Permanent Display: The Art of Tattooing Finds a New Canvas on Glass

Over the past couple of decades, tattoos have grown in popularity—and for many different reasons. For some people, it’s cultural; for others, it’s to remember or honor a loved one. Reasons can include self-expression, artistic freedom and individuality. People draw inspiration for their tattoos from many sources. But what if the tattoo was the inspiration for another form of design?

That was the case for Massachusetts eyewear designer Todd Rogers, whose 1/4 sleeve—a tattoo covering much of the arm— inspired the design of his son’s glass shower. And Rogers knew just where to go to make that happen.

Rogers’ wife is Leigh Berberian, creative/marketing director for HMI. For years, the company has been digitally printing glass, including shower glass, with unique designs and patterns. However, this was the first time they had a request to print a tattoo on glass.

Next, Rogers went to the source of the tattoo, Mike Shea of Redemption Tattoo in Cambridge, Mass., a high-end tattoo artist who was responsible for creating his sleeve.

“We called Mike and said we wanted to make the world’s first-ever tattoo shower,” says Berberian.

Shea started tattooing in 1997 after exiting the U.S. Marine Corps. Over the years, he’s done a variety of projects and says it was his work on some large-scale Japanese tattoos that helped establish him as someone to go to for large-scale work.

And while he’s done a lot of illustration work for companies, until now, he’d never had a request to design for glass.

“Honestly, I didn’t know what to think. I just rolled with it,” he says of the request. “It sounded pretty cool, but I had no idea how cool it would look. I was blown away,” he says.

Shea created his client’s shower artwork as a digital line drawing that HMI scanned into a vector image. HMI’s in-house creative/graphics team manipulated the image, adding color, visual texture and opacity. The finished, full image spans two shower glass panels—a stationary panel and a door—both 30 inches wide by 74 inches high.

“The process was similar to what I do for clients every day,” says Shea. “I create custom designs for all my clients, so this was very similar. The only difference was that it was on a flat surface rather than the human body.”

While the sleeve was the inspiration, there are a few differences in the finished product.

“We added a few more whimsical elements such as the dragon because it was for a little boy,” says Berberian. “We were building a house, and it all started with his favorite color, which is orange.”

They played off the orange in the koi fish on the tattoo to develop the idea for the shower.

While creating the artwork was similar, the process of applying an image to glass vs. skin is different. For example, when a tattoo is inked onto skin, there is shading and contouring, but there’s no transparency, as with glass. HMI’s director of print, Cayti Renaud, says that allowed them to play with colors and light.

“This was a fun project because we had a lot of freedom,” she says. “I think the colors all work together because the opacity varies, and it just shimmers.”

She says that being able to play with the colors was great because they could do a lot of customization. For example, they used colors that would stand out against the blue tile.

The project’s success resulted from the collaboration with the client, artist and fabricator. And while it may not happen every day, there are opportunities to do more.

“It’s educating everyone from architects and designers to homeowners that they can have custom artwork in the bathroom,” says Berberian.

This might also not be Shea’s last design for glass. “I was beyond impressed,” he says. “After seeing the finished product, I instantly had a few ideas that could be done in this format. I’m not sure what the limitations are on [the glass] end, but on my end, it seems limitless what you can do with this. I’d love to do something very subtle on the glass, almost like it was sandblasted. That would be cool.”

Ellen Rogers is the editor of USGlass magazine. Follow her on Twitter @USGlass and like USGlass on Facebook to receive updates.

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