Realism or photorealism is a technique that results in artwork that looks like a photograph or a real life 3D object. In general, the term realism in the art world refers to works that are precise, detailed, and accurate representations of real life imagery. The focus of this style tends to be on faces, animals, scenery, and miscellaneous objects. Of the newer tattoo styles, photorealism is one of the more fascinating. It requires extreme patience and an artist with an eye for detail. Often times, realism involves many layers and and colors to maximize its contrast and 3D effect. Some artists can even make certain aspects of an image look wet, like the inside of a person’s mouth, or as with the glaze of moisture that coats our eyes.
Realistic tattoos are inspired by the realism art movement which spawned in France in the 1850s. It was a response to the dramatic and emotional styles like romanticism that preceded it. Unlike romantics, the realists weren’t interested in melodramatic poses, or overly emotional imagery. The realists were often minimalists who were more interested in truth than hyperbole. When realism is applied to tattoo art, it becomes apparent that a minimalist approach is not necessarily an easy approach. These tattoos are commonly done in black and grey, because using a narrow range of colors reduces the difficulty of achieving the desired level of detail. However, these pieces are certainly are not limited to black and grey ink, you just have to find an artist who works in color realism, such as Shane O'Neill, who is well known for his work. And if you're looking for ink of any color, be sure to check out the Tattoo Ink section.
One characteristic that sets realism apart from many traditional styles is the lack of bold outlines; instead, shading and contrasts are prioritized. To draw an accurate representation of something in the natural world, such as a person’s face, is hard enough with a pencil and paper, but to achieve the same effect by injecting ink into holes in a person’s skin is a major accomplishment. The artists who practice this type of tattooing train for years before they are ready to leave a permanent mark on a person’s body, and this dedication alone is respect worthy.
Some designs will make your skin crawl and give you the creeps, with images of dead people, injured eyeballs, and other macabre depictions. Other designs may inspire you to reach out and touch it just to confirm that the texture is an illusion. They look so true you expect it to feel like something other than a person’s skin. And other designs will simply astonish you with their stark and genuine beauty. The advancements in tattoo art have been rapid and far reaching. With more sophisticated equipment, as well as new and expanded upon techniques, it seems that anything is possible. To learn more about realism and other tattoo styles, check out the Books and DVDs section of the Painful Pleasures website.