Best Guide To Realism Tattoos: The History, Techniques, Styles, and Artists

In this guide, we explore the history, techniques, styles and artists within the Realism Tattoos style.

When an artist creates a 3D work of art on something 2D, like a canvas, a piece of paper or skin, i is an awe-inspiring thing. Tattooists who work within the realm of hyperrealism are able to create unreal realism tattoos after years and years of devotion, hard work, motivation, and tons of talent. The amount of technique and time put into these works of art is astounding from an idea to a stencil, and then finally onto the skin. We talk about the techniques, history, and styles of Realism tattoos, as well as the artists who have mastered them, in this article

History and Origins of Realism Tattooing

To creations that mirror realistic proportions and elements, around 500 BC is where we see a divergence from stoic and archaic conceptual art. It’s in thanks to this that we see bulky figures rendered into human forms, and later, in the High Renaissance of the 1500s, a remarkable movement of realism within art. To exceed expectations and illustrate life as closely as they possibly could to the truth using techniques like measuring facial features, perspective and the Camera Obscura, masters like  Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, and Titian set the stage for contemporary artists. 

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To create inclusive depictions of authentic life, later, in the 19th-century Realism movement, artists like Courbet and Millet relied on these Old Masters for lessons on techniques and tools but embraced new philosophies. In fact, for style and subject matter to this day, many Realism tattooists also look to the Old Masters, but it wasn’t until the invention of the camera that the realistic approach in the arts really took off.

Evolving from the Camera Obscura,  in 1816 by Nicéphore Niépce, an invention that aids in the projection of images, the first photographic image was taken. However, within the photography market, it wasn’t until 1878 that smaller handheld cameras with quicker exposure speeds were created and sparked a boom. Later, with the strides in technology thanks to companies like Leica and Kodiak,  to capture scenes from life, the conventional society had the ability without the assistance of artists, and it seemed for a time that realistic painting was an archaic movement. 

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Photorealism was not a popular style as artists also did not want to be seen as mere imitators of real life, and so although creatives continued to use photographs as source material. To be sure, Realism did not have a serious mainstream emergence as a movement until Photorealism materialized as an evolution of Pop Art, as a direct opposition to the Abstract Expressionists and Minimalists of the late ’60s and ’70s. And this is where we can find some of the roots of techniques and stylings of Realism Tattooing.

black and white Realism TattoosIn fact, Freddy Negrete speaks about how much of the black and grey Realism tattooing has origins in the 1970 Chicano prison culture of California, in an interview with NPR. Behind bars, artists would use the materials they had available to them, including pen ink, sewing needles, and the like. How burning baby oil would create black soot, which was also used for ink is described by Negrete. 

He also talks about how finer lines were the norm due to homemade machines only having one needle. Tattooists worked within their own culture creating imagery and therefore segregation within prisons meant that Chicanos were together. This meant  Aztec stonework, Catholic iconography, and heroes from the Mexican Revolution were all added to the repertoire of Chicano ink. Later, when Freddy Negrete headed to Good time Charlie’s Tattooland where he and the shop started to make tattoo history with their devotion to black and grey Realism tattooing when he was released from jail.

Techniques of Realist Tattooers

Thanks to YouTube, and many artists who love to teach and share their knowledge, you can often find skills outlined in articles and videos across the internet, but of course, many of the techniques tattooists use to create their works of art are under wraps. Perhaps mapping of shadows is one of the main methods of creating Realism tattoos. You’ve probably noticed the contour lines that outline areas of shade and highlights like a topographic map for anyone who has gotten a Realistic tattoo or has watched stencil portrait tattoos with backgroundplacement. 

To create a piece in this style, this, as well as the photographic source usually tapped to the tattooists working area, are just two of the ways an artist prepares. For mixing are often kept together for ease in placement on skin and accuracy of colour matching there is also the set up of inks; like a colour wheel, tints., but what is absolutely sure is that this particular style requires much planning beforehand, along with a lot of skill and technical training even if there are many ways a Realist tattooist will work.

The Styles and Artists of Realism Tattooing

There are many different styles that artists tend to gravitate towards due to the background of Realism tattooing as described above. Artists like Chris Rigoni do a mashup of styles; illustrative, combining pop art, abstract,  and realistic forms he creates work black and white realism tattoosunlike anyone else. Chuey Quintanar, Freddy Negrete,   Inal Bersekov, Fred Thomas, and Ralf Nonnweiler do almost exclusively black and grey Realism, while Steve Butcher, Dave Corden, Phil Garcia, Antonina Troshina, and Liz Venom are known for their highly saturated colour Realism tattoos. Each photo realism tattoo artist tends to illustrate that which they are most fascinated by; at this level, these artists can accept or decline projects based on their interests and creative goals alone.

The evolution of tattoo arts in Seoul, KoreaI is also worth noting. On the Realism tattoo style, many artists based there, in particular, the resident artists of Studio By Sol, have added a completely different take. Certainly, their pieces are incredibly realistic, whether a photorealist pet portrait, fine art reproduction or beautiful botanical creation, however, there is still a definite watercolour influence, as well as illustrative. 

With their delicate works of ethereal Realism, artists like Youyeon, Saegeem, Sol, Heemee, and more are blowing minds. Their work has discovered a new way of doing realistic in a subtle blend of styles from gems to fruit, to portraits, and pieces of technology like aeroplanes. Stemming issues of ageing from watercolour, to keep pigments from spreading over time, many of the artists employ a thin black outline.

There are many different styles, designs, and concepts within the genre due to the nature of Realism tattooing. Horror, Dark Art,  Surrealism, Film Stills, Celebrity Portraits, and more…it’s literally a matter of what one can see with the naked eye, and the limitation of color realism tattoo artiststhe imagination to build artwork from it. Most tattooists, and artists in general, will tell you that their work, their style, is inspired by the world around them. 

As Chris Rigoni said in his interview with us, “I just get inspired every day for the smallest things. Light. Shadows. People. Paintings. Photography. Architecture. Engineering. It comes in a lot of forms.” This is the magic of Realism; the capability to bring together all the beautiful and stimulating things within life onto the moving canvas that is the body.

From the invention of the camera and art movements like Pop Art, photorealism and realism have foundations in the deepest parts of human artistic expression to ancient Greek sculptures to the High Renaissance creations of Michelangelo. To create the world around us and to recreate the world we’d like to see, there has always been a fascination. For tattoo collectors around the globe In this way, Realism tattooing opens the door to a surrealist, or hyperrealist, playground.