The golfer image above is a tattoo that I did about a year and a half ago.
How will watercolor tattoos age?
There has been a lot of controversy about watercolor tattoos and how they will hold up over time.
There happens to be a group of tattooers, particularly traditional, or neotraditional artists that think that watercolor tattoos are shit. I happen to disagree with them and I will explain why.
The main argument is that watercolor tattoos won’t look good as the age because they lack contrast, and the softer colors will fade away.
It is true that watercolor tattoos with little to no black, and all soft colors will probably fade much quicker than a traditional tattoo, but here is the kicker… watercolor tattoos can and should use high contrast and a black base. That way if some of the colors begin to fade, there is still a skeleton to the piece and it will still read well as it ages. This can be accomplished by using line work or shading, in key areas to establish the design. (There are some pieces that I did early on, where I did not follow these rules, and looking back, I really wish that I had)
This is no different to how a traditional tattoo should be approached. In any tattoo, color is typically the first thing to go, and the black holds the longest, so if you approach a watercolor style tattoo with that knowledge, there is no reason that you can not have a beautiful tattoo that ages well.
Another argument is that this style hasn’t been around long enough to determine how it will age. The style has been around long enough to see results a good 5-10 years out. From what I have seen, the tattoos using contrast and that were skillfully applied, look exactly as a tattoo of that age usually does. Solid and beautiful, but slightly lighter than when it was first applied.
Another common argument is that the light colors will fade away. That is true in most cases. In the work that I do, I tend to use very bright bold colors, fading out to nearly skin tone. In most cases the lightest colors are the first to fade. I intentionally put the lightest colors where color matters least in the piece, that way if they do begin to fade, it will not hurt the integrity of the design. In fact, in a lot of pieces, slight fading makes the tattoo look even more like a watercolor painting, than when it was first done.
So if you decide you want a watercolor tattoo, here is my advise to you:
*make sure you go to a tattoo artist who has experience with watercolor tattoos
*make sure you check out their portfolio and like what they do (keep in mind, specialty artists may be booked out a while or may not be currently taking new clients)
*be open to adding black to your design
*to get those nice watercolor blends, there has to be enough room to make those happen, so you may need be be open with the size or placement of your design
Here’s how you can keep your tattoo looking fresh:
Another key factor in the preservation of watercolor tattoos, or any tattoo for that matter, is protecting it from the sun. Sun exposure can break up pigment in the skin, and cause it to fade more quickly than it would otherwise. Using either clothing to cover your tattoo, or SPF 30 or higher sunblock when exposed to the sun will help keep it looking nice and colorful.
Another option, is to get your tattooed touched up. This usually only needs to be done shortly after getting a tattoo in the event that the tattoo needs slight adjustments, or many, many years down the road if it has begun to fade.
One last note:
I have seen well aged and poorly aged tattoos of all different styles. The skill of the artist, the equipment and pigments used, the size and placement of a tattoo, as well as how the skin was cared for all contribute to how it ages; so, my final advice is to get a tattoo that you love regardless of style, but following basic rules of contrast and size. You can do this by choosing a good artist, being flexible with aspects of your design so your artist can give you the best tattoo that they can. Lastly, you can do your part by taking good care of your tattoo through the healing process as well as protecting it from the sun once you have it.
I am a Tattoo Artist, Illustrator, Sculptor and Painter based in San Francisco, California.