Monochromatic Masterpieces is our weekly series where we celebrate illustrative blackwork tattoos made by the most talented practitioners of the style. Be sure to check out some of our previous installments, while you’re at it.
Illustrative blackwork makes for spectacular scrimshaw tattoos of sea creatures, mainly because of its resemblance to the images that sailors used to carve into whale bones. To show how this minimalist style captures the spirit of maritime folk art, we netted some of the most outstanding pieces featuring aquatic life by artists who specialize in this sort of nautical iconography. So, put on your eyepatch and prepare to embark on an adventure on the high seas, filled with octopuses, whales, mermaids, and sea monsters.
Growing out of a hobby that sailors frequently took up to stave off boredom while on long journeys, scrimshaw rose to prominence during the 1800s, when whaling was in its heyday. Similarly to tattooers, seamen used needles to carve designs into walrus tusks, whale teeth, and other bones. The crosshatching and stippling in these tattoos harkens back to those illustrations. Much of the iconography that seafarers created was based on the sights they encountered on their voyages, including the otherworldly creatures that occasionally surfaced among the waves.
The tattooists seen here may as well have all been sailors in a previous life. They are united by a shared love for the sea and the tattoo motifs that were born out of the shipping industry. Their passion for oceanic imagery shows in the quality of their work. These artists’ work may as well be made of cephalopod ink, as seen in the whale by Liam Sparkes, Tron’s shark, the lobster from Duke Riley’s portfolio, and octopus by Victor Webster. Rob Banks and Susanne König, on the other hand, capture the mythos surrounding maritime lore, while Jenna Bouma’s work almost seems to resonate with the sound of the tide.
To see more nautical illustrative blackwork, set sail for these tattooists’ Instagrams. If you want a scrimshaw style tattoo of your favorite sea creature, have one of these artists inscribe you like a piece of whale bone.