How Artists Earn: Tattoo Art

by Carolyn Edlund

Earning a living through the art of tattoo, two artists speak about the business and challenges they face.


Artist Alasdair Roy from Dark Design Graphics creates a custom tattoo design.

Artist Alasdair Roy from Dark Design Graphics creates a custom tattoo design.


British artist Alasdair Roy and his team at Dark Design Graphics create custom tattoos for clients. They don’t perform tattooing services, preferring to focus on the art itself. Customers take the completed designs to tattoo studios where ink is applied.

I asked Roy about their business model, and how they have taken their design work to the next level.

“The artists of Dark Design Graphics are all chosen for their unique styles,” he shared. “We cover a range of specialties from full paintings to detailed pen work, hatching, stippling and for me personally, detailed pencil and graphite drawings. We are also well known for creating and revamping custom Coat of Arms designs not just for tattoos, but displays, weddings and more.”

He explained that feedback has surpassed expectations, saying, “All the artists at Dark Design Graphics are traditional artists, so each customer receives the fully completed traditional artwork created to the best of our abilities. Customers often send us photos of their artwork framed or their tattoos in progress, and tattoo artists compliment us on going all out with our designs.”

Dark Design Graphics maintains a YouTube channel, with fascinating time-lapse videos of artwork in progress.


Dark Graphics Tattoo Portfolio

Artwork, clockwise from top left: Full-sleeve tattoo design by Chris, Freemason Personal Illustration by Jenn, Reese coat of arms by Alasdair, Detailed skull illustration by Bojan.


“What I love most about tattoo artwork is you can be asked to create almost anything,” he adds. “The ideas people want to represent are almost limitless, and it is our job to bring that idea to life. Turning what is initially a customer’s thoughts into a creative design good enough for them to get tattooed permanently onto their skin is what really makes it worthwhile.”

Roy described the challenges and doubts he had when getting started, saying, “What really struck me when I began working on my own was how little I knew of the skills I needed to run my own business. While there is a lot of information out there, you begin to find out that unless you really know how to market yourself, you can draw, paint or design almost anything and it will not do a thing. It has been a huge learning experience for me, and I really believe that I have learned so much more by just going ahead and doing it for myself than I ever could have at university.”


Tattoo artist Justin Lanouette

Tattoo artist Justin Lanouette


Canadian artist Justin Lanouette of Tatouage Calypso maintains a full-service shop in Quebec, which earns him a living. With a degree in fine art, he originally didn’t consider designing tattoos until his sister became involved with a tattoo kit she was trying to master. He found the business a perfect fit, and self-employment allows him the freedom to travel.

He started out with flash art, gaining skill at reproduction, and then moved on to portrait and realistic work, using Photoshop to aid in composition. He strives to stay current on the latest trends in the industry.

“I attend tattoo conventions as a visitor every year, and have followed seminars with Bob Tyrell and others in the past at international conventions in Portland, Toronto and Montreal,” he says.


A variety of Justin Lanonuette's tattoo designs

A variety of Justin Lanonuette’s tattoo designs


Lanouette considered ways to overcome the challenges of making his business profitable and keeping costs low. Expanding his residence into a studio space allowed him to avoid a commercial locale and all the expenses related to it. He upgraded his apartment and rented extra space, turning it into a tattoo studio. He also retails related products on his website, selling aftercare products, lotions, soaps, and beard care, and plans to have jewelry available soon.

“I’m also working on a web design project to create a community blog and forum for tattoo artists and clients at Quebec Tattoo Shop,” he says. “Work is in progress.”



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