In an ever-evolving industry, many styles of tattooing have taken the internet by storm, but one that hasn’t lost its virality is the art of stippling. This particular style is characterized by its use of small dots to form patterns, images, shapes, and shading. Known as stippling when used for shading, this technique has been used in different mediums of artwork such as paintings, drawings, and engravings for thousands of years.
Though coined in the 1500s, the stippling technique has been seen in some of the earliest tattoos recorded, Icemen and Egyptians have been known to utilize the technique, as a process to elevate pain in early history.
Search stippling tattoos on social media platforms such as Pinterest, one of the most searched sites for tattoo inspiration, and you’ll be met with an array of delicate designs ranging from florals to nature and geographic tattoos.
We sat down with Anna Wolff of Loose Screw Tattoo to ask her more about her experience with the technique and what she’s looking forward to the most at this year’s Richmond Tattoo, Art, & Music Festival.
When did you begin tattooing? My first tattoo was back in 2008, which seems so long ago. I got my license officially in 2013.
What drew you to the craft? What first drew me was a bit more superficial i.e. we all like tattoos, they look cool and all the coolest and most attractive people have them. What made me really fall in love with tattooing was the impact of my art. Art that lives and dies. Art that empowers the collector.
How would you describe your style? Stippling of course, but black and grey illustrative and realism is my style.
When did you start working at Loose Screw? I started at Loose Screw in 2019, feels like forever ago at this point!
What do you enjoy the most about working at Loose Screw and learning from Jesse Smith? The direction and focus it allowed my career. Thanks to Jesse and the whole Loose Screw team, I’ve been to polish my work to the refined style I have curated today.
How long have you been doing the stippling technique? I’ve been focusing on the technique for just over 5 years now!
Are there any pieces you’re looking to do with this technique specifically for the fest? I implement the technique in just about all my work, but I will be tattooing exclusively my own designs at the festival, which I’m thrilled about!
Why do you think the stippling technique has grown in popularity? It’s aesthetically pleasing and lends itself to light floral, ornamental, and feminine pieces. It kind of goes without saying that those elements are a hit on the Pinterest algorithm.
What attracted you to this specific technique? It’s a black and gray technique reliant on pressure shading, not gray wash. I’ve always wanted to specialize in black and gray, however I never liked the outcome I got out of the gray wash and how brutalized the skin seemed to get. After I discovered stippling I noticed not only was my work barely bleeding or even red I was seeing significantly less healing time and that’s when my portfolio began to grow far stronger than I could have anticipated.
What advice would you give to someone looking for this style of tattoo? Anything specific to look out for or ask for from the artist?
1. I would ask what is the subject for the tattoo you are wanting? I’ve had a lot of people come to me wanting silhouetted imagery such as trees, symbols, etc. and those are great tattoos, but how am I to implement the stippling technique in a subject that’s nothing but solid black? Ask yourself: Does the subject matter work with this technique?
2. I would ask do you actually like MY style or do you just like the stippling shading technique? I’ve encountered lots of people who say they absolutely love my style but then say they don’t want any bold black elements in it. This is when I familiarize them with my portfolio. In MY style, heavy bold black elements are what solidify and frame the piece.
I’ve noticed that with this particular technique people tend to only see the light and airy elements and overlook the bold black framework, ultimately contrast is what makes tattoos visible, interesting, noticeable, and SUSTAINABLE! But I see this technique overused in a flooded market of people who lack this understanding which leads to washed-out or muddy work that’s hard to read or lacks longevity. Ask yourself what artistic STYLE implements this stippling technique in a way you find aesthetically pleasing.
What kind of practice/training does it take to perfect this technique? Good old fashion trial and error! The stippling technique was implemented in my own hand tattoo so I’d witness the execution before I tried it. I have been a professional graphite portrait artist long before I tattooed, building up shades in graphite without the use of a smudge pen was similar muscle memory to stippling.
What artist do you look to for inspiration when it comes to stippling? Richard Smith (attending the Richmond Tattoo Festival) and Angelo Parente just to name a couple, but I am inspired by so many others. See all festival artists here.
What are you looking forward to the most about the tattoo festival? Tattooing at the festival for sure, but also getting tattooed!
What’s your favorite event at the festival? It’s so hard to pick one, I enjoy all of them and definitely recommend everyone checks out everything there is to offer.
Why should someone buy a ticket and attend? It’s fun for the whole family and you don’t necessarily have to like tattoos…There’s other art, music, food, a little something for everyone, and of course, the people-watching is prime. See the full event schedule here.
Interested in booking Anna at this year’s Tattoo Music and Arts Festival? Reach out to her here.