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The Art and Tech of Tattoos
How designer Marcelo Cominguez designed and illustrated his own tattoo in Concepts.
Designer Marcelo Cominguez and the TopHatch team have a lovely friendship — he draws wild illustrations and makes them into cool things, and we get to drop our jaws and say “How in the world did you do that?”
When we saw what he’d been up to this time, our jaws kind of hit the floor. With a thump. He’d taken his Concepts drawing and had it tattooed on his leg.
The design was stunning.
“Why water?” I asked. “And why a tattoo?”
He said, “When I was a child, I lived several years in a city beside the sea. The water is special for me. Always, I have to go back to the sea.
“I love the sea, I love the water. I practice diving, kayaking and other water sports. I knew that any symbol I used on my body as a support should be related to the water.
“Several ideas ran through my mind, but this was the winner. Not a dolphin, not a shark, not a boat, only water. And I love the waves, the sound of the waves and the energy in them. The water is a big part of my life.”
Then Marcelo turned back to art and Concepts, like he always does.
“I love to learn things art-related. I enjoy the learning curve and when I’m learning, if the returns are satisfactory during the process, I’m so happy. This happens with Concepts. I really think Concepts is the best so far. I understand it is hard for people who have used other software like Illustrator for a long time — it is hard to learn a new tool. But I see Adobe’s tools as obsolete beside Concepts. I know it’s still a stretch to replace but I’m sure it’s a matter of time.
“I try to create when designing, too, but I’m always considering trends and when time passes, I’m unhappy because what I do becomes extinct. When I do artwork this does not happen, I stay happy for a long time. I wanted to make something that would be beautiful and last. My tattoo makes me very happy.”
What could I do but agree?
He shared his process and his pictures.
1. Create your color palette.
“I chose blues for the ocean, a blendable gradient of dark to light so it would look like watercolor. I found a blue I liked outside the color wheel, so I entered its hexa color and used the harmonious color picker to build the palette. I use these recommended colors a lot in my drawings.”
2. Preset your tools.
“I put a Filled Stroke tool in every color on my toolbar for easy toggling, like a set of markers. It is more comfortable for me and I usually move in stages. Depending on the style I want, I determine which tools to use and in what order.”
3. Draw the design.
“I draw in stages, with many layers, always thinking of the effect I want to achieve. For example, to make a watercolor-style drawing, I draw a base with the Filled Stroke tool, then use the Airbrush with the same base colors to blur the edges. At last, I use the Eraser to simulate the hard-edged effect where the watercolor stops, because there is no water on the paper.”
4. Try it out.
“The image is two-dimensional and I wanted to give it three-dimensional properties. I put the drawing on a base skin color to see how the transparencies would work.”
“Then I took a photo of my leg and imported it as a layer to my drawing.”
“Using Concepts’ Advanced Transforms, I warped it and adapted it to the contours of my leg. I think this kind of transformation with fingers is one of the great advantages of Concepts. When I’m using this effect, I feel like I’m modelling with the fingers, like shaping clay.”
5) Take it to the tattoo artist.
“First, I exported a PNG and iMessaged it to Diego Schuster of Manitu Martinez Tattoo Studio in Buenos Aires. Together, we evaluated it with aspects of the behavior of the skin. I made some changes and then I went to the studio with the iPad in my backpack.
“Diego printed the image onto special paper that transfers the contour of that picture to my skin. Then he printed another model on white paper to follow the original strokes. And while Diego was doing his art, he applied some amendments which we thought necessary.”
As Diego performed the procedure, he and Marcelo took the conversation about art, tattooing and technology to the next level.
Marcelo: “How did you become a tattoo artist?”
Diego: “I started tattooing when I was finishing high school in 2010. I had always liked tattoos but I saw it as something difficult to achieve. One day someone offered me a tattoo kit for a good price, and I decided to start. I began tattooing friends in my room shared with my sister, and today I have my own studio at Manitu.”
Marcelo: “What drove you to become a tattoo artist?”
Diego: “I always liked art and when I saw it could be a profitable activity, it became my passion. I also studied painting in various workshops and am now making sculptures — action characters in mouldable plastic for prototypes.”
Marcelo: “What are the requirements to work on a dynamic canvas like the skin?”
Diego: “In these times, there is more awareness and knowledge about the dangers that the act of tattooing presents, and we have adequate caution. All products involved in the production of a tattoo are manufactured in sterilized environments. Added to the care a tattooist should have, they can guarantee a hygienic result.”
Marcelo: “What do you think about the current state of this art?”
Diego: “As an art, tattoo is evolving fast. Tattooists are introducing new techniques and styles. Tattoos are more illustrative, delicate or minimalist, and the traditional style like Japanese tattoos are represented with different perspectives and compositions.”
Marcelo: “How has technology influenced this evolution?”
Diego: “Tools used to be handmade and homemade — produced precariously. Modern tools actually allow us to be more precise. Also, tattoo artists were not well-received in times past — they were associated with bad character. But today, people are encouraging it as a way to express themselves. Tattoo is accepted as an art.”
Marcelo: “What do you think about using Concepts to design and sketch a tattoo from scratch, and the ability to try it on a real picture of the skin?”
Diego: “I think it’s important, especially for the customer who can see more accurately what the final result will be. In small artworks it’s not a big difference but in large-scale artworks, like an arm or back, it’s a major breakthrough.”
Marcelo: “Thank you for sharing your knowledge and insight about this art.”
At the end of our conversation, I asked Marcelo how he felt about his tattoo.
He said, “I took the sea that I love in my left leg. It is now a symbol that reminds me and transports my mind. I am so happy with my tattoo.”
Interview by Erica Christensen
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