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Drawing and Tattooing: Connected or Not? An 'almost' (neuro)scientific exploration in these two creative processes

A colourful picture of some pencils and and a tattoo machine

For those intrigued by tattooing or considering a journey into the world of tattoo artistry, this blog post tries to answer a fundamental question from this field: Are drawing and tattooing interconnected?

To answer this question, I suggest we first look at the definitions of drawing and tattooing.

Drawing - what happens in the brain

“Drawing arises from the making of marks upon a material surface that is, or is approximately, planar in character” (Ashwin, 2016).

However, it entails more than this. The skill of drawing is a combination of different cognitive and physiological processes that work together to enable the artist to create a visual representation of something from our world or a fantastic representation. In lay words, to engage in the process of drawing, our brain does a multitude of things at once to enable the artist create something new.

These processes include motor skills (we move our arms and fingers), perception (we capture with our eyes and interpret an image), categorisation (we have concepts about how something looks like, and we also remember this - eg., you know that all chairs are chairs, no matter what shape, colour, material they are made of) or visual memory.

Taking this perspective into consideration, something that appears effortlessly for an untrained eye, actually involves a lot of simultaneous cognitive processes. This is what happens inside our brain when we draw. But to achieve the skill of drawing, new synapses have to develop, through the process of repetition and exercise.

This means the artist has to be disciplined and dedicate time for practice and create habits in order to create these new neuronal connections, that will eventually enable them to master the drawing technique of their choice.

Drawing - techniques and skills

But what must one actually do, in order to create those synapses? What does this training actually mean? It means exercise and practice. Many agree that the areas an artist needs to practice and master to achieve skills in drawing are the following:


Medium refers to all the materials needed for drawing. There is the support - or the material on what the drawing will be made. These usually include papers, which comes in a variety of shapes, weights, structure and texture. Almost any material can be used as drawing support, as long as it keeps the media on it. The media is the substance used for drawing, which can be dry or wet. Graphite, charcoal, ink, markers and watercolours are some media examples. To transfer the media on the support, an artist needs tools. They are usually pencils, brushes or pens. Other tools and materials such as sharpeners, blotting paper, tracing paper or erasers are usually used in the process of drawing.

Form (shape) and Proportions

Form and proportion are not just elements; they are the backbone of drawing and artistic creation. Here's why they're so important in drawing:

Depth and Dimension - this means understanding how the objects we draw interact with light and fill the space in the drawing. Depth and dimension bring life to the objects we draw, turning them from flat images in moving postures or three dimensional objects.

Realism or fantasy - form and proportions also help create a realistic picture of an object, but also a fantastic one, No matter what the artist wants to achieve, there are unwritten rules that must be followed in the design, so it looks pleasing to the eye. This is usually achieved from a deeper understanding on how form and proportion work.


An example of how perspective works

Perspective is crucial in drawing because it adds depth and realism, transforming flat images into lifelike scenes. It aligns with how we see the world, making artwork relatable and engaging. Through perspective, artists guide viewers' focus and convey scale, distance, and form. It’s not just about accuracy; it’s a storytelling tool that shapes the viewer's experience. For a deeper understanding, "Perspective for Artists" by Rex Vicat Cole is a recommended read. It offers practical insights into applying perspective effectively in art. Simply put, mastering perspective elevates drawings from mere sketches to immersive experiences.


Tone in drawing refers to the use of light and shadow to create depth, emphasize texture, and convey mood. It's essential for adding dimensionality and realism to an image, moving beyond outlines to suggest form and substance. By varying tones, artists can suggest the weight of an object, the time of day, or even the weather in a scene. It's a foundational skill for creating dynamic and expressive artwork, essential for both realistic depictions and conveying emotional context.


The term "technique" in drawing refers to the specific methods or approaches an artist uses to create their artwork. It encompasses a wide range of elements that contribute to the final appearance of the drawing. Technique can vary greatly depending on the artist's style, the materials used, and the desired outcome of the artwork. Here are some key aspects that technique in drawing might involve:

a list of different types of drawing techniques
  1. Line Quality: The way lines are drawn can greatly affect the texture, depth, and emotion of a piece. Techniques can vary from using smooth, continuous lines to create a serene and orderly effect, to employing quick, sketchy lines for a more dynamic and energetic feel.

  2. Shading and Texture: Techniques in shading and creating texture are crucial for adding dimension and realism to a drawing. This can include cross-hatching, stippling, blending, or scumbling, each producing a different texture and depth.

