Gide To Blackwork Tattoos: Origins, Styles, and Artists

Immediately recognizable by the lack of vivid chroma hues and tints of grey, within the industry Blackwork tattooing has become an unstoppable force. But, all-black fills and designs are not just a recent trend, believe it or not. It’s actually older than Traditional Americana. We explore the historical origins, the contemporary styles, and the artists who have mastered Blackwork tattoos, In this article.

Styles of Blackwork Tattoos

blackwork flower tattoos
blackwork flower tattoos

Recently other aesthetics have been added to the roster as well though tribal tattoos do make up a large portion of the Blackwork style. When only black ink is used, dark art, illustrative and graphic art, etching or engraving style, and even lettering or calligraphy scripts have been considered to be within the vein of Blackwork. 

Perhaps more closely related to its authentic origins, Blackwork can also include geometric work, ornamental tattoos that usually stem from Henna inspired designs or the like as well as in the form of esoteric sacred geometry, as well as. These may seem like stylistic delineations but, to be sure, to describe other art forms beyond tribal tattooing, the term “Blackwork” has been used in the past.

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Origins and Artists of Blackwork Tattoos

The origins of the style lay within ancient tribal tattooing although Blackwork tattoos have come to mean something much different. Polynesian pieces are a huge influence on the style in particular and they are known for their often abstract patterns made of shapes and swirls in large swaths of black ink. These tattoos were usually based on the person’s personality, with the tattooist using symbology and tribal iconography to illustrate their life story or legends, curving around the organic contours of the body. 

blackwork tattoos sleeve designs
blackwork tattoos sleeve designs

Polynesian tattoos Frequently Embodied a person’s lineage, beliefs or affiliations. They were absolutely sacred in nature and protective. Polynesian tattooists were regarded almost like shamans or priests who held the divine knowledge of tattooing ritual. It was these ancient aspects of culture that many tattooists that work within the tribal style still hark back to these ancient aesthetics and largely influenced Blackwork tattooing of today. In the expertise of Haivarasly and Hanumantra Lamar, you can see the influence clearly.

Another inspiration for Blackwork tattooing is gleaned from Spanish Blackwork, which is actually fine embroidery on fabric. Either in a counted stitch or in a freehand manner, on white or light-coloured linen fabrics, tightly twisted black silk threads were used. To more complex compositions like stylized graphical knots, the designs ranged from florals such as labyrinthine illustrations of ivy and blossoms. 

Similar in form is Kasuti embroidery. Kasuti is a traditional art practised in Karnataka, India which dates back to the Chalukya dynasty that ruled from 543 to 753, Although this technique was flourishing in Spain during the 1500s. Often including over 5,000 hand stitches but differs in its use of brightly coloured threads, Like Spanish Blackwork, Kasuti is intensely intricate in its aesthetic makeup.

It helps to recognize the different facets of historical artistic techniques and mediums that inform modern styles and aesthetics, no matter how far these folk arts may seem to be disassociated from contemporary Blackwork tattooing. For instance, Henna can be traced back to the Bronze Age which spans from 1200 BC to 2100 BC. 

This was 4,000 years ago in the history of humankind, and yet the application of Henna dye, called Mehndi,  most of which are considered a form of Blackwork tattoo simply due to the lack of colour can easily be connected to present-day ornamental and decorative tattoos. In the oeuvre of tattooists such as Ciara Havishya, Clinton Lee, Helen Hitori, and James Lau, Mehndi-esque pieces are found. Artists who work in this style may also tend towards more tribal or primitive designs, due to the ancient genesis of Henna. It’s all a matter of artistic personal expression and connection. 

best blackwork tattoo artists bay area
best blackwork tattoo artists bay area

Victor J Webster is one of the famous black tattoo artists that do several different types of pattern work depending on the project, including Maori, Native American, Tibetan, and more. His work is a perfect human artistic expression, that is the embodiment of the vast connectivity.

The best blackwork tattoo artists working within the realm of dark art tend to have an illustrative approach that gleans inspiration from etching and engraving. By esoterica, alchemy, and another arcane hermetic iconography, Dark art tattoos are usually informed. 

For instance, Take the work of tattoo artist Sasha Woland. Tarot cards, reapers, swords, sigils and demons dot her portfolio in a style that is most reminiscent of fine famous black tattoo artists

Like Gustave Dore, Albrecht Durer, Julio Ruelas, and Francisco Goya. techniques of engraving and etching are usually employed by these artists, which consistently called for black ink in the creative process. 

When viewing the works side by side, the connections both materially, technically, and philosophically are quite clear. Alexander Grim, Kelly Violet, and Jack Ankersen are other famous black tattoo artists working in a similar style.

Another aesthetic linked to the esoteric arts is a Blackwork tattoo style that is extremely popular, sacred geometry. The ideals can be seen in fractals, mandalas, Kepler’s Platonic Solid, and more from ancient Hindu texts to Plato’s idea that God has put perfect geometric structures hidden within the entirety of the natural world. 

Sacred geometric tattoos often consist of lines, shapes, and dots, setting divine proportions to everything. Dillon Forte is an artist who regularly infuses his pieces with Buddhist, Hindu, and sigil symbology and works within this aesthetic. By these aspects of culture, Jondix, Nissaco, and Lewisink are also highly influenced.

fargo tattoo blackwork artist
fargo tattoo blackwork artist

As a tattoo artist only using black ink can be considered a Blackwork, There are many more types of Blackwork tattoos mostly. To include the aesthetics and artistic philosophies outlined above, as well as highly graphic art informed by visual artists such as Roy Lichtenstein and Milton Glaser, the term is now broad enough. To create their pieces, tattooists working in a graphic approach use simplified forms and blocks of black. 

An extremely good example of this is Noil Culture. At times these graphic tattoos can seem almost illustrative, but there are famous black tattoo artists working with simple and fine linework regularly. While Bordeaux based tattooist Sad Amish blends the linework characteristic with heavier graphic shapes of black, Seoul based artist Oozy typically works in this style which lends itself greatly to illustrating anime and manga. 

Due to their font based designs, Lettering and calligraphy are also considered a family of the graphic arts, however distinct from other styles in tattooing. Many famous black tattoo artists including Delia Vico, Oilburner, and Gromov6666 rely singularly on black ink alone, but it is worth mentioning that many traditional lettering artists usually use tones of greys to create dropped shadows, a method pulled from graffiti.

The options are almost limitless with such a vast array of aesthetics and personal approaches included in the overall stylings of Blackwork tattooing. The way that black ink pops on any skin colour, and the fact that it ages incredibly well, makes this particular mode of tattooing adaptable to any design or concept due to the ease of clarity in design. Blackwork is concretely tried and true since it is infused with the techniques of ancient times.