In Part 2 of the Fireside “Illustrative Series” Jake brings you Teresa Sharpe and her wide and insightful thoughts on building the client base you want, designing “in the round” and the importance of background to bring your piece together, and so much more.
Teresa Sharpe has changed the client relationship fundamentally. Instead of working with clients to bring their ideas to the skin, Teresa creates her own narratives and finds the right client to bring her ideas to life.
Interview By Jake Meeks —
Writing By Daniel Pushcarich -
Topics: Tattoos, Tattoo Clients, Tattoo Design, Client relationships, Tattoo design, Tattoo Backpiece, Small Tattoo, Large tattoo, Tattoo Design Process, Making a list of Tattoo Ideas
“...because of the internet and all these ideas keep getting recycled, and I was like, How about I introduce some ideas that you haven’t thought of…”
— Teresa Sharpe
Teresa Sharpe (@teresasharpeart) Born and raised in Indiana she tattooed for 8 years at Studio 13 in Ft Wayne before moving to Richmond, Virginia and opening her own studio, Unkindness Art in 2015. She has traveled all over the country...and has even done overseas tattooing at conventions and studios wherever she can.
With an incredibly unique and recognizable style Teresa touches on many different kinds of subject matter with her illustrative and narrative tattoos.
Teresa is based in Richmond, VA and owns Unkindness Art.
INTERVIEW LINKS, MENTIONS, AND SHOW NOTES BELOW…
— Teresa Sharpe
For any artist, having creative autonomy and control over their projects is essential. In the realm of tattooing, it takes a great deal of time to build skill as well as garner trustworthiness from clients. As such, you may find yourself working on "off-the-wall" designs or those Pinterest tattoos everyone's wild about this period. This can can really be great, honing your technical skills with line work and shading techniques.
Reaching a point of success can make it difficult to open up and expose your creative ideas. You often doubt if you have the skill or whether anyone would care about what you create. It's tough to step away from what works and provides stable income, yet being vulnerable with your art as well as customers regarding your true ambitions is the only way towards liberation.
“[08:23] You have to be specific, because if you just go ‘I wanna do flowers…’ that could mean ANY flower… ‘how about carnations?!’...I fucking hate carnations…So…be specific, have a list, limit it [to] like 20 things that you want to do”
— Teresa Sharpe
You never want to pigeon-hole yourself, it’s a constant struggle for tattoo artists. Some people will see that you posted a few snakes with rose designs and now you have 50 people asking you for the same thing over and over. Make sure you take advantage of the social media platforms ability to be curative.
Be Specific about your goals in tattooing and build your portfolio and social media accounts around not just your best work but the work that you’re interested in doing. Don’t forget that your social media profiles are basically an online portfolio. If you’re good at black and gray realism but you don’t enjoy it as much as Illustrative new school then don’t put them on your website or social media, because it’s likely that you’ll start to attract projects you’re not into.
[13:47] “the one thing I try to stay away from is any kind of absolute representation from the film, movie, or comic book. I want it to still read as my art. Drawing it all from hand there’s no tracing or pulling things and trying to work it into a piece.”
— Teresa Sharpe
Sometimes research is necessary to get your idea to come across clearly, especially in illustrative tattooing where you’re trying to make an interpretation of an idea on someone's skin. Really digging into a subject, finding literature, pictures, or sometimes doing a bit of wikipedia searching to find some extra information can give you the opportunity to mix different unexpected elements and find ways to take interesting liberties with the subject.
You also want to make sure you have an accurate picture of the history behind your subject matter. Pulling from multiple sources and references can really strengthen your interpretation of a particular character or story that your client wants.
[19:32] “little background elements really sell the story… like the main character is the main character, sure… it’s a nice tattoo, great…But, like if you’re thinking about those little foreground background elements, it really just takes everything to that next level”
— Teresa Sharpe
A good rule of thumb is to always design a tattoo as if the client is getting their whole body tattooed. Even if you’re never going to see this person again you should always take into serious consideration what you or the next tattoo artist after you is going to have to work around.
Backgrounds are an essential element to illustrative tattoos, giving you an opportunity to add atmosphere and setting to describe the narrative. Adding simple touches like some clouds or trees to make it into a forest scene, broken road signs and rubble and flashy lasers for your dystopian cyberpunk scene, or just some large abstract shapes to help break things up and give the eye a place to rest.
[29:39] “A lot of times it’s just having a better idea than [the client]. If you're really well read on certain subjects, you’re going to have a better idea anyways. If you’ve done the research you already know the other cool things that can go in [to the design].”
— Teresa Sharpe
Circling back to research, to ensure success in any design, it is integral to be knowledgeable on a variety of topics. When clients present you with an idea or concept for their designs, your job is to perfect that vision and make it tangible; having done extensive research will enhance your persuasive abilities and bolster the client's confidence in you.
Having a strong command of multiple topics gives you the power to craft more captivating stories with your work. Moreover, it allows you to incorporate those unexpected details that can wow clients.
[31:07] “Make a list of all the things you want. Now, we don’t have enough room to do all those things, so pick your top three. And, a lot of times all the bullshit gets filtered out.”
— Teresa Sharpe
To conclude, let's consider focus in tattoo design. What do you do when the client tells you they want "all of the things"? Clients often come to us with numerous requests and ideas that they think will help make their tattoos better. However, attempting to incorporate all these elements into a single piece can become quite overwhelming and complex.
A great way to simplify the entire process is by having your client list and rank what they value most. When they identify two or three of their favorite ideas, it helps bring clarity into the whole procedure. Not only will you be relieved from attempting to make all these disparate parts fit in together perfectly; instead it leaves the design up for interpretation from the viewer and lets the tattoo design breathe on its own.
If you are an Intermediate to advanced tattooer or just struggling to refine your design process, we can help.
Nobody solves a problem by adding complexity. As you become a better tattooer, your designs inevitably get larger and more complex. Our Simplify course will teach you to reduce the number of options you allow yourself throughout the tattoo design process. Join NOW!
Check out our Drawing for Tattoo Design catalog HERE!
And you can find all of the courses we offer HERE!
Transcript for this video can be found (here). All transcripts can be found (Here)
(Update when transcript page is made)
The Fireside Tattoo Network is home to the Fireside podcast, Fireside Technique video series and our Fireside Weekly blog.
The Fireside Tattoo podcast is hosted by veteran tattooer Jake Meeks, check out our episodes where we discuss, argue and wax philosophical, from tips for all levels of artists to trends in the tattoo world. Many guest artists have sat down for interviews and in-depth conversations and many more are planned…check back often!
Our Fireside Tattoo Overview video series offers informative, short, and detailed videos geared towards helping artists understand the science and nuances of tattoos and make more informed decisions to improve their work. We often take some of our more technical topics from our Fireside podcast and film an in-depth, narrated, time-lapse video showing exactly how Jake or our featured artists handle certain issues.
Your tattoo designs starting to feel stagnant? Feel like you’re not progressing? Drawing is the single most important piece of the tattoo process. No level of technical tattoo skill can overcome bad composition and draftsmanship.
Fireside Tattoo Network simplifies the tattoo design process with the Fireside Method. By focusing on the principles of Shape, Value, Edge and Color, we help you identify and solve your biggest challenges early in the design process.
The Fireside Method:
Check out some of our podcast episodes as well!
Join on the FTN mailing list