Green Sleeves

One of the most common questions I address during consultations at the shop is how to create a sleeve, or how to incorporate or “add-on” to an existing tattoo to create a sleeve. I don’t think I have all the answers on this, but I feel like it’s been helpful to my clients to hear about how I approach a project thats end goal is to have an arm or leg consistently covered with tattoos. An important distinction to make early on is whether the client envisions that tattoo as one large image with a seamless background that encompasses the entire space, or a collection of smaller tattoos that are consistent in style and technique, that when finished has the appearance of one complete collection. I’m happy to work with clients on either of these paths or finding some middle ground between the two, but having a plan before you start is something I really wish I had done with my own tattoos. It’s also a great way for me to hear more about how the client imagines the final piece looking.

I consistently discourage letting a smaller existing tattoo dictate how you think about a larger scale tattoo. It seems like a persistent misconception among new tattoo collectors that the best way to design your sleeve is to build swirls or flowers or background off of a tattoo the size of a silver dollar. Smaller tattoos are generally composed to be complete compositions when they are completed. Instead of tacking more and more on to a small tattoo, consider piecing a larger theme or composition together that works with your existing tattoo but doesn’t revolve around it. In my opinion this approach can end up “too much frosting, not enough cake.”

Right now I have a few different projects I’m working on with people that exemplify a couple different approaches and how I chose to make them. I am really interested in working on more large scale projects, and with each project I feel like I learn a little more about making it the best tattoo I can. The first two of these pictures are examples of a sleeve that is a collection of smaller tattoos we hope to make look uniform and consistent through out. The last is a project I am working on that is the “one big picture” approach. This tattoo is still in progress, but in contrast to the patchwork arm approach, the entire arm is worked up as a whole. Both approaches work great; usually the subject matter and the client’s personal taste pretty clearly dictate the best option. Hope this is helpful!

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