Progression of a Tattoo – Gretchen’s Fairy

I had made a tattoo for Gretchen prior to this. Since she lives near Albany it was easier for her to come and see me when I was doing a guest spot at Off the Map Tattoo (in Massachusetts). We had gotten together for one session on her previous tattoo here in Rochester and one the last time I was at Off the Map.

So the plan was to get together this year when I was at Off the Map again. Gretchen booked way ahead of time so that she could have the coveted Saturday spot.

Unfortunately (for everyone involved) my husband ruptured a disk in his back and a whole lot of things needed to be moved around including my trip to Mass. I was disappointed obviously, but Gretchen was nice enough to agree to make the much longer trip to Rochester to have me make a tattoo for her.

I had a whole lot of fun with this piece and wanted to share a little bit of the process on it with you.

This is the original email that Gretchen sent to me to explain the project:

brace yourself:

the idea

so, i am in the smack dab middle of a summer cold, so this may not make any sense… (like most of my letters do)

here is my thought. i like the fairy i have on my calf, size location, subject matter… all cool. but i want something kicked up for this other leg. so i was thinking matchy matchy with the fairy leg (don’t know why, nothing else matches.)

i was thinking of some type of froud-ie like creature with perhaps wings. wings are always cool. or not if wings don’t work with the art. then i wanted to throw some kind of science into it. first i thought a swirl of dna around it. kinda gay. so then my favorite is anatomy. i love anatomy. i love bones. trying to take an osteology class at college (closed this semester dammit).

so then i thought well maybe some kind of ethereal creature of some sort with some aspect of anatomy tied in. i’ll get back to this…

i also am in love with your work on the snow dragon with the use of white, pastels and negative space. i do have very light skin and my legs are remarkably unfreckled and glowingly pale. please note the leg to be done does have a shamrock about 3 inches above malleolus that will either need to be worked around or incorporated into. or totally avoided, whatever. i know you posted most people can’t get this type of work and i don’t know where i fit there.

i am more into greens blues/pinks purples than brights and primaries. dave calls it my monet palette. and i think heavy black on white legs is too much.

back to the anatomy:

so then i started looking at internet pics for inspiration. i eventually ended at the corpse bride. i love the corpse bride, not sure why she never had much of a following. well, she has a couple of ribs, one arm and one leg that are skeletal and the rest are not. kind of cool. so then i thought corpse fairy instead of corpse bride. but i kind of don’t want it to be a like living dead, zombie ish kind of thing. i was thinking more of ‘wow, how fucking cool to see bits of the functional anatomy of this really cool creature. then i thought about jellyfish.

you know how jellyfish are what they are… but you can kind of see their insides too? (wow, this cold is bad, i don’t make sense to me).

well what if we come up with a fairy, and some bits of it are like transparent and you can see a bit of its skeleton in its body. i love pelvises, the shape is sooo. sexy i guess. i’m such a geek. i could find a pic of a skeleton, then have a pic of a fairy/creature thing. it needn’t be the entire skeleton, would be too jumbled, but oerhaps in certain areas that would lend better to the drawing.

oh yes, i’m not a huge fan of the slutty fairy. i love their pics, but don’t want one on my leg. a body i never had!

course it may be too much detail and not able to be done too.

to tell you what kind of froud guys i think are cool, i have bright spark.i like sprites, fairies  i put little pics on the bottom, i know you’ve seen them all before, but i like these guys. i’m not a froud fanatic, but i like his ideas and flow and use of non human…

I got part way through this explanation and had a perfect vision in my head of what I wanted this to look like. I was concerned however about how much I was going to need to match to the existing tattoo…. so I wrote back…

I actually have some fun ideas for this. Can you send me photos of the fairy that we are replicating the size of? Possibly with a ruler in the photo and/or a tracing of the area the tattoo covers?

Gretchen sent this one initially:

With the following note:

the fairy that is on the left. please make note: no need to match size. i actually wish she had made it a bit taller, and may eventually get something in the background to extend the visual field. so, you have cart blanche for size. i think that i like your artisitic eye, and you’ll know what should go where, and you know what you need for detail.

i will send a second email with pics with rulers.

The artist on the original Fairy was Lisa Schmoldt, Otherside Ink in Port Charlotte, Florida. (Based on a Brian Froud fairie: Bright Spark)
Now when I ask people to email photos of parts of themselves to me I get all sorts of things back. As long as I can get an idea from the photos they are helpful. Gretchen sent me a whole bunch of pictures including these two:

 Which were super helpful. I’m not sure what the intended purpose for the clear grid is – but if I could get every out of town client to send me pictures with these, my life would be a WHOLE lot easier when trying to map things out!

So now I had the idea and a clear idea of the space that I had to work with. Now to try and transform what was in my head to something on paper and hope that Gretchen liked it.

I spent quite a few days torturing myself with this image. Just in one sketchbook (there were others on random pieces of paper) there were these trying to work out the positioning:

and some more detailed attempts: 

I am now getting down to the wire and Gretchen is coming the next day and I have not shown her any of these. I want to get a sketch to her for approval BEFORE she gets in the car to drive here. So I send her this Friday (I think in the morning):

Gretchen gets the image on her phone at work and writes back:

Loving the angle and dead on with the pelvis. Looking at out from my phone… But it looks cool. Can’t see what is going on with the face… Too tiny and the old people eyes seem especially cloudy right now (mine, not the fairy). I am out today at 6.. Will be able to see it on the laptop. I knew you were the one to put the idea into form! Later…

Now for a lot of clients this is as much as I would show them before a tattoo session, but I am not sure that this really conveys the look that I am going for so throughout the day I send Gretchen updates.

There winds up being a problem with my uploads and Gretchen only gets the first one (pictured above) until much later. She writes back when she gets  home :

ahh, looks better bigger. i love the bones. i see now the face is a sketch, when it was little the cheek line looked like a freakish zombie like slash/smile. gretchen

will be checking in periodically if you send anything that requires answering. we’ll be heading out semi early tomorrow, but i have email on the phone. also, the new cell # is _________

Realizing at that point the “sent” emails didn’t send – I send her the more finished drawings:


all is good to go, so the next day Gretchen makes the trek to Rochester and we bring her fairie to life (well, or at least to her leg, if not to life).


I had a whole lot of fun throughout the process of this tattoo (even when I was making myself crazy trying to get it “just right”). It seems that the more excited I am about a project the harder it is to get the drawing finished.
This one was more than worth it and I look forward to whatever Gretchen may have in mind for the next time.

~ by justteejay on July 26, 2011.

One Response to “Progression of a Tattoo – Gretchen’s Fairy”

  1. well, i meant to write before; but life does happen! first thing, that ruler is a quilting or fabric cutting ruler. they are really expensive as they are thick and precise, but you could suggest that clients go get a cheapie see-through ruler for students.

    now, why you are awesome:

    i love getting tattooed from you. the conversation is easy, which is not something i find so often.

    i love that i can get an idea, spew it to you, and you can translate it visually.

    you didn’t block my email address after the initial brain/greenman/plug note; the first i ever sent i think, and you hung on for the ride. and we got brains!!! (and an angry pickle)

    and a further note on the tattoo reception: interest, respect, fear, revulsion and admiration. all a girl could want!

    most tattoo connoisseurs i have contact with have just loved this jelly fairy, and i want to thank you again for putting thought to skin.


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