Illustration and composition: flash sheets with Daisy Watson

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Published:  March 17, 2015
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I’m an independent tattoo artist and flash sheets are an important part of my business. A flash sheet is basically a page of predesigned tattoos. You know: the regular roses, daggers, pinups and dragons we’re all too familiar with. Most of the time people associate tattoo flash with really generic ideas and a kind of point-and-choose mentality. Some people may even view choosing a piece off flash as a cop out, thinking it shows a lack of originality or creativity.

All words and images by Daisy Watson

 

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As for my flash, and that of many amazing tattoo artists out there, we do the opposite. I want to put designs in front of you that go further than the usual suspects — drawings you may have never considered working as a tattoo: casual, spontaneous and full of life. Don’t get me wrong, I love custom designing and working with a client on their idea but nothing makes me happier than when someone points to a flash design. This is what I want to tattoo: these designs define my style, my aesthetic, and basically I just think they would look really fucking cool on your skin.

Daisy themed

Research and References

I make two kinds of flash sheets. The first is themed around one general idea or subject — food, plants, Australiana, terrariums — drawn in different ways and sizes. The second, and my personal favourite, is the mixed bag: a page of different, unrelated, and contrasting drawings that look amazing together.

Checking out some reference material can be a really good place to start. You can find inspiration anywhere: generally I’m using books, magazines, and my best mate: the internet. Scroll back through the photos on your phone: there are always good ideas hiding in there. Go for a walk — does your dentist have a cool tooth on its sign? Do you live near a flower or fruit shop? These are both great muses for me. When attempting your first flash sheet a perfect place to start is simply a visual list of things you like.

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Reference Texts

Composition and Tools

So, you have a handful of ideas, a fresh coffee (first of many) and some tunes on. I generally use a white sheet of A4 paper. If you prefer drawing on a bigger scale go ahead and use A3. It’s best to use a light pencil for your drafting, easier to erase, and trust me there will probably be a lot of that. I like to do a pencil draft of the whole sheet and outline with a pen at the end but there are no rules so whatever works for you.

I always start in the middle of the page and work out from there. At first it’s a bit tricky getting the composition right. You want to leave an even amount of space around your designs. Flash can also look really great with only a handful of images really spaced out too. You will probably find that the smaller spaces round your bigger designs will need to be filled. I often leave these to the end and use basic, simple ideas. I never have all my ideas planned at the start of a flash sheet, so am constantly looking back through reference material and thinking hard about what to draw next.

Be patient. The eraser is your friend and brings relief to any mistakes. Important to note: there is no shame in tracing, not one shred. Trace away sweet things, this is a great way of training yourself. I can now draw free hand what I traced for months. Faces and hands especially.

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Details and Permanency

Once you have finished drafting your designs you’re ready to start the outline and detailing. This is my favourite part: it is so satisfying to make the drawings permanent. Choose your pen based on how thin or thick you want your lines, I generally use a .5 — .8 fineliner. I like to outline all the designs first, erase the pencil and then add detail. I start with some solid black areas. It adds great contrast to the flash. I follow with short and long lines, dots and crosshatching. This is what gives the drawings life. I like to fill some designs with detail and withhold on others. If you try and cover every inch of the page it can become too busy and overwhelming.

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So there you have it. Regardless of whether you can tattoo the designs yourself or want to get tattooed, flash sheets look just as great on a wall as they do on skin.

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