitkotter
Scripts are printer’s fonts designed to imitate cursive or handwriting. Any tattoo artist worth their salt must master scripts if they want to tattoo well. Successful script design can follow three simple rules. These also apply to all letter designs.
Rule One: Be consistent. All slanting, thickness, spacing and embellishments must all consistently flow through the wording. Nothing looks worse than a script that is inconsistent, especially if the slanting is off. In the old, sign-shop days of my youth, my father used to say, “Slant the hell out of it and run your connectors way up high.” Also, irregular spacing will make the piece clumsy looking. Keeping the stroke widths closer in variance opens up the letter. A balance of negative space is essential to a well-designed piece. Cramming them all together only makes them harder to read.
Rule Two: Any embellishments such as flourishing should be kept simple with plenty of negative space. Overly done, flourishes only look like a fishing rod backlash or “bird’s-nest” (Figure G). Quit trying to impress your friends by packing twenty pounds of poop into a five-pound bag. Nothing looks more amateurish than an overworked piece.
Rule Three: Never be afraid to trash it and start again. It is simply futile and frustrating trying to salvage a bad design. This is what reference material is for. Don’t let your ego tell you that you can design lettering when you can’t. Use your lettering books and study the fonts. Practice makes perfect.
One problem I’ve seen with scripts is haphazard attempts at putting shadows around the letters. Making a copy of the drawing and laying it over the original on a light box will give you an accurate location of a proper shadow by simply moving it down and left or up and to the right or whichever way you prefer (Figure H). Also, blocking a letter works in the same way by connecting the two with angular lines. After doing this enough times, your memory will kick in and it will become natural, as you understand how it works. This trick applies to all lettering.
Spacing (as in Rule 1) is crucial, when laying out lettering. Because the shapes and sizes of the letters are all different, so there are differences in the negative space in and around them, therefore, affecting the overall look of your arrangement. There are two types of spacing: Optical and Mechanical. Mechanical spacing is arranging letter by equally spacing them apart by measurement. Optical spacing is arranging the letters by equally spacing them according to negative space by eye (Figure I). Letters like O, W, U and L have more negative space, so they must be arranged next to other letters accordingly to give an overall balance, oherwise, mechanical spacing may do okay for a business card but look horrible on a sign or a tattoo. Again, this takes practice and becomes second nature, when you understand how it works.
When I was starting out, I was told that the two most important colors in tattooing were black and skin. Skin means negative, of course. If we do a tattoo that is perfect in just black and skin, then we can do just about anything else. That’s the thinking here. We know that once we master the relationships between these two elements, we are well on our way to understanding how the relationship between black and color works. In my fourteen and a half years of tattooing I have become known for my color work. That’s because I know that color selection is just as important as font selection, especially when we are talking about putting in a shadow or other 3D effects. The old rule is: “Keep the actual letters in direct contrast to the background and always keep your outlines or shadows closer to the background color.” This is an excellent rule that applies to tattooing as well. In our case, the background color is usually skin or negative. Since we know that human skin is never white, but, rather varying shades of brown, most of us know that putting a dark blue shadow behind a black letter will only make the lettering harder to read. So, good colors, (when not using a gray-wash), for lighter skin, are pastels and colors like teal, orange, spring green or lavender (Figure J). You can see how some of the samples that have I provided work and how others do not. Darker lettering with lighter shadows will always work. The idea is to enhance the lettering, not dominate it. A blue letter will work with an orange shadow and a red lettering works well with a spring -green shadow and so forth. A common art store “color wheel” works wonders when choosing your palette. It is also important to take into consideration any color that has been used to shape curly, waving banners surrounding your letters as this will affect the overall appearance. It pays to think ahead.
My last apprentice from my old sign shop in Monterey, California had a bad habit of being too tight and regimented in his approach to designing letters and signage. He was an outstanding draftsman in school. He could draw exploded views of motors and such, but, in my opinion, that type of discipline hampers true artistic ability. His work was very stiff. He was always trying to be perfect, but in a way that left no room for loose experimentation. He was going with what he knew. After years of this thinking, he’s finally starting to loosen up and his art abilities have improved dramatically. I guess what I am trying to say is that, once you have the basics of lettering design down pat, relax and have fun. Hold your pencil lighter and let the ideas flow. Be consistent, mindful of the general rules and keep it simple. Make lettering your friend by never being afraid to ask for help and collect good reference material. There is nothing more beautiful that a well-executed tattoo enhanced by excellent lettering.
Thus endeth the lesson.
Blue Tiki Tattoo
Hanalei, Kauai, Hawaii
So, last night was the opening for show at Sacred Tattoo Gallery (sacredgallerynyc.com) dedicated to Monica Castillo-Henk. You remember her: artist killed on her motorcycle in a hit-and-run accident in Brooklyn three years ago? Skin&Ink ran an obit at the time. Anyway, great show in really nice space (my opinion: Gallery and Shop are worth a story on their own). I will be getting press release via e-mail. Should be worth a story, when your tattooroadtrip.com website kicks in. Meantime a teaser? Photo on top-left is her father with memorial tattoo done by his son (Monica’s brother!).
Hey, Bob! Saw all the stuff on YouTube!* Lotsa cool stuff from everyone. Happy Trails!
*Jojo saw the cool video interviews by clicking “uploads” on http://www.youtube.com/user/misterroadtripper .
P.S. Click on the images of Jojo and his backpiece (below) to enlarge.
