Tattoo art isn’t usually featured in museums or galleries. Often the best an artist can hope for is the work being included in a blog post about wacky designs or a magazine spread of “super dope” ink. But tattoo artist Chris Garver proves great artists work with ink and skin. Best known as one of the faces of TLC show “Miami Ink,” he studied art and drawing for years before becoming a professional.
His love of Japanese art and underground comic illustrators comes through in the pictures the leaves behind on his clients’ arms and legs as well as in his recent coloring books “Flash,” “Color Odyssey” and “Animal Odyssey.”
Carver gave his first try at tattooing when he was a teenager studying at Pittsburgh’s High School for the Creative and Performing Arts. He traded in a bass guitar to get his first tattoo needle. To apprentice, he repaired older tattoos and worked on pieces that needed updates.
“One of the things unique to tattooing is the designs are made to fit the human body,” he explains. “The composition is completely different from the typical rectangle of a painting or illustration.”
He quickly learned a tattoo artist has to be able to envision how the drawing will age. “Too many small details can become blurred over time so I try not to overdo it. I try to imagine what a tattoo will look like in 10, 20, or even 30 years.”
Later, Garver moved to New York and studied at the School of Visual Arts. His influences range from ukiyo-e artists such as Hokusai, Kuniyoshi, and Kyosai to science fiction illustrator Virgil Finlay, and several crates filled with comics and skateboard graphics. The delicate lines found in ukiyo-e prints can also be seen the pages from his new coloring books “Color Odyssey,” Flash,” and “Animal Odyssey.”
The living room pastime of coloring may seem like a world away from the blood and guts glory of the tattoo parlor. However, inking has given Garver a better appreciation for the colors that work well together. “I try to make the colors play off of each other to make a pleasing look. One trick I like to do is to put a very muted color next to a very vibrant color.”
So when you’re filling in one of the dragons or mythological creatures in his coloring book, imagine the image is going to be one someone’s arm for their rest of their life and you may want to make your pencil color choices carefully.