  3. Mediums and Materials: The choice of medium (pencil, charcoal, ink, etc.) greatly influences the techniques an artist might use. Each medium has its own properties and requires different handling to achieve the best results. For instance, watercolor pencils might be used for their ability to blend and create wash effects, while charcoal might be chosen for its rich blacks and range of tones.

  4. Perspective and Proportion: Techniques to accurately depict perspective and proportion help in creating drawings that appear three-dimensional and realistic. This can involve understanding and applying rules of linear perspective, atmospheric perspective, or using certain proportions to draw the human body accurately.

  5. Composition: Techniques in composition involve arranging elements within a drawing to create a balanced, harmonious piece. This can include understanding how to use focal points, the rule of thirds, leading lines, and contrast to guide the viewer's eye through the artwork.

  6. Color Theory: When color is involved, technique also includes the application of color theory principles to create harmony, contrast, and mood within a drawing. This encompasses choosing color palettes, understanding color relationships, and knowing how to mix and layer colors effectively.


Composition in drawing organises elements within the artwork to create a cohesive and engaging visual experience. It involves the placement of shapes, lines, colors, and values in a way that balances the piece, directs the viewer's eye, and emphasizes the main subject. Good composition can enhance the storytelling, evoke emotions, and ensure the artwork is visually appealing. It's fundamental for establishing a harmonious relationship between different parts of a drawing, making it integral to the overall impact and effectiveness of the art.


Similar to drawing, tattooing encompasses several key components, each critical to the execution and outcome of the final tattoo. They also require their own skill building process, in order to create new synapses that will eventually work together to create the skill of tattooing. These components are the same as in drawing, but with specific adaptations to the tattooing process:

  • Medium: The "medium" in tattooing is the ink and the skin. Different types of ink can produce varying shades, depths, and color saturation, affecting the tattoo's appearance over time.

  • Technique: Tattooing techniques vary widely, including lining, shading, and color packing. Each technique requires precise control and understanding of how the needle and ink interact with the skin.

  • Proportions and Perspective: Like drawing, proportions and perspective are crucial in tattooing. Artists must adapt their designs to the body's contours, ensuring that the artwork looks balanced and cohesive from any angle.

  • Tone and Form: Achieving the right tone and form is essential in tattooing, as these elements bring depth and realism to the design. Mastery in creating gradients and contrasts with ink is vital for dynamic tattoos.

  • Composition: The composition in tattooing involves not only the arrangement of elements within the design but also how the tattoo fits and flows on the body. A well-composed tattoo considers the body's shape, enhancing its aesthetics rather than working against them.

The final question: are drawing and tattooing interconnected?

The simple answer is yes. They are not only interconnected, but drawing looks like being a prerequisite for tattooing. Transitioning from drawing to tattooing requires artists to adapt their skills to the unique challenges and opportunities presented by the human body. While the principles of art remain constant, the application of these principles in tattooing demands a nuanced understanding of how designs translate from paper to skin. Giving the permanence of tattoos and the very narrow opportunity to correct eventual mistakes, drawing skills seem like being a crucial element for tattooing. At the same time, artists must consider factors such as skin elasticity, color retention, and how the design will age over time. The connection between drawing and tattooing is evident in the shared foundation of artistic principles and the unique adaptations required for tattooing. This connection strengthens the argument that while it is possible to learn to tattoo without traditional drawing skills, the depth, originality, and adaptability afforded by drawing expertise are invaluable to the art of tattooing.


Drawing and tattooing are deeply interconnected, each enriching and informing the other. The journey from drawing on paper to tattooing on skin is one of adaptation, learning, and growth. It bridges the gap between two-dimensional art and the living, breathing canvas of the human body. For aspiring tattoo artists, a strong foundation in drawing not only enhances technical skills but also deepens the understanding and appreciation of tattooing as a unique and profound form of personal expression.


Ashwin, C. (2016). What is a drawing? Drawing1(2), 197–209.

Chan, D., & Zhao, Y. (2010). The relationship between drawing skill and artistic creativity: do age and artistic involvement make a difference? Creativity Research Journal22(1), 27–36.

Clear, J. (2018). Atomic Habits: An easy & proven way to build good habits & break bad ones

Cole, R. V. (1976). Perspective for artists. Design78(2), 28.

Frith, C., & Law, J. (1995). Cognitive and Physiological Processes Underlying Drawing Skills. Leonardo 28(3), 203-205.

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