Val AKA Valerie came over the other day so I could help her with somethings she was having trouble with tattooing. She wants to get things right before trying on more people. She has tattooed pigskin and fruit but said she still has trouble and of course like all people starting out; it was with the lining not so much the fill or shading.
Tattooing fruit is easy; if you have tattooed people before, fruit is exactly how you wish ink went in every time, sometimes a little too easy. Now pig is different, it’s very much like real skin and like people it has different skin textures and qualities.This is my first experience tattooing pig skin, when I started out I did one on myself and then went right to friends. The owner of the shop I learned at told me to get people who wanted free tattoos to bring in their ID and go to town.
Kind of the Old Skool way, which looking back on it was kind of jackass on my part. People really weren’t using pigskin, fruit or that horrible plastic practice skin (don’t waste you time too hard to use and doesn’t clean off right) you just went for it.
Here is a list of what we used and what you would need to try this on pig:
Pig Skin-Ears and feet (non-pickled) are good but Fat back with non-perforated skin is going to be easiest when first starting out. It has skin and fat with a little meat for cushion. All these can be purchased from any good quality Meat Cutter or Mexican Carneceria
*Any Vegans or vegetarians worried about cruelty to animals don’t worry. The pig in this feature died do to an automotive related death caused from alcohol.*
7 round Liner
Green soap in spray bottle
Rubbing alcohol in spray bottle (Lots of it like the quart bottle from Walgreen’s)
Metal tray or cookie sheet
House fan optional (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!)
Set up like you would for any tattoo but your work area needs to have extra protection. Fatback like it is named for has a lot of fat on it and it will slide around. If you don’t protect your work area you will have pork grease and Juice (Pork Soda) on everything.
I recommend a foil wrapped cookie tray or pizza dish and a couple paper towels under the pig flesh for absorbency and fluid control. Val had some sheets of fatback that were frozen and needed to be thawed.
DON’T MICROWAVE FROZEN PIG TO THAW. Keep in a plastic bag and thaw in a pot of cold water that has running water pouring into it from the tap. It takes a little longer but won’t half cook the pig flesh on accident making a world of nasty smells that might convert you to vegetarian.
Val brought some of her original artwork and we decided on a design she plans on doing on someone when she feels confident enough. We first cleaned the pig skin with Rubbing alcohol. Pigskin is very greasy and the alcohol cleans off all the dirt and oil. It will take longer then human skin to clean but needs to be done so the stencil will stick properly.
There was enough space on there for two stencils. One for me to do and one for Val to follow with. I wanted to see how it looked when I did it because from my trial with practice skin it came out horrible. It was hard to tattoo and the ink wouldn’t go in or clean off.
* Even though you can’t get or a pass a Blood born Pathogen to Pig Skin. Treat it like an actual person and glove up anytime you are using your machines. It’s a good habit.*
Tattooing pigskin is slightly different then human it has some of the same texture and variances but it is slightly tougher in general. If you have ever touched a live pig you know what I’m saying. Since the flesh is dead it’s a little stiffer then that.
The flesh on the back of the skin gives a good feel and cushions the needle a bit unlike practice skin. Pressing to hard will bog the machine down and you feel resistance coming back you don’t get with a person. They would also scream if you applied as much pressure as I was sometimes.
I feel the hardest part technically in tattooing is getting smooth consistent lines. I noticed that the needle didn’t want to follow the lines of the stencil and I had to force it a little. The needle wanted to follow the texture of the skin on top of it being tough was making me wrestle with the line work.
This can be discouraging for someone just starting out. They have no idea what’s wrong thinking because they are a novice that the line work sucks. In reality it’s just the tough pigskin. This was one of Vals problems she had with the pigskin when she tried this before by herself. Along with her machine, needle set up and rubber band tension. This is still great practice. All the screw ups none of the regret.
You can see my lines are a little shaky from the struggle and some of them aren’t touching where they are supposed to. I cleaned up the pork with the soap and alcohol and then went and fixed my lines before letting Val have a crack at it.
If you look at the top you can see her lines aren’t that bad. They are much better after giving her tips on the skin, what speed to line at and angle of attack. The top of the pigskin had a deeper wrinkly texture and I should have done that area and let her have the smoother part. You can’t stretch the wrinkles out of dead pigskin they are in there. That also adds to the Illusion of bad line work.
The art she brought was very clean with strong line work. She didn’t bring in a color version leaving that to be made up and experiment with in the skin. When designing tattoos you should have complete line work and color composition done when working on a real person though.
I took a more New Skool approach and did a color outline for the cheese where as Val wanted to make it more traditional and use black all around.
I shaded the letters with Gray Wash and added orange for the shading to match the line work. This is where I turned on The house fan. It was a warm day and the pig was starting to warm up and slide around. My hand was kind of sliding on pig grease from the exposed fat by the heel of my palm. The odor of warm pork isn’t that appealing and I had to put the fan on to waft it away from my nose.
I finished off the coloring with a cartoony golden yellow and some white. Here is where pigskin becomes more optimistic but can let you down in a real tattoo. Line work is hard but coloring is easy. The skin takes the ink with relative ease and all the colors show up bright and saturated.
There is no bleeding and white looks like paint on the skin. This can be a total let down when you go to ink a person because blood changes the darkness and color of the tattoo and sometimes washed the colors right back out of the skin making fill hard. So this should be taken into consideration.
One good thing though without bleeding you can see if you have solid lines or if they trail off and are too light. I did intentionally try to make a blow out by drawing a line in at an angle and pressing too hard, but the dead skin just holds and won’t do it so that still needs to be watched for.
Vals completed piece came out really well for a beginner. She has a sharp learning curve and when told how to adjust she did and remedied that problem. As she progressed her line work got better and easier and after a few tips in shading the gradients are pretty smooth and the fill is rather solid considering the canvas.
It helps that she is a good artist and that aids with problem solving and composition, which is important. Anybody can learn how to tattoo technically but after you learn how to apply ink the only thing that sets you apart from other artists is artistic ability, subject matter and attitude.
Finally make sure to clean up your area and use a good strong cleaner to get any grease or juice and throw everything away and take outside. Don’t try and keep pig just take pics. By the end of this the pig was warm and getting a little ripe. I think freak summer heat and humidity in San Francisco didn’t help at all