An unfortinate issue which happens far too often sparked discussion with us here at the studio regarding tracing, copying and being inspired by other artist work and the sometimes unclear but important divide between them.
YOU as a client and tattoo collector are unique in your own individual way, and it is our job as artist to help you express that individuality through the tattoo you want to get :)
Sadly a current occurrence in the tattoo industry nowadays, thanks to the help of social media and the ease of accessibility, is for clients to bring a copy of another artists work and want it replicated exactly. There are quite a lot of facets to explore in the consideration of 'copying' a design which we've gone into a little more detail below.
Copying vs Inspiration
It is perfectly fine to have found an existing tattoo that you like! We all have designs we admire and it's also ok to show this to your artist when you are explaining the style/subject of the tattoo you want. This becomes not ok when you expect your artist to copy the design exactly as it is.
When you book in for a tattoo with us one of the first things we will ask you is to send through any reference images or inspiration you have to give us a visual idea on what you would like. Being artists it's a lot easier for you to explain some of your ideas to us through images as this enables us to get a complete view on your tattoo concepts. We will then take these images and use them as our reference when we research and design your tattoo. We can sometimes use specific elements of the images you've bought to us depending on if we can still make the image unique enough to you.
Most of the time designs are custom created for clients and are their way of expressing themselves. You take this away from the original collector by getting an exact copy if their design.
If you are VERY set on the original design the only thing we would recommend is going to the original artist and getting them to design a piece similar for you so that way they can be comfortable with the level of difference between your unique design and the original piece.
Even taking an existing tattoo and photoshopping it into a new composition or adding other taken elements is still copying. The artist would still be directly taking the hard work of another tattooer.
As a rule we will NEVER knowingly copy another artists tattoo or design.
Like most rules, we do have a few exceptions.
Symbols: There are some elements in the many pop culture universe's which cannot be changed or (in our opinion) are completely fine to replicate. For example the deathly hallows symbol, there are MANY people who have the symbol tattooed and no one artist can claim that any other has 'copied' this symbol. Other examples could be the tri-force, pokemon gym badges, dragon balls.
Characters: If you really want the little mermaid in her classic pose perched on the rock with the wave behind her, of course we will tattoo this for you! It is a moment from a movie that might resonate the most with you. If you come to us with an image from a movie, series, manga, comic, etc.. and you want to use that as the base of your design this is something we are completely open to doing. We will still talk with you about all your ideas and if you want any extra elements included in the piece and do our research to either find the best reference or draw you a completely original design. What we won't do is copy an image exactly of another tattoo that has any other design element other than the actual character (Say someone had put flowers around the little mermaid, or framed her in a particular way).
Personal Art: If you have a personal illustration that you've done (or someone you know has drawn for you) this is also something we can tattoo. We may need to make some changes to the design so that it translates into a tattoo. If you've had a piece of art commissioned or have found a particular piece of art you want tattooed we do ask that you seek permission from the original creator
Realism: A realism tattoo works by replicating a photo in the skin. This can range from anything between pet portraits to still life images to famous paintings. This means that it's more than likely there'll be two tattoos of the same subject especially if the image is famous or of someone well known. The artist hasn't put their personal time into creating the design to be tattooed which is why it is the norm for the same image to be used multiple times.
A flash design is an image that an artist drawn up not for any specific client. These pieces may have been drawn up for a particular day or event. Each artist had their own policy on flash designs. Our policy is that we will never repeat flash pieces (unless they are symbols as stated above) however some artist will repeat flash design especially smaller ones. If you are ever unsure make sure to check with your artist first.
There is a large difference in having the same style as another artist and completely ripping them off. Take Traditionally drawn roses for example, there are only so many variations you can make whilst keeping in the 'traditional' style but the important thing is that the artist is still drawing each of their designs. They may look similar to other artists but you will be able to tell if something has been copied lined for line.
Why all of this is BAD
Becoming a tattooist requires A LOT of hard work, A LOT of time, and more than a mountain of dedication to yourself, your craft and you clients. During an apprenticeship you learn the intimate details of designing to the human form, composition, colour theory, and general design principals all of which are imperative to a well designed tattoo. Then each design can take hours to formulate from initial consults, research, concepts, lining, implementing years of drawing skills, which is mostly done in the artist own time for little or no additional fee to the client given the time it takes to create.
Bringing us another artist tattoo design or a generic pinterest design and wanting us to copy it is like a slap in the face. It's considered very poor etiquette as you are completely disregarding our skill as artists and say 'I think this person can do it better' but for whatever reason you have still come to us instead. It's also an insult to the original artist who created the piece as if you do like their art why are you not going to them to tattoo you. Lastly it can be very upsetting for the original client who may have got that tattoo for a very particular reason one example from @artofguner on instagram is that he's had an tattoo of a clients child copied onto someone else from another artist which is bound to make the original client very uncomfortable.
( One of our artists @thisisalexheart work which was copied recently)
At the end of the day the complete responsibility to not tattoo copied work falls on the artist themselves. All you can do is educate yourself on the reasons why this is so taboo in the tattoo industry and try not to put your artist in the uncomfortable position where you are demanding something that they are unwilling to provide. Try to understand the multi leveled reasons why you shouldn't expect to have an exact copy of another design.