It used to be pretty common to find a tattoo artist that learned how to draw through tattooing; apprenticeship is where it all began for a lot of people. Through creating flash and practice, and a lot of cleaning up, the art of the trade is taught and handed down from master to student. What’s really interesting, however, is when fine artists that went to art school start to tattoo, effectively bringing their knowledge of fine art with them, and having it inevitably manifest itself in their work. Artist Clinton Lee of Ink and Dagger Tattoo in Roswell, Georgia, is one of those artists that got their background in a classroom before picking up a tattoo machine.
With a background in oil painting and portraiture, Lee’s work is highly representative of his formal fine art background. Tattooing predominantly in the American traditional style, Lee’s work includes the usual cast of characters you’d expect from the style: skulls, bears, daggers, lady heads, and flowers. What sets him apart, though, is his unique ability to apply color in a way that mimics what most painters do on a canvas. This is perhaps most prevalent in his lady head tattoos which make use of a full spectrum of color. Easily seen in the twinkling white and yellow stars of the Moon Girl, the golden beads and hair comb of the Spanish lady, and the delicate pearls atop the mermaid’s head, his ability to not only make use of color in an artful way, but his remarkable ability to make it come alive is what sets him apart as one of the greats.