Illustrative and Realism Style Tattoos at San Diego’s International Guesthouse Tattoo Shop in Pacific Beach

Collaborate with some of the best Illustrative and Realism Style Tattoo artists in San Diego


J Trip

Karlla Mendes

Diego Perugini

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What Requires an Illustrative and Realism Style Tattoo?

Dating as far back as the Renaissance, realism has been an important and highly sought-after form of art like we see in the Sistine Chapel and Greek mythological paintings. Considered fine art against the skin, illustrative and realism tattoos require extraordinary talent that blends the use of perspective, lighting, gradient shading, color blending, use of negative space, and intricate details.

American Tattoo History

Although we know that tattoos, or tataus, themselves originated from the Polynesian culture, illustrative or fine art tattooing was not prominent in American culture until the 1960’s and ‘70s when the free love started to flow and anti-war riots leaked their protests all over the states. Due to the vivid and colorful culture that was sparked in the flower power era, illustrative tattoos became expressive with imagery, intricate detail and brought advances in electric needle guns and more modernized forms of pigment.

Nautical-themed drawings and military ranking tattoos started to became more prominent at this time bridging both the gaps from sea to land and Southeast Asia to America. Two big names from the time that we still know today, Sailor Jerry (Norman Collins, not the alcohol) and Don Ed Hardy, revolutionized the reputation of tattooing with San Fransisco’s Realistic Tattoo thanks to post-war crackdowns and returned sailors home from the South Pacific with impressive skin décor. Having been a Navy man himself, Collins brought back the Southeast Asian custom art he was exposed to overseas and combined it with American design as a game changer for the country. Both Collins and Hardy dedicated their lives to improving the sanitary quality of body art to make it available to everyone that expressed passion towards its fascinating background and meaningful purpose.

The circus, dating back to 1840, was also another catalyst for these realistic tattoos as they were known as the most common employer of tattoo lovers and wearers. Women even made names for themselves in these vagabond packs of decorated “rejects” with designs covering their arms, legs and chests. Of the most famous to do so was the great Betty Broadbent, also known as “The Tattooed Venus,” that initiated a revolution of tattoo-wearing women establishing them as beautiful and influential for the first time.

What are Realism and Illustrative Tattoos?

Anything that is considered “photo realistic” with various colors is also termed in this business as a realism or illustrative tattoo, no matter what object it is. What must resemble the seamlessness and formal lines of a paper drawing, illustrative tattoos, or portraits, demand the same fluidity and expertise to create a similar appearance on the canvas of skin. But, keep in mind that your artist needs a good quality picture in order to perfectly implement the illustration properly onto your skin; the quality of the image chosen as your vision will determine how well the artist will be able to deliver it. But, more on that later.

Alternate to standard, high-detailed tattooing, that simply requires added shading to give depth to the design, realism focuses on the true lighting of the subject based on its color and how it will look identically on the skin canvas. Requiring at least 3 inches in height for the tattoo’s intricate design, realism utilizes smooth shading with a five or three with different pigments for the intense details and lacks the basic black outline. As nothing in life has a black outline, our artists will either use blood lining or shadowing around these sections to make it more realistic and lifelike.

The Process for Creating a Illustrative and Realism Style Tattoo

When creating the pattern from the picture chosen, we use a computer scanner and crop the parts of the image that are you only interested in receiving on your body. We then print the image in the highest resolution in several copies so we have a few on hand and at least one to refer to while delivering the body art. We then lay the printed image down on the stencil and trace every line we can without creating any of the shaded areas to create this topographical map of your selected image.

Our next step is to mark the different hues as points to refer back to. Regardless of the way that the artist chooses to create the tattoo, either from top to bottom or blood lining the entire piece and then finishing with the intricacies of the piece, black background words must always be worked on first. The artist will complete the main image’s blood line work and then rinse and dry the needle to work on said outlines of the words.

When providing illustrative and realism tattoos, we think of ourselves as copy machines that are able to apply every inch of color, shade, and light to the tattoo just as the original image contains. Although we are artists in every sense of the word, we never implement what we see as the reality of your vision based off of what we want the design to look like. We are here to serve you as you see fit, so it is best to be as clear as possible with us when it comes to the details of the tattoo. However, every artist has their own unique illustrative tattoo style based off of your vision, so determining the right artist that will bring what you want is also vital to the process. This is exactly why we love to meet with clients at least a few times before actually building the artwork to ensure that everything will be to your liking.

The real key to creating a realistic portrait is the use of the white highlight hue, when done correctly this color has the ability to actually bring the image to life with incredible and realistic qualities. Although most times people will think of portraits as human faces or body designs with contours and curvatures, these incredible shading techniques can be done on anything non-body or facial related from flowers to cans of your favorite soda.

Photo Quality Is Imperative

As mentioned above, it is imperative that you choose a great quality photo or image for the artist to create from; if the quality of the image is not up to par, you risk losing quality on something that will be a part of you for the rest of your life. So often we see tattered images brought in that are almost impossible to implement onto the skin, and although we understand that these are sentimental and close to your heart, it will determine the way your tattoo will be able to be delivered. Even our artists, known as the best illustrative artists in San Diego and Pacific Beach, can only work with what they have in front of them.

When choosing an image of a face from a photo, we recommend that you get the image of the face professionally blown up before coming in to book a consultation. When zooming into an image on a standard computer or with our scanner, the quality of pixels will decrease which will make it harder for the artist to implement the details of the face onto your skin. If you are insistent on choosing an image that can be not remastered in any way, we can still deliver the service but know that the quality of the tattoo will decrease over time as the pigments will inevitably blend together.

With that said, we do recommend that designs of faces and bodies are done in grey and black ink as the colored pigments do tend to change over time and it could affect the quality of your tattoo as the years go on.

The Right Choice For Your Illustrative And Realism Tattoo

With artistic talent also comes vision, so if you are in search of a realism tattoo near you and you’re not sure what to get, we can definitely help! Our team of world-class artists have done portraits, intricate religious drawings, floral compositions, ironically lifelike skulls, beautiful and majestic animal portraits and more! We, of course, always suggest that the design be meaningful and purposeful as you will be wearing it for quite some time.

Why work with The International Guesthouse Tattoo Shop?

For 20 years we have been dedicated to high quality body art Pacific Beach producing some of the best illustrative tattoos in San Diego with our award-winning team of artists. Our International Guesthouse Tattoo Shop takes that to the next level. With world renowned artists that are featured here, the designs, portraits and realism tattoos that they can bring to life will blow your mind.

Operating in Pacific Beach, San Diego, we create masterpieces huge community of people that range from military men and women, to tourists visiting San Diego in search of the beach and souvenirs, to neighbors and locals. So what better way to commemorate a life occasion than through a custom-made illustrative tattoo by an expert artist from our Guesthouse? If your a world traveler, bring a lifelong piece that is close to your heart back home that is done by some of the best artists San Diego has to offer. If your a local, what better than to get a body art master piece by a world renowned international artists? What could be a better icebreaker or conversation starter than that? If you have been contemplating taking this permanent step in the right direction and are looking for the best of the best, look no further. Contact us today to arrange a meeting with one of you world class  artists for your next collaboration.