Portraits & Black and gray tattoos

Lots of people want black and gray tattoos because they can be beautiful!  When I do a black and gray tattoo it’s usually a portrait.  This is an explanation of what to expect when getting a portrait from me, Christy Brooker:


-The photo that we start with is extremely important.  It needs to be in focus, a nice size so the detail shows and have good lighting.  The more I have to “make up” the less it will look like the person who it is intended to be.  That’s why a nice large, in focus picture is necessary so we can get lots of detail in the piece.  The more detail in the photo, the more it will look like the person as a tattoo.  The less detail, the more it will look like a generic person.

-Lighting is important because a fully lit face (light shining on both sides of the face) has very few shadows and shadows are what make a portrait have depth.  Lighting from one side of the face creates a dynamic tattoo that looks great.  If there are very few shadows then it will look washed out and less detailed.

-The size is important because the larger it is the more detail will show up.  I like to do portraits at least four inches from the chin to the top of the head.  So if the picture is only one or two inches it may lose a lot of detail when it’s blown up to the size we need it to make a good tattoo.

-I always do more than one session on portraits because I work like a painter.  Every layer brings more clarity, depth and crispness to the piece. And just like paint, we have to wait for it to “dry” or heal before we can do the next “layer” or session.  I like to wait at least four weeks in between sessions to be sure it’s completely healed.

-For a small, four inch portrait we may be able to get it done in three sessions.  For larger portraits or more detailed portraits it will take more sessions.  If the person in the photo has a lot of wrinkles or lots of detail in the hair or accessories then it will take more sessions to get all those fun details in there.

-With black and gray the black ink is watered down to create soft shades of gray so when it’s first done it will look brown or dark red.  This is because the soft gray is barely there but the skin has been irritated so it is pink or red.  It also looks much darker than it will be when it’s healed.  You can see in the photos that the shading looks considerably darker when it is fresh than when it is healed.  The redder it looks, the lighter it will be when it’s healed.


Portraits are a process and they take time but if done right and with patience they can be extremely gratifying for the wearer and the artist who did the tattoo.



This tattoo took more than four sessions but these photos show the multiple stages of the process and the difference between a fresh black and gray tattoo and a healed one.

I retired from tattooing in 2015 but you are more than welcome to email us the picture you are looking to get done and we can recommend an artist who we think will do a great job for you.