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Coloring Outside the Lines

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Traditional tattoos involve bold lines, bright colors, and familiar symbols, but these elements are not unique to the American style alone. The American style combines these elements to create strong images of animals, women, ships, flowers, and other common symbols illustrated in dark, often moody colors. Bright and colorful, American traditional tattoos typically stick to warm and moody color palettes, incorporating vibrant reds and oranges alongside black linework. The moody color palette of American traditional tattoos sharply contrasts the innovations of South Korean tattoo artists who have begun to incorporate similar elements like bright colors, common imagery, and bold lines. However, South Korean artists have their own interpretations of these common tattoo elements that not only differ significantly from the American tradition but also capture aspects of South Korean culture. Just as the American tradition is reflective of American culture as a whole, these South Korean innovations are bright, colorful, and exciting, much like Korean entertainment culture.

These five tattoos are all about color. With no black linework, bright colors take center stage. From rainbow-colored lines to colorblocking to bright monochromes, these tattoos showcase the potential of color. American traditional tattoos are simultaneously dark and bright due to their use of bold black lines and warm colors. Alternatively, these South Korean artists illustrate the components of Korean entertainment culture in the form of body art. The same neon colors that can be found in K-pop music videos are at work in these tattoos.

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Pink, yellow, and blue colorblocking combine in this unique outer space-inspired tattoo. In place of linework, colorblocking is used to define the tattoo. This specific color palette is also a signature of the artist behind this creation. Though tattoo artist Jinju works with other colors and creates tattoos in more Western-influenced traditional styles, the pink, blue, and yellow colorblocking is a technique they have developed and honed unique to their work.


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Each color of the rainbow connects to outline this sickeningly sweet gummy bear tattoo. Much like the prior artist, Si S tattoo has developed a style of their own that utilizes bright colors, eliminates most black ink, and involves a lot of the same images. Rainbow gummy bears sit alongside other colorful, cute, and fluffy animals as this artist’s signature subject.


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Although bright, multicolored tattoos are a perfect way to illustrate the potentials of color, this monochromatic hibiscus illustration makes it clear that one small change can take an otherwise standard flower tattoo to a unique exercise in color.


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This underwater illustration represents a true exercise in color work. Two separate images illustrated in monochromatic lines overlap to create a change in color that can only occur when the two individual colors are combined.


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Colorful does not have to mean overly cute. Though this colorful seahorse shares much in common with the rainbow gummy bear--bright linework and rainbow colors--this design introduces an element of fantasy to a realistic illustration.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the official position of PainfulPleasures.