Dotwork tattoos have rapidly risen in popularity over the last few years. Here's all you need to know about his versatile, quirky style...
One tattoo style to rapidly rise in popularity over the last few years is dotwork. Now a highly sought-after style, a lot of amazing tattoo artists are experimenting with dotwork tattoos to create some intriguing and unique pieces. A versatile style that can be used across an entire tattoo design, or on one or two elements of the piece, dotwork gives you great flexibility and very cool aesthetic options.

But what are dotwork tattoos? Where did the style originate? What kind of designs can be done in this style? So many questions. Fortunately, we have all the answers…

What Are Dotwork Tattoos?

The dotwork tattoo style is created by inking a series of dots that come together to create the desired image. Highly versatile for full images, portraits, and particularly shading, artists often use dotwork for an element of a design that is otherwise done in a different style.

When shading using the dotwork style, it’s not unusual for an artist to opt for black, dark blue, or grey ink, and increasingly we are seeing the use of red.

Dotwork tattoos are a great way to create a unique tattoo of virtually any image. From a distance these tattoos look like a solid image, it’s only on closer inspection that it becomes obvious it’s an illusion created by a pattern of small dots.

How Pointillism Inspired The Style…

A lot of the inspiration behind dotwork tattoos came from pointillism, a very popular pointing technique. Similar to dotwork, pointillism creates dynamic images from lots and lots of tiny dots of paint.

As a technique, it was first popularised as a branch of impressionism in the late 1800s. Two of pointillism’s signature artists were Georges Seurat and Paul Signac. It was, however, later adopted as a style by Vincent Van Gogh and Camille Pissarro, as well as others.

Dotwork Tattoos Through The Ages…

The origins of tattoos can be traced to the Iceman and ancient Egypt’s female mummies. One of the oldest traditions known, humans have been tattooing themselves for over five thousand years. 

Of all the design quirks found in ancient tattoos, dotwork is one they share. Research into the dotwork tattoos of the Iceman – affectionately known as Otzi – indicate there may have been a medical intention behind them, in terms of pain relief. 

Tattoos in ancient Egypt seem to have belonged almost exclusively to women. While initial theories around their purpose predictably called them the mark of prostitutes, or a means of protecting women from STDs, further examples of dotwork tattoos around women’s thighs, breasts, and abdomen indicate they may have been used to relieve pain during pregnancy and childbirth.

While there’s nothing to suggest modern dotwork does anything to alleviate pain, and it quite definitely isn’t something to get done while pregnant, it’s fascinating to know this quirky design style may originally have been created to treat pain.

These days we worry more about the risks of contracting Hepatitis B or HIV from tattooing than we would ever consider they might be beneficial for one’s health. That being said, there’s quite a lot to be said for using tattooing as a means of coping with the desire to self-harm. Dotwork tattoos are also some of the most feel-good tattoos you can get, with their creation feeling much softer than many traditional tattoos. 

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Tattoo Designs That Lend Themselves To Dotwork…

While the dotwork technique lends itself to a lot of different tattoo styles there are certain designs more commonly seen. Mandalas and other geometric designs are particularly common in the dotwork style, as are religious or spiritual tattoo designs.

While mandalas are created using a series of circles, dotwork can be used both to create the circles, and to augment the circle pattern with additional shapes depicted in a series of dots.

Geometric tattoo designs are similarly achieved through the creation of intriguing yet very simple designs that utilise various shapes. Here, the dotwork will frequently be used as a means of adding depth and shade to the shapes, although some geometric tattoos are created entirely from very tiny dots. 

Shading, in general, is regularly achieved through delicate dotwork, which is able to achieve subtleties that wouldn’t otherwise be possible, really bringing a piece to life. 

Another popular use for the dotwork style is in negative space tattoos. Here, the image is created by the space that isn’t tattooed. The tattoo, instead, forms a backdrop that reveals the shape of the true subject through the areas left untattooed.

Stick And Poke Vs Machine-Made Designs…

While dotwork designs can be created by your tattoo artist using their regular machine, there’s something to be said for the handmade technique, frequently called ‘stick and poke’. 

If you’re looking for a more personal, organic finish to your tattoo there’s a lot to be said for opting for the ‘stick and poke’ method. In addition to being more original, it lends your artist greater precision, as they’re not contending with a vibrating machine.

Popular among celebrities like Debby Ryan, Kesha, and Noah Cyrus, the hand-poking technique actually has a bit of a reputation. This is largely due to the fact prison tattoos are frequently created using this method, due to the absence of other machinery. And yet, in the hands of a professional tattoo artist, the hand poking method can create amazing subtlety and detail. 

Looking For A Dotwork Tattoo Artist?

Several members of our elite artists’ network specialise in dotwork tattoos, check them out below…