The Inking Process: Tattoo, Comic Book and Graphic Novel Art

tattoo featured image lily blog


I’ve always loved the tattoo art form. It’s amazing how much artists can create using skin and ink. I planned on getting many tattoos, but I settled on three. Due to medical reasons, I reached my limit of needles. It’s too bad. The best laid plans and all that.

All three of my tattoos are designed based on my drawings, which are based on actual photographs. I wanted my tats to be unique to me, so I designed them myself. There isn’t a more horrifying nightmare than finding someone who has the same tattoo design. Nope, I wasn’t going to have that.

Unfortunately, the first two are too old and faded to show up on camera. Tattoos do need to be retouched every so often, but again, I reached my needle limit, and it’s just not an option. So I’m going to post the tattoo photo long with the original image it’s based.

The third tattoo shows up well enough, but I’ll still provide the original image.

First Tattoo

I found a great tattoo artist in 1999. Flower tattoos happened to be his favourite design, so that worked out well. During all three designs, he would often tell me I’m the calmest client he’s ever had. He’d tell stories about great big hulking biker dudes who came into his shop and fainted at the sight of a needle. Me? I carried on pleasant conversation while I calmly waited for the incessant drilling to stop.

I get why tattoos isn’t for everyone. The pain, the permanency, lots of reason. I’ve always maintained that tattoos should be a personal choice. If you’re into tattoos, then fantastic, we’ll have lots to talk about. If tattoos aren’t your thing, then we’ll talk about something else.

Below is my first tattoo, on the small of my back. This was done years before there was any such term as “tramp stamp” and I’m still unsure what the term means, other than badly done Celtic lettering to signify some kind of toughness. I think.

I chose the madonna lily as a small design that was a test just to see if I could handle getting a tattoo.

Lily's first tattoo, a madonna lily flower
45 minutes. Easy peasy.

Although faded, this is pink and green in there, like the photo below.

Madonna Lily flower, the photo the first tattoo is based on.
Madonna Lily flower, the photo the first tattoo is based on.


Tattoos and MRIs

My tattoo artist did a nice job and it only took 45 minutes. Afterwords, I thought to myself, that’s it? That was easy. I’ll just get more tattoos. Not to mention the adrenaline rush is an amazing feeling, and I wanted more of that.

Years later, when I was about to get an MRI scan, I was asked what kind of ink was used. That was the first question I asked my tattoo artist. The answer is vegetable-based ink. Who knew that was going to mean, years later, that my tats are safe for an MRI. (Some tatts are metal-based ink, but not mine).

Let that be a lesson, kids. Vegetable-based ink. Your future MRI technician will thank you.

Second Tattoo

Back to the tattoo story. Since that first small tat was so easy, I planned to fill my back with tattoos. The second tattoo is a shoulder blade piece. The outline was done (and it was easy) but I never got around to having the tattoo filled. A tiger lily would have been nice. It doesn’t seem matter that much and it’s a loss I’ve long since accepted.

Outline of a Lily flower, second tattoo, shoulder blades.
Outline of a Lily flower, second tattoo, shoulder blades.


Lily flower outline for second tattoo.
Lily flower outline for second tattoo.

My third tattoo is my pride and joy, an arm piece from wrist to elbow. It’s the design I had been working up to all along. I knew the wrist is one of the hardest places to tattoo. And, I gotta say, it hurt like a son of a bitch. My artist was smart about it, though. He did the outline first, filled in the colour, and did the wrist last.

The other artist in the shop came over and admired the developing design. I was sweating and grinding my teeth. She looked at me and said, “Yeah, I bet that wrist hurts a lot.” Yes, It. Does. Now. Go. A. Way.

Phew. I can still remember that wrist pain. Baby, it burned.

It took two and a half hours and it was totally worth it. Biggest rush ever.

Third tattoo full arm piece
See the wrist at the top-right corner? It hurt like a son of a bitch.
Tattoo Illustration of Lilies for first tatt
Hong Kong lily flowers, the third tattoo is based on this.


The Creative Process for Comics and Graphic Novels

Showing off my tats (snicker) isn’t the only point to this post.

When I started Cottonseeds as a project and I got waaaay ahead of myself. I wasn’t overly confident (I still have doubts) but I do have ten years of experience working in publishing, I’ve designed my own tattoos, I’ve been reading comics/graphic novels since 1998, I figured, I can do this. I had everything planned out and I got started.

Something wasn’t right. The more I tried, the harder it become. In my experience, when I’m on the right track, it might be hard work, but eventually it does become a bit easier. This wasn’t getting easier, it was getting harder. I was on the wrong track.

I tried working with several different artists. Some were good, but couldn’t commit for personal reasons. Some were… completely self-involved. It felt as if they really expected to do all this extra work to showcase their art, and screw my own art. That’s not what I needed at all. I am an artist. Sure, I have all these medical conditions, but disability doesn’t mean stupid. I really didn’t need anyone to act like an artist for me. I was only asking for a little assistance. Well, long story, er, longer, it just didn’t work out.

So now I’m completely on my own. Art, inking, lettering, layout, everything. I’ve been actively working on issue 2 since April. It’s taking me a long time, partly because it’s just me, and mostly because I’ve been relearning a new art style that will allow me to finish the series myself. Eventually.

After everything, I’m stunned to realize the creative process for tattoo designs is exactly the same as comic art. I’ve come full circle, but now now I can finally say, I know what I’m doing. (I’m gaining confidence, you see). Had I known this before I started the project, I would have studied tattoo designs first, which would have saved me a lot of grief.

In case anyone wonders, the art style I used initially is the same as ad designs for publishing. In retrospect, I have no idea what I was thinking, so I couldn’t tell you.

Commercial vs Independent.

I want to continue being an independent artist. I enjoy the freedom and the ability to create my own schedule. I had looked into various comic book publishing, but the industry standard is one page of art in a day. A day! I just wouldn’t be able to keep up. So I’m on my own, not by choice, only by design.

New Plan and Samples

My hope is that I’ll work out all the kinks while I finish this issue, so that following issues won’t take as long. I can’t guarantee that, but that’s my new plan.

NOTE: Cottonseeds has been removed from the website. When a finished version of the whole story is ready, it will be uploaded to the site again.

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