Blackwork Tattoos: A Timeless Trend

Blackwork tattoos have skyrocketed in popularity. Whether it’s a basic outline of a circle, an intricate ornamental piece, or an entire landscape, blackwork tattoos can be stunning statement pieces. This trending style is often misunderstood, so we’re breaking down the basics for you on today’s blog.

Blackwork mandala by Jade Quail of Paper Crane Studio

(Jade Quail)

Complex Simplicity

We often get requests for “simple” blackwork tattoos. Although at first glance you might think of blackwork as a straightforward style, it’s actually very complex. The reliance on linework requires an especially steady and skilled hand: With a lack of traditional shading, there is little to no room for error. Whether an artist is fine-lining flowers or creating geometric patterns, clean lines are an absolute must for blackwork tattoos.

(Lindsey Morehead)

Additionally, composition is a major factor to consider with blackwork tattoos–one that is rarely simple. Minimalist pieces and detailed blackwork tattoos alike require just the right balance to achieve depth and readability. While composition is also important to black-and-grey and full color tattoos, artists have other techniques like shading and saturation at their disposal with these styles. Because blackwork tattoos use only black ink, artists must carefully consider composition to create the desired final look.

Perfect for Patterns

Mandala tattoos and sacred geometry are particularly popular when it comes to blackwork tattoos–with good reason. Blackwork is a perfect style for many pattern-type tattoos, including mandala, geometric, and knotwork pieces. Patterns put clean linework on display, which can be stunning in intricate designs like Celtic knots.

Blackwork tattoos are great for patterns like this one by Joy Shannon.

(Joy Shannon)

Patterns can also be a complementary aspect of a larger blackwork piece. Mandalas can be paired beautifully with blackwork floral or incorporated into ornamental designs, for example. Additionally, a blackwork pattern can provide a striking contrast of mixed aesthetic tattoo.

Dotwork Depth

Looking for something with the depth that you see in black-and-grey work? Don’t count blackwork tattoos out! Although blackwork doesn’t use traditional shading, artists can achieve depth through dotwork.

Dotwork is exactly what it sounds like: An artist tattoos dots to achieve depth and texture in a blackwork piece. This can lend fullness to an object, provide the “feel” of a surface, or simply give extra detail. Artists use a variety of dot sizes and patterns to create different effects, sometimes tattooing hundreds or even thousands of dots.

Blackwork tattoos can be striking whether they're patterns or figures like this reaper by Jesse Iris

(Jesse Iris)

Dotwork is extremely effective, to the point that people often mistake blackwork tattoos for black-and-grey.

Trendy Meets Timeless

Some tattoo trends are short-lived (even if the tattoo itself is permanent). But blackwork tattoos are not new to the tattoo scene: They originated at the dawn of tattooing and can be traced back to Polynesian tribal tattoos, where they were traditionally used to show a person’s lineage, social standings, and beliefs. They may be experiencing a surge in popularity and an aesthetic metamorphosis, but blackwork tattoos are definitely not going away.

(Tan Vo)

We love seeing how our artists are both pushing this style in new directions and honoring ancient traditions. At the end of the day, this is a timeless trend that we are on board with.

A Personal Choice

So should you get a blackwork tattoo? Ultimately, it comes down to your person preference. Just consider these two Ganesha tattoos, one in blackwork by Jade Quail and one in full color by Mikey Vigilante:

Both tattoos are gorgeous and one-of-a-kind–and both are extremely different. We suggest exploring blackwork to see if it fits your aesthetic, whether it’s for a small piece or something major. As always, we are here to answer any questions you might have or to help you get scheduled with an artist who specializes in this eye-catching style.