Tattoo Cover Up Biography
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I get a lot of requests for large coverup tattoo projects, particularly full biomech sleeve coverup projects. Each of these requests comes with its own set of challenges, but fortunately in many cases the client has already had a number of laser removal treatments to lighten the old tattoo before proceeding with the new coverup. Although the laser is by no means a perfect removal method- as of now, there is no such thing- it can lighten the offending tattoo enough to allow for far more options with the new piece, plus an overall look that is far less dark and dense than a typical coverup tattoo. This past week I got a chance to finish a full sleeve laser coverup project, and wanted to share it with you. The client had his arm mostly just outlined, plus about half of his forearm filled in from an earlier attempt at covering the unwanted outline... so there was plenty of stuff there to begin with. However,he was diligent about having the piece lightened, and by the time I got to it the arm had been hit almost a dozen times in its darkest parts, providing me with an almost empty canvas.
The laser has its limitations- very dark or thick outlines can be hard to remove entirely, and certain colors- particularly purples and blues- can be especially reluctant to come out. That's where his arm was when we began, with the old outlines lightened as far as they would go and a stain of old turquoise on his inner forearm. With coverup projects, it's really no big deal to absorb old patches of color into the new piece- just a matter of taking those old colors into consideration when executing the new piece. It's a lot harder to cover old outlines, which have direction and purpose and can run counter to the direction the new piece is trying to take. That's why it was so nice to have the old stuff lightened to the extent it was. The remaining bits of pigment, forming a peppery stain over parts of the arm, just served to provide the new piece with an extra degree of texture and character- it's just a matter of working it in.
This client had the additional challenge of being very freckly- but with the old laser stuff showing through, the freckles simply added another degree of detail to the piece; I simply worked carefully to make sure every freckle, spot or stain on the arm was worked into the new piece. The key with coverup projects is to remember that you really can't cover the old stuff- you have to incorporate it into the new piece. Attempts to cover or bury the old work inevitable create dark tattoos; the last thing your client needs to hear from strangers on the street is, "nice cover-up".
I also recommend working carefully to create balance through the whole piece- dark vs light areas, detailed vs smooth areas, brightly colored vs subdued areas... the balance between these elements should be maintained through the whole sleeve, not just the coverup zones.
A coverup doesn't have to look like a coverup; it just needs the right approach to begin with. A little lightening with the laser never hurts- at least, it doesn't hurt the project. As far as hurting the client, that's another story entirely. For more information on the techniques used to do this piece, check out my mammoth instructional package Reinventing The Tattoo; you can also see more of my coverup work at the Hyperspace Studios coverup gallery.
It happens so often, I get an email or a call from someone who is not only looking for a new tattoo to add to their body, but to also hide one at the same time. I constantly hear the story of the over eager collector, getting a tattoo and ending up with something they arent happy with, or a tattoo that is just old and doesn't look sharp anymore, or even it's just something that they feel no longer represents them as a person. Those unfortunate tattoos have the ability to stab at the self esteem, bring down morals, and sometimes, prevent them from moving on in life, whether it be in a personal relationship or a professional one. The idea and consequence of something being completely permanent on our bodies is hard to grasp before it's actually a reality, and sadly, regretful. They come to me with the hope that it could be covered up, 7 times out of ten, my response would be to get some laser treatments done on it first, not to be that guy that wants to send business to the local laser removal place, but because in the long run you will be happier with the results.
Tattoo laser removal was discovered possible in the 80s and has been developing ever since. It was a big step from sanding a tattoo off, or chemically burning it off, and left a lot less scarring. The word laser sounds so sci fi and almost intimidating, but I have never met someone who has regretted having it done. It takes time, which is one of the consequences of wanting permanence reversed, but in the end it's worth it because for one you get something you want over it, rather than something that will work to cover it, and 9 times out of ten, if there was no laser treatments done prior to the coverup, overtime the tattoo underneath the new one will show through.
For those who dont mind tattoos but are just over the one that they have, cover ups are a huge percentage of the appointments shops take on. Its always possible, but the gamble of ending up with something else you would regret is still there. Cover up tattoos require extra time and effort. The cover up design has limitations, requiring needs met to adequately replace the original tattoo, compromising design for functionality and can take a lot more "coats" to achieve full coverage and success. Even then they almost always show through the new tattoo over time. I, myself, have dealt a lot with both experiences on my own body as a collector. I started getting tattooed when I was young, and I'm working towards full coverage now. Ive got multiple cover ups on every limb of my body, four coverups just on my back. This was all before my consideration of laser removal. I've had laser treatments on my right arm, chest, several pieces lightened with the laser on my legs and a little laser work done on my back, I'm also in the process of getting my neck fully lasered, which has now been treated seven times and if i wanted to I could have it covered with ease and get anything i want. This would not have been the case if i didn't do any laser work on it. All the other spots on my body that I had laser treatments on have been covered and comparing all of my laser cover ups, compared to my regular traditional cover ups. The lasered areas with new tattoos look ten times better than the spots i had nothing lightened first.