You’re looking for a badass, no frills tattoo that will hold well and send a bold message – you might just be on the hunt for a blackwork tattoo. Blackwork is a general term for tattoos that use only ...

How to Design Blackwork Tattoos

You’re looking for a badass, no frills tattoo that will hold well and send a bold message – you might just be on the hunt for a blackwork tattoo. Blackwork is a general term for tattoos that use only black pigments in the design, but it’s also become a popular style in mainstream tattooing. What do you need to know when you’re coming up with a blackwork design idea? Is there anything specific you should keep in mind? How do you know if a tattoo is blackwork? We’ve got you covered. We looked into some history on blackwork tattooing, and asked an artist what the most important factors are in designing a blackwork tattoo. Read on to find out everything you need to know about blackwork tattoos.

What is Blackwork?

Blackwork tattooing is one of the simplest styles to explain, in that it’s exactly what you think it is – works of art done using only black ink. Blackwork as a style can historically be linked to ancient tribes, who would use thick black lines to identify themselves as members of a certain group. These tattoos would be done using charred wood or bone as ink, and are predominant in tribal tattooing, which is why some blackwork tattoo designs are referred to as tribal.

Landon's Bat Blackwork Tattoo

As far as how blackwork became a mainstream style, some attribute the popularity of the style to Leo Zulueta, who pioneered both blackwork and tribal tattoos in the Western world. His tattoos gained attention after a 1989 interview in Modern Primitives, a book that explored the popularity and influence of contemporary tattooing. If you ask those in the industry, however, blackwork hit the scene as a popular style much more recently. Nomadic tattoo artist Landon Morgan believes that “blackwork started getting popular in the States around 4 or 5 years ago, but it had already been established in Europe. ‘Blackwork’ in itself is a style term coined by Casper Mugridge of Showdown Tattoo in Alberta…It caught on pretty fast, so now anyone who works with exclusively black ink is considered a blackworker.”

Blackwork often overlaps with other tattoo styles. For instance, a blackwork geometric tattoo would involve both blackwork and geometric tattoo styles. Blackwork, as the name implies, refers to the color scheme of the style more than anything else, and the overall execution of the tattoo almost always involves another tattoo style to complete the design.

Key Elements of a Blackwork Design

Blackwork tattoos are pretty easy to identify. If a design is made up of solely black ink, without the addition of any color, then it can be classified as a blackwork piece. Landon considers “blackwork to be the use of black, without diluting it to make gray tones. Dot work and crosshatching predominantly, or blocky designs with just solid black and no texture”. It can be difficult to tell the difference between blackwork and black and grey tattoos, but as long as the majority of the design is composed of black ink, it’s considered a blackwork tattoo.

Where to Start with Your Idea

First, choose where your new ink is going to go. Knowing where you want your tattoo will help your artist when they’re drawing up the design, as they can keep in mind the contours of the body and any potential limitations of that space. Once you have the location in mind, look into different tattoo styles that are out there. It’s a good idea to choose a style that will work in conjunction with blackwork, so keep in mind whether you want a design that’s heavily black, or something that includes more dotwork and crosshatching to add depth to the piece.

You can get inspiration from pop culture, from memories, or think of a symbol for something that’s important in your life. Take that idea to an artist, and describe what you have in mind as best you can. The artist will take it from there, and draft up a blackwork piece just for you, that you’re guaranteed to be happy with for the long run.

Things to Consider with Blackwork Designs

Aside from the style and design you want, there isn’t much that you need to consider if you want to get a blackwork tattoo. Black ink is one that holds its pigment much better than others, and lasts a lot longer as well. Landon explains that, “As someone who has color on his body, I have found that I am discontented with the aging of those tattoos. I love the longevity and the skin contrast of black”. Unlike with some color tattoos, you don’t have to worry about your blackwork ink losing its lustre after a few years, as long you take proper care of it, of course.

Blackwork Devil Tattoo Design

It’s important to know the difference between terms as well. The terms ‘blackout’ and ‘blackwork’ are being used interchangeably nowadays, but these two styles are not the same. This could be more of a media term, than an actual term used by tattoo artists, as Landon says that he’s “not familiar with the term ‘blackout’ style. But when one blacks out a part of the body, it is simply that. You saturate a limb with no design. Just black ink”. This kind of blackout tattooing is done with a lot of tribal tattoos, but it also adds an interesting contrast to negative space on the skin as a canvas.

Popular Blackwork Designs

Gothic imagery is popular for blackwork designs, because by the nature of the genre, gothic designs require solid black and heavy lines to complete the look. Blackwork doesn’t have to be an intense image, though, it works with any type of design you could think of. Delicate floral designs can be done in blackwork using dotwork and shading, for instance. Blackwork is also a popular choice for realism portraits. Because it’s such a broad tattoo style, it can be done using visuals of all kinds, but a large number of blackwork tattoos do tend to fall under the ‘gothic’ or ‘horror’ category.

Blackwork tattooing is one of the most versatile tattoo styles, because it mainly refers to the color scheme of the tattoo. These designs almost always overlap with another tattoo genre to make up a complete work of art utilizing the blackwork style. There are an infinite number of options for what kind of tattoo you can have done in blackwork, without having to worry about the color fading and not aging well, like you would need to consider if the piece included color.

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