When I started tattooing in 1998, horror wasn’t nearly as big of a theme in the tattoo world.
In fact horror wasn’t even that big in popular culture.
Sure, it had it’s market, just as tattoos did in those days, but it was by no means as popular as it is now.
Tattoos were so stereotyped, that clients often felt constrained to either go smaller and more mainstream, or all out with big images based off biker and criminal stereotypes.
Some of my first exposure to modern horror tattoos (a step above the goofy grim reapers and skulls of the past) was in 1998 when I had first moved to NYC.
I was fresh out of art school and hoping to pursue a career in comic books.
A big fan of the punk and metalcore scene, I would pick up fanzines at the local record stores.
One featured the work of Paul Booth, but his work seemed to be more of a curiosity than a trend or accepted genre.
Eventually I went into tattooing and there were a few more people doing horror oriented pieces, but aside from Paul Booth, none of them were working on large, horror themed tattoos.
I kept at it, slowly doing ever larger and more specifically horror themed work.
Magazines took notice, and just as I was breaking out I started to see other, like minded artists.
I think Paul Acker, at the Pittsburgh convention way back in 2004 or 2005 was one of the first I noticed.
From there it only escalated, and I became friends with hordes of artists, Bob Tyrell, Tommy Lee Wendtner, and Ron Russo among them.
Me and Ron eventually hosted the tattooing part of a horror convention named Screamfest, I worked with Paul Acker at his shop in Philadelphia and we both traveled to Europe every year to meet up with Tommy Lee Wendtner.
I had befriended all the old crew at Paul Booth’s shop Last Rites, Tim Kern, Dan Marshal, and Liocifer, and as a group they had drifted towards more horror influenced subject natter – well, except for Liocifer, who was already doing artwork oriented towards that the meat Fat Cat Tattoos in Queens.
By 2010 or so, it just seemed a natural progression, almost in the same way punk rock came up from being rough and indie towards being a larger, more accepted genre.
Today, it’s almost taken as a given that the clients who want horror tattoos, are after large, unique themes.
All crafted by a continually diversified crew.
If you want the best in straight up horror realism, you go to someone like Paul Acker.
If you want a custom, black and grey horror piece that covers a large area of your body in almost a biomech, skeletal style, you go to Jesse Levitt or Tommy Lee Wendtner.
If you want a slightly more surreal, kind of realism mixed with Van Gogh piece, you hit up Ron Russo.
If you want a straight black, sketchy yet detailed custom creation, you go to Mark Blanchard.
If you want more of an illustrated style, I’d love to do it.
There is such a variety now, that the market has really opened up. And unlike punk rock, for instance (which I’m still a huge fan of) there’s not the pettiness of “that isn’t horror” or “you sold out”.
Ellie Church on Horror Tattoos
I’ve seen a lot of horror artwork and tattoos working at conventions.
With anything, it’s always individuality that makes art wonderful.
You can draw, paint or tattoo the same image all you want, but if there’s no individual spin, to me, it’s just the same image over and over.
I feel I’ve seen so much of that. But to stop me in my tracks, which is what good art should do, it needs to be special, different.
Horror has almost followed the path of tattooing in general.
It’s become more widely accepted in the mainstream and is looked at more for its artistic scope and originality that judged by regressive stereotypes.
That’s a great evolution and will only provide ever better work in the future.
Horror Tattoo Eamples
For more Horror-inspired tattoos, go to:
- Pinhead Tattoo
- Leatherface Tattoo
- Evil Clown Tattoo
- Gargoyle Tattoo
- Bird Skull Tattoo
- Evil Dead Tattoos
- Valak Tattoo
- Wendigo Tattoo
- Mothman Tattoos
- Jason Voorhees Tattoo
- Wyvern Tattoo
- Skull Tattoo
Dan Henk has been working in and as a part of the tattoo community for 20 years. He writes novels, illustrates magazines and books, and owns The Abyss Fine Art & Tattoo Gallery in Long Beach, NY, and competes in Muay Thai and Brazilian Jujitsu. Check out all his adventures on danhenk.com!