American Made Tattoo
Who is this woman and why is her head tattooed with a little Irish-looking guy? The little cartoon character is the mascot of the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, an organization devoted to making grants to research institutions to find new cures for childhood cancer. A made-up saint, the name Baldrick is used as a tie-in for volunteers to demonstrate solidarity with the kids who typically lose their hair during cancer treatments. Since their first head-shaving event on St. Patrick’s Day in 2000, St. Baldrick’s has contributed more than $50.5 million dollars to pediatric cancer research and shaved more than 135,000 heads. The lady with the shaved head is Mindy Barret, who took the hair shearing one step further by incorporating the foundation’s logo. For more information on St. Baldrick’s, click on 2010 Media Kit.
Look for photos of this event in an upcoming edition of the Daily Blog. This is the kind of promotional posters we’ll be featuring on tattooroadtrip.com. To promote your shop, event or product, be sure to contact Mary Gardner at email@example.com or call (503) 896-0835 to reserve a hot spot
When the economy went into the dumper, I thought, as editor in chief of America’s leading tattoo magazine, that I was pretty much immune. Stories of auto workers losing their jobs and pensions after twenty years on the line was sobering but distant. My magazine had a monthly audience of half a million readers. One media-marketing prognosticator told me that the number was closer to one million. What could go wrong? A lot, according to the bean counters. In the last few years, print media has suffered significantly, especially since the Recession took hold. Readers Digest, for example, went from thirteen times a year to eight. Rolling Stone shrunk from newspaper-sized dimensions to Time magazine dimensions. The publishing house that owns the magazine I headed cut a slew of their titles from twelve times a year to four. A few months ago, my incredible art director, Lisa Beattie, was let go and her job handed to an in-house A.D. Still, I thought I was safe.
Surprise, surprise! No sooner had a settled back with thoughts of “the wonderful stuff I’m going to put in next month’s issue,” than I was told to cut back from twelve issues a year to nine. Ooops. Things were not looking good. The cost of placing the magazine in new markets (you’ve got to pay to get newsstand exposure in many markets), the ever-ballooning price tag on paper, the amount of expendable cash folks were willing to invest in a copy of a tattoo magazine, the difficulty of getting regional advertisers in an international magazine (why would a tattoo shop in Chicago advertize in a magazine sold in Canada or California?), etc., etc., etc.—all this was bad news for the future of print media.
I read a month ago that the volume of Internet news surpassed the amount of news printed on paper… never to return, I might add. Yes, the Internet is the world’s most readable, most viable communication medium. Sure, they said the same thing about TV wiping out radio (in fact, radio has never been stronger), but until things even out, print is going down faster than digital media is expanding up.
That’s when Mary came up with http://www.tattooroadtrip.com, an Internet site supplying not only magazine-style features, instructional columns and photo galleries of tattoo art, but vital, usable information about countries, states and towns throughout the international tattoo community. A reference guide for finding the top tattoo shops, local conventions and special events, favorite after-hours restaurants for convention-goers, places to stay and things to do. A quick reference guide for artists and collectors on the go. A way for browsers to zero in on vital tattoo-related information in their town and the towns they are planning to visit. The ultimate tattoo resource.
Well, this takes time to build and our web artists are hard at work putting together a site unlike any other. Featuring unique design elements (so cool) and super-easy navigation, http://www.tattooroadtrip.com will feature my Daily Blog, lessons on How to Draw with David Nestler, Lessons in Lettering (with a new tattoo alphabet each and every month) by Tim Heitkotter and Tricks of the Trade for Tattooists from Larry Brogan… plus a monthly Tattoo Crossword Puzzle from Myles Mellor and a classic Cartoon Strip from “the king of lowbrow art” himself, The Pizz. All this plus shop stories, book reviews, artist profiles and travel tips for reaching your destination on your own personal Tattoo Road Trip.
We are pleased to see the reaction to our Daily Blog and hope you will tell others to join us. The site will be up soon, but if you have suggestions of what you would like to see or want to promote your shop or product, please contact us Mary at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m reachable at email@example.com. Hey, I loved my fifteen years building, shaping and steering an incredible tattoo magazine, but it’s time to go with the flow and become even more creative. That means no more black stripes up the butt cracks of Japanese bodysuit photos, no more pixilated breasts and no more Photoshopped diapers on babies in stories about tribes from indigenous cultures. Plus, I get to publish a tell-all book about my years with Larry Flynt. Yes, we’re reinventing ourselves once again but, best of all, we’ll have a lot more freedom.
Wish us luck.
• Chapter One: My Tattoo Road Trip—The Larry Flynt Years by Bob Baxter
• The tattooroadtrip.com website
• Mad Hatters Remains photo gallery by Maury Englander
• Jeremiah Barba tattoos
• First of 9 top San Francisco Tattoo Shops (Ed Hardy’s Tattoo City)
• Mike Bellamy’s new shop in Levittown
• Convention Calendar update
• N.T.A. Convention artist interviews (http://www.youtube.com/user/misterroadtripper)
• New York City Tattoo Convention
• Vancouver, B.C. photo weekend
Scroll down for your favorites. And be sure to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your comments.
Each year, for the last ten or so, photographer Maury Englander has swerved and skidded on icy roads leading to the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party tattoo event in Portland, Maine. He even put boxes of past magazine issues in the trunk, in order to add ballast to the rear wheels of his car. Well, the Mad Hatters went kurplunk, and a new event, The Mad Hatter Remains, rose like a phoenix in its place. And since Maury loves the drive from Manhattan and loves the convention even more, he, once again, spent the weekend, snapped lots of pictures and did a little shopping and dining on the side. Much of that is documented in these photos.
By the way, you can click on the photos to enlarge them.