PDP Exclusives by Rebecca

Friday, September 23, 2011

Ask Krissi's Art Studio: Using Someone's Art For Your Next Tattoo (is it Kosher?)

Union Riveter Krissi Sandvik is moving her regular posts to Fridays (she swapped with Wenchkin).  

While I am not, nor have I ever been a tattoo artist, inquiries have started coming in from people either wanting to use my art for their next tattoo, or asking me to design an original tattoo for them.  I know many other friends who are working artists (like Wenchkin and Rocky The Zombie) must hear these requests even more than I do.  With the popularity of tattooing continuing to grow, I figured this would be a good subject to cover.

Turning Your Concept/Idea Into an Original Design

Before you go running off to find an artist to draw something up for you, you need to realize that the days of wandering into a tattoo parlor on the seedy side of town and picking a pre-drawn (flash) design off the wall are o-v-e-r.  One of the services you pay for when you hire a true tattoo artist is the tattoo design itself.  I mean, you wouldn't go to someone else and say "I want Krissi to paint something, can you draw my idea up first so I can hand it to her and have her burn it on wood and paint it?"  Well, I hope you wouldn't do that.  It's very similar with tattoo artists.  Many of these people are also drawing or painting on canvases besides bodies.  If you choose your artist based on how much their style and original work meshes with what you have in mind, they will be able to come up with something you love.  If they can't, find another artist.*

Asking To Have An Existing Design Tattooed

Maybe you saw Skelekitty or a Wenchkin "muerto" design and decided "I need that on my flesh!"  Perhaps you felt that need so strongly, you even waved your arms about and shouted it out loud on the bus right before everyone scootched away from you.

The Two Sides of Skelekitty by Krissi Sandvik
Well, I, for one, am flattered that anyone would want to have my work tattooed on them, as are many other artists.  However, not every artist feels the same.  No matter what you think/know how artist feels about having their art turned into perma-body-marks, ask permission of each artist for each individual image and tattoo.  Here's a good rule of thumb:
  • Write them an e-mail.  Do not ask in a text, Facebook, Google+, Twitter or on chat.  You may need proof of permission later on for your tattoo artist.  Also, be professional and don't make your artist decode texting abbreviations.  
  • Clearly identify which image you would like to have inked.  If there is a name to the image, find out.  If you're not sure, provide the artist with a link to the image you are interested in.
  • Ask permission.  Tell them you would like to have the image tattooed and ask them if they are OK with it.  
    • If they say yes, you can print the e-mail out and take it with you to your tattoo artist (who, if they are respectable, will ask if you have permission to use someone else's art). 
    • If they say no, be respectful.  This is their intellectual property and they have every right to refuse.  Thank them for their time and don't badmouth them for their decision.
Assuming your tattoo artist agrees to put someone else's art on your body, be aware that their style and training will affect how the design transfers to skin.  Be prepared for possible changes in color, design, etc. - it's just the nature of the canvas.

After You Get The Tattoo

OK, OK.  Most interpretations won't be THIS bad!
Image from Horrible Tattoos
Once you have the tattoo finished, send a photo of the work directly to the original artist (another thank you note for permission isn't a bad idea at this time). Why not just post it on their facebook page? Well, because some artists may not care for the interpretation of their work, or they may not want the tattoo to act as a representation of their work.  Then again, they may dig it!  If they ask you to post it on their fan page, wall, etc., you definitely should.  If they say nothing, don't post it for their fans or tag them.  Remember, if you love your tattoo, you don't need validation from the design's original creator.  Just enjoy your body art.

No matter what they say, ALWAYS reference the original art in photos you post on your own pages/albums/walls.  EVERY TIME YOU POST A PICTURE OF IT or whenever anyone asks about the design.  All you need to credit the design is "inspired by 'Blankety Blank Picture' by Some Indy Artist" and give a nod to your tattoo artist too - they worked hard!  If it's a straight copy of the artist's image, skip the "inspired by" part and just say the name of the original art/artist.  Not sure which way to go?  When in doubt, ask the artist!

Edit: When you reference your artist, be sure to include enough information for someone to find them.  You don't need to include a URL, but something like "my friend Krissi drew it" isn't enough for someone to Google the image/artist.  Go with something like "it's by Krissi Sandvik."  Of course, in Wenchkin's case, one name *is* enough.  If you're not sure, try a Google search and see how much info you need to find your artist.

*The Modern Rosies Union Riveters are putting their heads together to write a "choosing a tattoo artist" post.  If you have written an article on this subject, please contact us.

Krissi Sandvik is a mixed-media artist and the owner of Krissi's Art Studio, home of Skelekitty and Friends.  She was recently named "best tutorialer on the web" by her friend Rachelle Rose.


  1. WoOT! I can't wait to get my "inspired by Krissy" mermaid. ;) This is perfectly written. I originally thought I wanted exactly the artwork I found, but working with my tattoo artist (JIMMY KAWA - http://www.inktimetattoos.com/), your drawing inspired us to develop it further since it will be part of a full sleeve! ;)

  2. Thanks! I'm glad it's turning into a cool collaboration!

    I guess I should also add, "Be sure to spell the artist's name correctly." ;)

  3. I must say that my Muerton (lol) Salt girl is my favorite. Everyday I look down and see it and I fall even more in love haha. <3 Wenchkin

  4. I have a question, I tried for close to three weeks to try and find credit for an artist on an image I found on Pinterest (that didn’t have any credits attached to it at all). My tattoo artist tried and failed to find credit, so we went forward with the tattoo. I finally found the artist after two or three more weeks of researching and reached out to him to let him know what happened. He is, rightfully so, angry that I didn’t ask permission prior to getting the tattoo, but I tried my best to find his name/ contact info and didn’t until after I received the tattoo. What can I do now? The tattoo is complete, the websites that have the image on them (without credit) still have the image up (still without credit). I offered the artist payment for the use of his design but he is no longer responding to my messages.

    1. Jessi,

      I’m sorry to hear you had such a negative experience. I am not an attorney, so I can’t give legal advice on the situation. With that said, it seems to me that you made an effort to find the original artist, and even offered to try and make it right with the artist with a licensing fee. I don’t think there is much else you can do on a go forward basis if he’s not responding to you. I’ll refrain from giving advice in retrospect, since I’m sure you’ve already gone through the woulda-coulda-shouldas yourself.