Artists can be notoriously individualistic, keeping their private thought processes to themselves and often hiding their work from viewers until they are satisfied that it's done. The art field can be very competitive, with creative people mostly unwilling to cross-pollinate with other artists for fear of losing their distinct identity.

Something about tattooing, though, seems to invite a more open mindset. Perhaps it's because of the subcultural status of the art form, which attracts people who are less concerned with being world famous and more interested in just seeing what's possible; maybe it's the way that clients request work that is clearly influenced or based on other artists' work, requiring that tattooists be willing to tap into the group language that we all share. Whatever the case may be, tattooing is a field that can be fertile ground for creative collaboration.

My first experiences working with other tattooers came shortly after my apprenticeship, when I began traveling and visiting artists such as Aaron Cain, Eddy Deutsche and Marcus Pacheco. Passing a drawing back and forth seemed like a great way to spend time when hanging around with other artists, and for me it became a career-long habit. To this day I work regularly with others in many mediums, including online digital projects which free all involved parties from the need to be in the same place at the same time, opening up countless possibilities. Most recently I have been working with about 35 other artists on The Biomech Encyclopedia, a massive book on abstract tattoo design and theory which will contain hundreds of collaborative drawings, some with as many as six or seven artists involved.

I like to avoid projects where each artist does a different part of the piece. In my experience the best results come when the participants take turns working the entire thing; If one artist starts with a rough overall sketch, another will retrace the whole thing, keeping some parts the same and changing others. Then there will be turns taken with shading, coloring and developing the entire piece, usually with a lot of communication going on before and during the project. In this way, the overall look will be unified and clean, without the random noise that can take over a poorly planned effort. The end result is in an artistic style that doesn't belong to any one artist, but is the result of minds coming together.

As a result, everyone involved comes away from the project with a few new tricks, a broader perspective and possibly some fresh ideas. Collaborating with others is one of the most enriching things I've done in my career as an artist, and I can't recommend it highly enough.

Guy Aitchison
November 2012

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