Tattoos A Question Of Art

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The release of a free online tattoo flash library raises questions about the difference in tattoo design types for tens of millions around the world.

For an ever increasing percentage of people across the globe a new online library poses a serious question. When considering a 5,000 year old art form, the compilation of popularized drawings would seem to be nothing extraordinary. Every book store and cafe from Ivy League schools to sea side tourist-traps sell photographs of famous painters, sculptors and modern pop-artists' works. And from glossy coffee table books to iPhone cases – the world is saturated with these depictions.

Art has become a daily occurrence. Yet appreciation and recognition is something most do without ever having held a brush or picked up a canvas. The ability to choose and change the artworks around us allows for veracious, constant consumption.

This new online library pertains to a practice that is less recognized as an art form but becoming more commonly demanded, requested and viewed than any before: I am of course speaking about tattooing. On an elemental level these permanent markings hold the most private and intense connection of all art forms. Tattoos can serve as expressions of character, history and even as a record of one's experiences. Less well known is the fact that tattoos can be divided into two design categories; flash and custom. Tattoo flash refers to a collection of drawings that have most frequently been used by tattooists around the world. These images adorn the walls of numerous studios and fill the portfolio books of many tattooists. People often arrive at tattoo studios, flick through the pages of the flash collection and simply pick out a design to have placed on their bodies. Flash tattooing is a practice comparable to choosing a sticker from an album.

In a practice more akin to patronage, custom designed body art is the second tattoo type. The client's preferences, design tastes and even lifestyle is considered by the tattoo artist. With this information the tattoo artist is commissioned to create a unique artwork that will then be tattooed.

Tattoo Temple in Hong Kong was the first studio in the region to introduce custom designed body art. Tattoo Temple's artworks are tailor made and no design is ever repeated. Breaking through the stereotype of the flash tattoo mindset, Tattoo Temple has seen unparalleled success. With clients flying in from around the world the waiting list for some of Tattoo Temple's artists can be over one year.

The studio is also home to the International Tattoo Academy (ITA). In line with their educational ventures Tattoo Temple has released a free tattoo flash library. Divided into nine sections the flash library consists of over 4,000 images and is available online:

Tattoo Temple commented that they hope the release of this free flash library will “Help people appreciate and understand real tattoo art”. With the resurgence of tattooing, the industry is set for continued expansion. Flicking through books we have been asking 'What represents me'?

If we look up, the question we could be asking is 'What am I going to create'?

J. Chou has been working in the education field for over 20 years – specializing in all forms of body art and body modification. He currently works for the Unique Living Art Org. based in SE Asia.

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