In this interview Jake and Nick meander around developing a design and consultation management, things like: researching a design topic, developing a narrative with the client, and forming an understanding of the person you’re working with.
They also touch on things like what it’s like to rework an old piece, simplifying a tattoo design to increase flow on the body, along with intention and meaning in an artists work.
By Jake Meeks —
Topics: Tattoos, Tattoo Design, Painting, Narrative Illustration, Artist Vs Viewers Perspective, Illustrative Tattooing, Tattoo Client Consultations
This episode was made possible thanks to the help of our affiliates. Use code “Fireside” to get discounts on the stuff you are already buying at the links below:
Neuma Tattoo, S8 Tattoo, Reinventing the Tattoo, Raw Pigments, TattooNOW
“We, as tattooers, are more so trained in visual symbolism than your average tattoo collector. And so, if you can describe, and explain, and sort of tell the story of their tattoo to them, they may see possibilities in it that they never saw to begin with.”
— Nick Baxter
Nick Baxter (@burningxhope) Having spent his life in pursuit of creative expression in multiple mediums, Nick Baxter uses his unique holistic approach and independent spirit to craft not only world-class custom tattoos, but also highly realistic oil paintings that confound, with meticulous technique and fool-the-eye illusions. And with over 2 decades of immersion in the sometimes overlapping worlds of tattooing and painting, Nick also offers his diverse body of knowledge to other artists and tattooers through numerous educational products, seminars, and workshop experiences.
His current tattoo work focuses on large-scale illustrative projects that combine elements of his meticulous realism painting style with bold traditional tattoo sensibilities and compositions that flow seamlessly across the body. Nick uses his diverse artistic skill set to interpret all kinds of representational subject matter into the tattoo medium, whether in color or black and gray, as well as to create imaginary works with believable dimension and depth in the biomech and bio-organic genres.
Nick’s painting output is just as multifaceted; while producing work in the classical realism genres of still life, landscape, and figurative art, Nick also combines elements of each into a hybrid of sometimes unnerving photorealistic precision, producing works dwelling somewhere in the surrealist world. His latest work incorporates overlapping layers of imagery, distorted cartoons, and Trompe L’oeil (“fool the eye”) illusions to form stark postmodern critiques of society, psychology, and culture.
Nick Baxter is based in Austin, Texas at Art Realm Tattoo.
INTERVIEW LINKS, MENTIONS, AND SHOW NOTES BELOW…
Studio Profile | Personal Website | @burningxhope
“[04:05]...It would start with… reading ideas, reading anything culturally relevant to the concept. If it's a western concept, if it's an eastern concept… if there's some sort of… ancient tradition that backs it up…a whole lineage of subject matter and imagery that I could draw from, you know? I'll kind of dig into those avenues or if it's…more of a modern idea, or I want to give it a modern twist, you know, then I'll try to figure out what in current pop culture might resonate with that concept or that idea.”
— Nick Baxter
When the goal is to create a story or narrative in your design, step 1 is RESEARCH. The real key is finding a balance of right and left brain thinking when conducting this research. There are often multiple versions of similar narratives recorded throughout history. This provides us with the opportunity to be creative by combining elements and incorporating our own ideas to create a sort of "mash up" of information which will likely result in a unique design that is formed through our own filter.
“[05:33] So I'm always trying to take a tattoo concept and like, boil it down to just like, the core essence of what that person's idea was, and then build upon it from there… But as far as… the core concept from the person, I'm always trying to get them to want to say more with less.”
— Nick Baxter
Simplifying our imagery in the early stages of design is crucial for successful, long lasting tattoos. When trying to create a visual narrative or story, our tendency is is to try and cram in every detail we can. The challenge is to say more with less. It takes some time and creative problem solving but asking yourself questions like, What is the hierarchy of the design? Where is the most important element? What elements are secondary? How can I use the fewest possible elements to get the point across?
Over time, you will find the process becoming easier. Your natural style will start to come through as you find consistent ways to give more information with fewer marks.
“[13:18] …there’s like a subtle, polite kind of nudging that happens. Like, you know through the consultation process you gotta propose ideas. And say, you know I think THIS idea has a lot of dynamic potential to have a lot of depth, or to be really striking, you know? To create a nice image, and it also represents YOUR idea very well.”
— Nick Baxter
Finding creative ways to encourage your clients to think outside of the box is a skill that is aquired through time and effort and experimentation. Often clients will cling to an image that they feel represents their idea. A lot of times this image might feel very predictable or obvious. It's likely an image that has been tattooed many times and doesn't interest us as artists. At this point, we have a choice. We can bite the bullet and just do the best version of that old, tired tatoo that we can. Or we can make an effort to nudge the client in another direction, challenge them to find a more creative and unique way to represent their idea. It only takes a few more minutes of consultation time and, even if it fails, you'll be more prepared for the next consult.
“[22:36] With the cartoon characters, it’s just symbolic of the cultural muse. It's like pop culture, like the muse that keeps us entertained and distracted. And I'm kind of pairing that with just very serious, deep, kind of heavy themes, and symbols as well. So… I kind of am playing with that… extreme contrast of different ends of the spectrum, between like funny, frivolous, just pointless, silly cartoons, with… heavy themes of… environmental destruction. Or…human mortality, and… trying to come to terms with our existence here.”
— Nick Baxter
“[23:59] Yeah… for better or for worse, I am concerned that the viewer reads the painting… at least on some level, the way I intended it. Maybe not exactly… piece by piece of the painting, exactly how I meant it. But on some level I do really wish for the viewer to like, get it, so to speak… and then little nuances of interpretation from there. I always have a lot of fun hearing people's thoughts unfiltered… by them knowing what I intended. I like hearing just their initial impression.”
— Nick Baxter
“[32:22] I think, with illustrative tattooing there is a narrative, there is a story to it by its very nature of what it is. And it's easy for clients to get too wrapped up just in the story, and not just, and to not see it through an artist's eyes. Where, it just has to look cool, it just has to flow across a body part and be recognizable… And they know in their head what the story, and all the levels of depth and meaning, but that doesn't necessarily need to show on skin to the outside observer…”
— Nick Baxter
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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!
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