..social media’s first blood in the tattoo industry.
So you’ve got an idea or a story that you want illustrated on your skin forever. You’ve researched different styles of tattoos and finally picked an artist after stalking dozens of portfolios. You’ve booked the appointment, seen the design and you can’t wait to get the stencil on and get inked.
The tattoo turns out perfect and you and your artist are both proud to show it off. A tattoo to call yours, one that no one else in the world has besides you. Then something happens. You or your artist get tagged in a photo. Someone else is wearing your exact tattoo and that artist is claiming it as their own.
Khail Aitken From Sinister Ink apologised to the client who he created this custom and original design for, after seeing it poorly copied by another tattooist
Stealing an existing tattoo can be really disappointing to clients, especially after they have fallen in love with what they think is an original custom design tailored for them.
Sometimes it’s identical, sometimes the differences are subtle but there is no credit to your artist at all. This is a very common occurrence in the tattoo industry and I couldn’t imagine if this happened to me. It makes me wonder what we can do about it..
Timothy Von Senden sees his in-demand custom designs stolen at least twice a week.
I have spoken to many artists and they have all told me that if they were brought a tattoo design by a client that they would reinforce the fact that they don’t copy tattoos. The artist would then say that they can use that tattoo as a reference and draw you up something unique and original. More often than not, the client is happy.
On the other hand, some artists copy these designs themselves and then advertise a “new design up for grabs” on their Instagram or in their studio. So when a client requests/selects that design, they think they are getting something completely new and unique.
Coen Mitchell has an unbelievable amount of his work stolen on a regular basis
I have only ever selected two designs off of an artist’s Instagram, but after seeing their extensive portfolio of tattoos in the same style I was more than comfortable in their originality.
When we as tattoo clients bring a photo of a tattoo to a tattooist, there is a big difference in it being used as a reference or traced directly. It is both the tattoo artist and the client’s responsibility to keep integrity in this industry. Unfortunately some tattooists are lazy and don’t want to draw, whilst some of them CANNOT draw, so they make a stencil of a tattoo they stole and turn it into a mediocre tattoo.
Roman Abrego is a famous tattoo artist in the states who sees his work poorly replicated.
I believe using another tattoo artist’s work as a reference and crediting them directly is a way to say that it has served as inspiration to the new work. Which is a great complement to many artists that I have spoken to.
Also I feel non-tattoo art is important to mention. Most tattooists credit the original artist as they upload their tattooed rendition online and I feel this is a beautiful way to eternalise that piece of original works. I have begun a chest piece with an amazing tattoo artist and am using an incredible piece of artwork by a digital artist In Ukraine, where I have told the artist about it and he was flattered.
Jesse Rix whose incredible 3 dimensional tattoos went viral recently, had his latest design replicated before he even got a chance to tattoo it.
With the viral nature of the internet, once your reputation is slandered there is no coming back. And with the prominence of people researching their artists through Instagram, these copycats are slowly becoming exposed.
With the seemingly endless number of new and unique styles emerging on a weekly basis, when something fundamentally new is seen, it tends to get duplicated and ripped off within days of creation.
There is a big difference between looking at a reference to help you draw a piece and tracing it directly. Flash sheets, photo realism and the replication of non-tattooer art is an exception to this rule.
Andreas Acosta from Austin, Texas had one of his pieces stolen from a tattoo copycat
I have never seen a copied tattoo look better than the original created by the artist.
This is a good example.
Uploading ones tattoos online is where these tattoo copycats gain access to new works and is one of the few downsides of the tattoo industries social media integration. Showcasing amazing works is something artists should be proud to do, and us as wearers of tattoos should be equally as proud to put them online for the world to see. Instagram has inspired many people to appreciate art in a whole new way and has brought so many new faces to the tattoo world.
Another design stolen before the artist got to tattoo it.
As the saying goes, “It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation” but an equilibrium exists in most endeavours. So where there is originality and creativity, there will always be a tattoo copycat waiting to pounce on a new design. Our only hope is to grow the tattoo community to a point where every artist is known, and lovers of ink will have a full appreciation and comprehensive knowledge of which artist is creating which designs (and which artists are known as copycats)
Sasha Unisex from Moscow, Russia has seen hundreds of her popular designs stolen