We sat down with professional tattoo artist and CLIP STUDIO PAINT (formerly Manga Studio) lover, Russ Abbott. We got the inside scoop on how he started tattooing and how moving into the digital art space using CLIP STUDIO PAINT, has changed his entire workflow for the better. Here's what he had to say:
I began tattooing in ‘97 and did most of the artwork by hand, I likely burned through a thousand pencils and erasers trying to get my designs just right. A typical drawing might have taken 3-5 layers of tracing paper before I was satisfied enough to start tattooing.
Tattooers generally work off a stencil that is created using a vintage Thermo-fax machine. To get the cleanest stencil, you would need a very precise line drawing with a technical pen. I went through so many Micron pens. I used to hate how quickly they would dry out. Another method I used a lot that seems so archaic now, is resizing images on a copy machine. I used to struggle to guess the exact percentage that was going to enlarge my drawing to fit the client’s body. I’m personally responsible for so much wasted paper!
About four years ago I finally switched to an all digital workflow and purchased my first Wacom Cintiq. This completely changed the game for me. With the help of my friend, comic artist Shawn Crystal, I learned how to create my tattoo designs digitally using CLIP STUDIO PAINT.
As I began working with CLIP STUDIO PAINT to create my art, I realized that digital tattoo design would become a dominant force for change in my industry. I found that there was a need within the community for some education. I wanted to be able to help other tattoo artists discover how using digital illustration tools like the Wacom Cintiq and a program like CLIP STUDIO PAINT, can vastly change the way they design tattoos for the better.
In order to provide a platform for tattoo-focused digital tools, brushes, reference books, and software tutorials, I founded Tattoo Smart, just a few short months ago. With a growing line of products from myself, Brandon David, Alex Ellis, Cassady Bell, Shawn Patton, and Halo Jankowski, Tattoo Smart is working diligently to spread the word about what a digital process can do to speed up the design process and enrich the tattoo design experience for the tattooer and the client.
We’ve been getting tons of great feedback from our community of artists. While the digital learning curve can be steep, there are massive numbers of tattooers who are already well on their way to mastering this new skill. I’m so excited to see the amazing tattoos that are the result of the collision between this ancient craft and a modern perspective.
Since we’re on the subject of education, I’ll share what my creation process is using CLIP STUDIO PAINT:
Step 1: Using my smart phone, I’ll take a photo of my client, of the area of their body in which they would like to have the tattoo placed. I’ll send that photo to my computer and pull it up as the first layer in CSP. I find that drawing on top of a photo helps me visualize how the tattoo will fit on the body. I’m able to easily pick out underlying muscle and skeletal structures that I may want to accentuate in my design.
Step 2: Now that I’ve got an idea of who I’m working on, I’ll begin sketching with a pencil or charcoal type brush. I like to use symmetry rulers whenever possible in this stage to speed things along. If I’m doing a cover-up, as is the case with this design, I’ll pay careful attention to the underlying tattoo and the design challenges it presents for me.
Step 3: As my design takes shape, I’ll often select certain parts and scale or transform them to try out different compositions. I also use a few custom brushes, like this snake scale brush that I made for Tattoo Smart, pictured below.
Step 4: Once I’m happy with my sketch, I create a new layer and place it at the top of the stack. I use the tattoo needle brushes that I designed to precisely replicate the sizing and working properties of actual tattoo liner needles, to outline the design. It’s so nice to be able to redo a line that doesn’t come out perfectly on the first attempt. It doesn’t hurt that CSP is good at smoothing out my wobbles either.
Step 5: With the outline complete, I can go ahead and print out the line drawing on a white background and send it off to the stenciling machine. Usually, I like to do a value study and solidify my understanding of where the darks, mids, and lights will go in my piece. I think it’s best to consider value before color, especially since I know a few tricks to color in a value study quickly in CSP! For mids, I may just turn the canvas a midtone gray. I’ll use a charcoal pencil or a custom tattoo mag brush I made to blast in the blacks and maybe a few white highlights.
Step 6: With my solid blacks and highlights now established, I’m ready to add in some color. The paint bucket tool, when properly set up to reference the line drawing layer, makes quick work of splashing in colors. I add the color in a layer underneath the black shading and the white highlights. One of my favorite products we offer on Tattoo Smart comes in quite handy with this step. We created swatch files of all of our favorite tattoo ink brands so that we can design tattoos with the exact colors we will use in the actual tattoo. I simply scroll through the Eternal Ink digital palette that I loaded into CSP, and I select the color I want to paint with.
Step 7: With a final drawing completely lined, shaded, and colored, I am now ready to begin the real work of tattooing. I am satisfied with the knowledge that I’m properly prepared and ready to permanently alter someone’s appearance. My digital process allows me and my client to be more comfortable with the lengthy and often painful journey that we are about to embark upon.
Russ Abbott works out of his studio Ink & Dagger Tattoo in Roswell, Georgia. He regularly mentors other artists and teaches live seminars on color theory and digital design. His company Tattoo Smart is the leading resource for tattooers who want to stay on the leading edge of innovation in digital design. You may want to go take a look at the custom brushes they created for CLIP STUDIO PAINT. They have come up with some really inventive ways to push the envelope in brush design.