How to create a tattoo that comes alive

"There are many ways to approach a living tattoo. The secret is nailing that shift from tattoo to living entity," says artist Lauren Cannon.

snake tattoo coming alive

The big trick here is to nail the transition from the normal tattoo to the 'living' tattoo. But since even painting tattoos realistically can be a challenge, some tips on that first.

Unless a tattoo is extremely fresh, you can have the skin colour to encroach a bit to really make it look like it's part of the skin, not just pasted on top.

01. Make the tattoo a part of the skin

I usually do small hatch marks on the edges of large tattooed areas, or use a semi-soft brush instead of a hard-edged brush for line work to achieve this effect.

Make sure the highlights and shadows of the body are also present in the tattooed area and that the tattoo wraps over the body's form in a convincing way, and avoid using full opacity.

02. Bring it gradually to life

You need to make the tattoo come to life gradually. Don't paint in the 'living' part separately and then try to connect it to the rest of the tattoo. Instead, slowly bring the tattoo you already have to life.

Whether the tattoo is going to be lifting off the skin or staying put, you want to make the transition from 2D to 3D slowly for it to be believable.

03. Use layers to your advantage

Use layers to your advantage, so you can slowly build up depth and form of the tattoo itself as it appears to become more solid. This will leave the actual tattoo intact if you make a mistake. Choose one or two focal points of the tattoo to render fully.

Artist's secret: The Warp Tool

snake tattoo coming alive tip

I use the Edit>Transform>Warp tool in Photoshop to make tattoos wrap correctly on skin. You can also use this to make tattoos come off the skin – warp away from the body to create a great base transition.

Words: Lauren K Cannon

Lauren K Cannon is a freelance fantasy artist who specialises in the surreal. She lives in a small woodland village in New Jersey, US. This article originally appeared in ImagineFX magazine issue 91.

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