Courtesy of David Adrian Smith

All or most tattoo artists have started and/or start their career fulfilling all the requests made by clients, until the moment when their artistic evolution allows them to concentrate exclusively, or for the most part, on projects that best fit the technical/artistic skills they have acquired.
At this point in their creative path it becomes normal to turn down uninspiring requests that would steal time and energy from their artistic growth.
Among the first requests that are set aside at this point in their careers there are definitely letterings, or at least a certain type of lettering.

Letterings are the legacy of a cultural background that refers to the past (and not) of prisons, barracks and other realities where slogans impressed on the skin were part of a ritual in order to get accepted and recognized within a group . Throughout history, letterings have also been part of a punitive system against criminals and deserters.
The past is full of tattoo letterings, from the slogans and acronyms of prisoners to expressions of love, including votive phrases of pilgrims, patriotic slogans of soldiers and so on.

Courtesy of Martin Schmetzer

Now that common society has sanctioned the practice of tattooing many tend to imitate the same styling cues, including letterings, that have been used for decades, if not centuries.
A behavioral pattern similar to the one that motivates them to buy a designer dress or a pair of trendy shoes. A paradigm that fulfills their desire to feel part of a group, to comply showing their brand, their membership. A pretty childish and ignorant model, though perhaps it belongs to human behavior more than we can imagine. A behavior not unlike that of a child who tries to convince his mother to buy him something saying: “All my friends have it”!!
If “everybody has it,” he obviously can’t give up that object without feeling different, therefore excluded from the group.
A very common attitude that goes from designer brands to tattoos, following their mass distribution.
It is no coincidence that celebrities, flagships of futility and of mass indoctrination, tend to advertise any nonsense, and it is no coincidence that as soon as one of these inane characters with six-figure bank accounts gets any old shitty tattoo, the “flocks” immediately feel the need to have the same thing or something similar in order to continue to graze peacefully, sometimes verging on madness even thinking of being original.

Fashionable tattoos, due to something seen on a celebrity, are a great topic of laughter among tattoo artists.
Do you remember the trend of Chinese ideograms? The one of geckos? That of names written in Gothic letters on the forearm (because this or that football player had exactly that kind of tattoo)? And how can we forget the explosion of tribal tattoos on the neck after seeing George Clooney boast one in the movie “From Dusk Till Dawn“?!
These are just some of the past tattoo trends in Italy, probably abroad there have been different ones but every country has definitely had its own.

Now there’s this planetary fashion of letterings! Phrases taken from songs, books, poems, football slogans or, the most unoriginal of all, phrases created personally by aspiring poets who have never read a book of poems over which we should draw a veil.
This trend, however, seems to be lasting longer than others.

Courtesy of Martin Schmetzer

Among the various reasons that drive people to write down a few sentences on themselves there is definitely the difficulty to visualize, the lack of artistic education and of course the idea that tattoos don’t need to be created thanks to the talent of an artist but are a drawing or in this case a ready-available phrase (found online of course) and that after choosing the most inane font available on one’s computer anyone with a tattoo machine will be able to tattoo; because another myth that the ignorant masses MISTAKENLY spread is that: “One doesn’t need to be able to draw to tattoo”!
Yeah yeah, there are plenty of mechanics and plumbers who extract molars out there; everyone knows that owning a pair of tweezers is enough to pull out a tooth!!
Moreover, too often tattoos are not considered a figurative art but a means of expression different from any other and confined to certain styles, which are often and unfortunately very limited compared to what this art form has to offer.

Letterings are simple, easy to find and do not require too much effort to create something that is considered original (BUT IT’S NOT).

This trend may have something to do with the perception of our private sphere.
When we were teenagers one of the most private and personal objects was our diary; on which we wrote sentences that struck us, song lyrics, aphorisms found here and there, we would stick photos of our idols, band logos and so on…
By putting them in that diary they became “ours”. Following the same logic many people treat their bodies in the same way: as a sort of personal diary.
Consequently on beaches, the ideal place to observe the anatomy of our fellow human beings, we see bodies covered in writings and tattoos of every kind, often of questionable quality, placed in bulk, without art, without originality, just like the diary of a teenager.
The aesthetic value of those writings is almost always of the same level of those teenage diaries, those tattoos are a work of art just like those diaries are an illustrated art book.

Courtesy of David Adrian Smith

If the reader has understood these issues, by now it should be quite clear why many tattoo artists hate letterings, or rather the kind of letterings with fonts taken from the computer, written in ridiculous sizes almost certainly destined to become a number of unreadable spots after a few years and/or without any artistic value whatsoever, letterings improvised in 10/15 minutes, not to mention the meanings that in 99.9% of cases are more mundane than a shopping list.
If a lettering is absolutely necessary then let it be a work of art, verbally and graphically, something that decorates the body and not a sort of self vandalization.

The lyrics of a song or a quote by some famous asshole can surely find similarities in texts that are far more synthetic, valuable and intense written by some poets or playwrights. Seek and you will find.
This done, lets move on to the graphic: as well as significant work by some great tattoo artists, we can take the example of some of the handmade signs that were made decades or centuries ago, many of them were real works of art. If tattooing a lettering means doing something of that level, in a size that allows a graphic/artistic interpretation that goes beyond the handwriting of a slightly talented thirteen year old or the copy of a sterile digital font, then it can be a challenging and rewarding challenge, and if that writing has to be incorporated into a drawing which is just as beautiful even better. A picture is (always) worth more than a thousand words!

Courtesy of Martin Schmetzer

But when it comes to writing a verse or a slogan in 4 mm small letters, with a font taken from the computer expressing a concept more useless than mundane, simply because you think that a tattoo artist, for a fee, must fulfill any request just like a regular slave, then you will have to settle for a tattoo artist of “that” level.
To those who contact an artist they consider extremely talented asking him to do a third-rate lettering I have something to ask: “Would you ask an artist to write your name on the intercom for you?”

If what you want to write is a line long maybe you don’t need a tattoo to remember it, if it’s longer then probably it’s better you take note on your diary instead of your skin.

Everyone has the right and freedom to get tattooed whatever they want of course, where and how they wish, but don’t always expect to choose the artist.

Good tattoo everyone!

The images shown in this article are by:
David Adrian Smith:

Martin Schmetzer: