Dotwork Tattoos: style & technique

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The mathematical aspect and use of different line weight needed to give these images a 3D perspective impresses me more than sketching in abstract styles. It takes a huge amount of precision to get it right.

Despite the difficulty, I realized that drawing these patterns correctly was an absolute must if I was to have a long career  tattooing them. Plus, although based on some tradition,  the art form itself needs originality to survive;  there
are only so many times you can use, or even bare to see other people use the first page of Google images search results for ‘optical illusions’ and ‘geometric patterns’ .

Usually dotwork references complicated, tessellated patters or circular geometric mandalas which often resemble flowers.

Incorporating wider influences, artists also create a fusion with Tibetan, Indian and Thai ornamental patterns to create mandalas.

I personally prefer Lai Thai which is the name given to Thai ornamental patterning as seen in their architecture and traditional clothing. I came across these particular patterns whilst traveling, searching Thai literature and studiously copying them down, they remain a permanent inspiration to my mandala drawing.


The drawing element also pertains to sacred geometry, for example

mandalas are drawn using the flower of life. The flower of life pattern is considered the structure and skeleton, the decoration being the skin covering it.

Therefore sacred geometry is the skeleton, the basis of every geometric pattern.

This element was taught to me by Stephen Meakin at the mandala drawing classes held at Zu Studios, the art commune I live in near Brighton.

When not circular the patterns will differ, incorporating a repetition of shapes like tiles. The tiles are not necessarily square. You can draw a pattern within a triangle for example and repeat that triangle so the repetition itself makes yet another pattern.

Of course the process among dotworkers may vary individually, I’ve seen both skilled pattern making from dotwork tattoo artists and others reusing the same Arab patterns, cube patterns,  T shaped cube patterns and black and white striped optical illusions all sourced from Google!

These are more common in dotworkers tattooing if they haven’t learnt to draw the original artwork.

I locked myself away for an entire Winter and committed myself to learning the skill of drawing geometry so I could offer custom, one off tattoos every time, knowing there were only so many tattoos you could do with the same unoriginal patterns again and again.

Although physically drawing geometry by hand requires huge commitment and technical skill there is software available that either helps the process of drawing geometry or does it all for you.

Some dotworkers drawing custom artwork use these tools. I think that’s fair game if you can draw geometry anyway and just use it to speed up the process, as it takes even longer to draw than to tattoo a lot of the time.

Whether this is duplicating and editing images in Photoshop, drawing vectors in Illustrator or using a kaleidoscope app to create your artwork, at least then its still a custom piece.

I started out drawing everything by hand, so I am old school in that sense, but I do like being able to draw one half of a mandala and then flip it over in Photoshop, or to draw one section of a pattern and repeat it in Illustrator.

There are new apps now where you don’t really need any skill to create mandalas. I don’t like that myself but I think the software available is innovative and is actually what I always longed for when I was figuring out the manual traditional way of drawing geometry by hand.

Like the written word, I hope technical drawing never dies out and we can continue to give longevity and infinite development to the art form, whilst incorporating software for every advantage.



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Tattoo Artist since 1990 and creator/publisher of Tattoo Artist Magazine since 2003

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