From barely-there stick-and-pokes to elaborate and polychrome designs, Instagram is an endless sea of inspiration for your first, second—and maybe even twentieth—tattoo. And there are plenty of tattoo artists to follow. With a scrolling showcase of work by celebrity favorites, emerging names, and creatives that double as fashion illustrators, the minutes can melt away in a world of soft roses, intricate geometric patterns, or whatever motif Cara Delevingne has added to her collection that week. Beyond the posts, though, are the always expanding ideas, hours of refinement, and unbeatable examples of hand-craftsmanship.
Here, 18 of our favorite tattoo artists to follow describe their work, inspiration, and process in their own words.
“My style is minimal line work done in contrasting colors—usually red and black. Though I try to focus on specific themes, like nature and the human body, especially the female form. I’ll also draw and tattoo anything—even inanimate objects—that I find attractive or visually interesting.”
“My work is intricate, delicately sharp, and powerful. My tattoo style lends a hand to people who are eager for a meaningful piece of art but don’t want a huge tattoo. They want to express themselves in a small way. It’s all about the interpretation, and delivering that precisely. I pour my soul into each tattoo I do.”
“I have always grown up making visual art, mostly painting. About six years ago I fell in love with the aesthetic of hand-poked tattoos. I love the way they look like a drawing on skin. For my work, placement is just as important as design; the body is the ultimate canvas. I find inspiration for my designs from religious and folk art. I see the holiness and divinity in the natural world around me, and my designs embody this through halos and rays of light. I also find inspiration in jewelry, as many of my designs are ornamental. I think of them as permanent body art.”
“I used to be a fashion illustrator, which shows in my work. Then I took a tattoo apprenticeship in 2014 and have been doing this ever since. As a Latina woman, I work very hard to show different variations of trans bodies, heavy bodies, women of color, women with disabilities; it’s important to me to have that representation in a really romanticized way.”
“I go by ‘The Witchdoctor,’ because I heal my clients physically and mentally with the way I channel their energy into a long-lasting piece. Growing up in the Swedish countryside with animals and nature, combined with my African roots from the Congo, has inspired my work tremendously. My art is very bold and colorful; some describe it as magical or whimsical because I use stars and sparkles with flowers and animals. My style works well with cover-ups and bigger pieces. I use my product—BodyMark by BIC temporary markers—as a free-handed stencil to design directly on my clients.”
“Working closely with clients and what they want to represent, I’m able to create custom pieces that symbolically and stylistically refer to traditional tattoos, as well as alchemy and mysticism, printmaking techniques, folk art, and antique decoration and adornment.”
“My tattoos focus on animals, plants, and people. I would consider my artwork to be illustrative by using minimal line work and shading. It’s feminine and delicate, but in a way that stands out. In terms of my business, I try to focus on providing my services for people of color, primarily the black community. I want to ensure my online presence changes the way my audience perceives the stigma of white privilege within the tattoo industry.”
“Simple, lighthearted, and delicate, my tattoos are thoughtful adornments that provoke feelings of familiarity and celebrate being at home in one’s body.”
“My style is soft, fine, and detailed—at least, that’s what I aim for! I like my shading and the final look of my tattoos to be flawless; I’m not keen on harsh looking tattoos, as I really love being able to make a tattoo look like it belongs to the body it’s on, as if it were always there. I like my pieces to look smooth and sharp, and I don’t like to rush. I take inspiration from everything around me, especially nature, animals, art galleries, and architecture. Inspiration can come from anywhere and anything I love, including photography, romance, and literature. It’s always a good idea to keep a small sketchbook handy if you’re a creative type!”
“I want to make tattoos in the same way I made graffiti: wild, free, and against the rules. I want to convey a feeling of freedom, which is far more important than making something beautiful or perfect.”
Ciara, otherwise known on Instagram as @tacorosey, often tattoos delicate, black ink work on hands. Her work can be seen on Noah Cyrus, among other celebrities.
Anderson Luna often uses thick black lines, and gray ink, to create detailed, sometimes spiritual imagery. He specializes in working with darker skin, and aims to diversify the tattoo industry.
Tamara Santibañez, a multimedia visual artist and tattoo artist, brings social justice activism to their work, which can be seen on Instagram.
London-based artist Nish Rowe shares her work on Instagram, as well as discussions about the experience of being a Black tattoo artist and the colorism faced by clients and artists.
Cierra blends pop culture and surrealist imagery in her ink work.
Mars Hobrecker, who works for New York-based studio Somewhere, does illustrative line work with black and red ink.
Emma Anderson’s colorful ink often depicts scenery and landscapes.
Intricate portraits of animals and flowers adorn Hannah Kang’s page.
This article was originally published on 12.24.19