The Art of the Interactive Tattoo Part 3 – Design and Implementation

The design that I got addicted to many months ago was to place three minimalist arrows on the left wrist, pointing to my left hand.  That idea was that while I’m right-handed, I accomplish far more when I balance my output (playing music, typing, gaming, etc).  What kept me from following through with the idea was that it was almost too minimal for my tastes.  That’s when the interactive idea came in and I started work on embedding a code.  The problem is that I didn’t want a stark contrast between a blocky data matrix code and the smooth lines of a minimalist arrow shape.

Before digging in to the overall design, there are some considerations that need to be made with the data matrix code.  First off, it had to be a large enough size to be tattooed free hand.  Specifically for the code that I had, there are a couple of areas where there is a single white block surrounded by black blocks.  That will be a huge risk given that the ink will spread not only during healing, but for the life of the tattoo.  While doing a bit of research, I found one suggestion to stick with around 10 “dpi” (counting each element as a dot) which would mean my 16×16 element code would need 1.6 inches squared.  Seeing as how my whole tattoo was going to be about 4.5″ by 2.5″ (based on measuring the area I wanted the tattoo), that was going to make the code way too prevalent for my taste.  I decided to scale the code back a little bit to a little over an inch, about 15 “dpi”.  That definitely makes the tattoo a bit more risky and a bit less easy to read, but in the end I liked the design far more.  The other consideration is that in order for the code to be recognized, there needed to be an area of whitespace around it that was at least the width of a single “dot” in the tattoo.

Back to the overall design, I decided to take symbology of the original arrows a step further and use the data matrix code as a template to greatly pixellize one of the arrows.  I then lined up the code’s pattern as closely as I could with the arrow’s shape to make it appear the code what somewhat of an overlay to the arrow rather than a completely separate piece.  I then took the second arrow between the smooth and greatly pixellated arrows and pixellated it about halfway (this would actually require the most detail work).  The last issue with the design is that whitespace the code requires.  Because it made such a clear border in the design, I decided to build off the code even further and cut “blocks” out of the arrows to smooth the transition from arrow to code.  Yes, I even stuck a few Tetris piece shapes in there intentionally because I’m just that big of a nerd.  The design is done.

Here is the minimalist arrow I started with.  The original design was to stack three of these pointing towards my left hand.





And here is the final design.  In the end it still holds the same meaning, but now it’s far more interesting (to me at least), is interactive, and really shows a transition from technology to art.  This is exactly what I was looking for.











Now that the design is complete, the final step is just to get the work done.  This is where the experts come in, so I will just list a few hints I found when looking around:

  • Money is no object.  If you are looking to get something this precise put on you permanently, the price tag does not matter.  It’s all about the artist.
  • Get recommendations.  I got a few different referrals from different people and asked others when I saw what looked like clear, intricate work they had done.
  • View the artist’s website.  Obviously you want to get a general idea of their work, but also keep an eye out for clean, detailed work that shows off their steady hand.
  • Talk to the artist.  I spoke with a couple of different artists before finding mine.  Getting their feedback on the design and a gauge of their confidence in it means a ton.

Finally I ended up with a time setup with Conor Moore in Kirkland, WA.  The work took about two hours and all in all was a great experience.  Once the work was done, we grabbed his iPhone and immediately found the code working.  After a couple of weeks of healing, here is the result:

In part 4 I’ll be doing a quick post-mortem and wrapping things up.


~ by Lifespan on August 22, 2011.

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