Portrait tattoos are a style within realism in tattoo art as a whole. This is one of the most eye-catching and intriguing styles among more recent forms of tattooing. The terms ‘portrait’ and ‘realism’ in a tattooing context don’t necessarily mean an image of a human face; they can refer to practically all ink work that aims for a strikingly realistic depiction of something, or tattooing which, say, creates a 3-D effect in rendering the subject. The latter approach is sometimes called hyper-realistic.
Realist and portrait ink work goes beyond adding very fine detail in shading, which most tattoo styles do. Rather, this is a deep consideration of all aspects of the lighting of a subject in order to make it look as life-like as possible.
Portrait tattoos make a direct statement, and in this way they typically represent something or someone extremely meaningful in a person’s life. These tattoos are often sought out to express respect and affection for an iconic person in one’s life, or of course perhaps for a loved one who sadly has passed away. In the latter case, an elaborate portrait tattoo can provide an intense amount of solace in relation to emotionally-troubling times.
Portrait tattoos are also a lot of fun to display. They’re a great way to showcase your love for tattooing in general. Plenty of people who are wowed by such designs will want to touch the tattoo as the delicate 3-D shading can make it seem like the ink work is popping off the body. This makes portrait tattoos great for creating and enhancing dialogue with other tattoo enthusiasts.
Perhaps more than anything, portrait tattoos are an honouring of tattooing as an art form and a celebration of how far tattooing skill has come. They’re a fantastic way of displaying not only one’s passion for tattoos but one’s respect and joy in a particular highly-proficient tattoo artist too. The idea of the time and effort on both the tattooed and the artist’s parts makes this a special type of tattooing.
In practical terms, it’s important to have a very high-res image of what portrait or realist work you want done, as the tattoo artist will need to be able to capture minute detail in order to bring it to life on your body. It’s important to make sure the image stands out, without sacrificing how true-to-life it appears. As such, a black background is sometimes applied by the artist to make the image jump out. Most portrait tattoos are rendered in black and white, though colour portrait tattoos are also increasingly popular – these do require extra care and attention from the tattoo artist however, which is why they’re a bit rarer.
As more sophisticated machinery and needles continue to be produced, the scope in terms of detail in portrait tattooing grows ever more vast. However no matter the advances in technology, portrait tattooing always involves a huge amount of careful prep from the artist in stencilling from an original image, lining the piece on the body and delicately layering and filling in every single piece of shading and variations in colour involved. Added to this, it’s important for portrait tattoos to have a clear and realistic sense of depth and perspective – such as the rounded shape of the lips or curls of hair. Creating a portrait tattoo is perhaps one of the most intense and concentrated states of mind a tattoo artist can end up in! For these reasons portrait tattoos can often involve many hours of work and are respected as some of the most challenging, and indeed rewarding, styles of tattooing out there.