Freehand Tattooing

  • Written By Dan Hunter on November 6, 2020
    Last Updated: November 10, 2020

Becoming a tattoo artist requires a high level of skill. It takes far more than having a creative eye. The artist needs precision greater than many other disciplines because a messed-up tattoo can ruin a life.  Usually, getting a tattoo begins with a lengthy consultation process where the artist and client discuss ideas, sketch a design, and make a stencil. The stencil is applied to the proper spot and guides the artist for the tattoo.

However, some artists forgo stencils altogether. They prefer freehand tattooing, a process with fewer steps but greater skill requirements.


What Is Freehand Tattooing?

Freehand tattooing is a complex tattoo technique. It starts with a discussion between the artist and the client about the piece, discovering every detail wanted in the final work. They discuss colors, styles, and concepts before beginning the design.

Traditional tattooing would have the artist sketch a design and submit it to the client for approval. From there, alterations can occur to tweak and perfect the artwork. Once finalized, the tattoo artist transfers the design onto stencil paper. When the client comes in, the stencil goes onto the skin like a temporary tattoo. Lastly, the artist traces and fills in the designated areas to complete the tattoo.

With freehand tattoos, there isn’t a stencil. There isn’t a design approval process either. The artist uses several colored permanent markers to draw the design directly onto the client’s skin. While the client can check out the marker tattoo, this is what typically goes on the skin.

Sometimes the artist won’t even show the client the marker art, and even when they do, the client won’t always have a full idea of what the final piece will look like. Usually, they feature rough outlines that only the artist can understand.

Freehand tattoos require a greater degree of trust in your artist than traditional methods. Your artist will be working solely from their creative idea, and you will have much less input.

Benefits of Freehand Tattooing

Since artists draw freehand tattoos on the client before inking, they are more likely to fit the body’s natural contours. In places that a stencil may distort, like on a fleshy or sharp region, the marker design will accommodate any discrepancies.

If you have a pre-existing tattoo that you want to add to, the artist can readily sketch the new aspects into the empty space surrounding it, making it more fitting to the previous work. This method also works well for filling space between two tattoos, adding flow and connectivity.

The stencil method works for pre-existing tattoos, but it takes a high skill level. The artist needs to trace the previous tattoos and space they have to work on, and if this happens incorrectly, the final design may seem out of place. A freehand tattoo will capture the exact space and body contours to guarantee it fits evenly.

A One-of-a-Kind Work of Art

Freehand tattoos are wholly original. It is nearly impossible to draw the exact same thing twice, particularly if you are working from memory. Even if you admire another piece your artist has done, the best they can do is something inspired by it, providing you with a unique tattoo. This artwork will fit your skin and body shape, unlike any previous work the artist has done because they made it for you and no one else.

This technique allows the artist to express their ideas fully. They do not have to go through a consultation process where they modify their design. It’s done based on their creative instincts and results in something that they believe you both would be proud of.

If your artist allows you to look in on the process, you can directly see what they are creating. You will get a better idea of what your final design will look like as they sketch it in the real dimensions. You can also tell them about any last-minute changes you’d like to make if you decide you do not like it anymore.

Freehand tattoos act as a way to strengthen the connection between the artist and client. If you trust the tattooer directly drawing on you, you show them that you have faith in their talent and creativity. Also, you get to witness the artist’s thought process come to life on your skin. Freehand tattooing unlocks an artist’s full skillset as they start with a rough outline and finish with a more filled-in, shaded piece.

Is a Freehand Tattoo Right For Me?

Remember to keep a few things in mind when deciding if you want a freehand tattoo. A quality freehand artist typically has a lot of tattooing experience. The best ones have an extensive portfolio and a lucrative business. Getting a freehand piece requires trust, so you won’t want just anybody doing it.

If you have a few pieces done by an artist and you know you can trust them, see if they have done any freehand work in the past. They might be your best option as you already know the results of their work.

Not all artists desire to complete freehand work, but some focus on it solely. Many artists prefer the solid, even lines of stencils before they begin working. Most artists combine the two, using a stencil for the main portion and freehanding the background.

Freehand tattoos take more time than regular ones. You will need an extra 30 to 60 minutes to have the piece drawn on you with permanent markers. After its creation, the artist and client inspect the piece to ensure it meets the client’s expectations, and some minor tweaks may occur before permanently inking it. The permanent marker gets wiped away during the tattoo process, resulting in a clean, original tattoo.

If you are capable of trusting your artist, you can get a custom tattoo without stress. You can rest assured that the art will fit your other tattoos and your body shape because the artist designed it just for you.

What Is the Freehand Tattooing Process Like?

To prepare, the tattoo artist will cleanse the area, shaving off any hair and removing the natural body oils. A clean base allows the markers to flow and prevents mistakes from happening. Then, the artist will start the drawing. They begin with lighter colored markers and end with the darkest ones. The light markers sketch the general form, with different colors adding in more detail. In the end, the darker markers refine the piece to show the final image.

From there, the artist begins permanently inking your skin. The level of detail typically increases from the marker sketch, as that is more of a rough outline to guide the creative process. Afterward, make sure you follow the artist’s aftercare advice and invest in some quality products.

The best tattoo lotion I’ve ever personally used is a vegan-friendly aftercare product called After Inked Tattoo Aftercare Lotion. This stuff works amazingly well during the healing process; not only by keeping your tattoo really well hydrated but also by soothing any annoying itching and irritation. When using it from the very start of the healing process, this lotion will help to decrease tattoo healing times and work towards eliminating any lingering dryness and scabbing.

Final Thoughts

If you have found a tattoo artist that you can trust, consider getting a freehand tattoo. You will forge a stronger connection and get a piece customized to your body. It may take a little longer to complete, but the results will be worth it. Nevertheless, make sure you are comfortable with not knowing the outcome of the tattoo when going in to get one.