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Review: Doc 'Color Outside The Lines' Educates On Black Tattoo Artists & Breaking Industry Mold

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by Vanessa Martinez
July 3, 2012 9:30 AM
2 Comments
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Now available on DVD for purchase through the film’s website, the feature length documentary Color Outside The Lines was conceived by Tattoo artist Miya Bailey, owner of the Atlanta, GA tattoo shop City of Ink. The doc, in the making for five years, is directed by Artemus Jenkins, who is mostly known for directing music videos.

Color Outside The Lines, which features the crème of the crop of Black tattoo artists including Bailey, Zulu, and veteran artist and New Orleans shop owner Jacci Gresham, educates viewers on preconceived notions about Black tattoo artists and Black owned tattoo shops.

The doc begins with a quick history of the tattoo industry and what it means for Black culture as a whole. Renown artist Zulu, who owns the prestigious Zulu Tattoo shop in L.A.., early on clarifies that tattoos have been part of African culture from the beginning of times.

There is an enduring perception, one that has changed somewhat over the years, that real tattoo artists are Caucasian. Jacci Gresham, who has been in the tattooing business for over 35 years, talks about her struggles, as a woman nonetheless, setting up shop in the segregated south.

And it’s not just an underground movement. With the rise of rap artists and the “tatted-up” look, tattoos are in high demand. However, as the doc will reiterate, there is a lot of ignorance among those looking to acquire a “look,” as the emphasis becomes more on quantity at a low cost regardless of the consequences, which include a botched tattoos and/or infections.

The doc emphasizes the passion and struggles of true Black artists who have worked arduously for years on perfecting the craft. These artists have to fight stereotypes that have emerged from the illicit business, more like the hustle, of “scratchers” - mostly non-professionals who use rudimentary tools and unsanitary methods to tattoo, or scratch, for a quick dollar.

And it’s really nothing new, most tattoo artists start as scratchers; but unfortunately, these methods of backyard tattooing - much of which is commonplace in prisons – can tarnish the practice and image of real Black tattoo artists and their shops.

These tattoo artists take pride in their art, which has evolved through the years, from using two tones, to a vast variety of colors and shading techniques to add dimension and vivid realism to tattoos. Another interesting and important aspect is the art on tattooing darker skin, which is totally different than tattooing fairer types.  

It’s not easy work, and it’s work that requires time and dedication. We see also get to see how the long hours can leave little time for personal relationships. There were also so many stories – which are quite interesting - that I felt I didn’t have enough time to fully engage with one of them.  I also wish that the doc would’ve focused the process of tattooing darker skin, and perhaps shown interviews with patrons about what their tattoos mean to them. But then, I’m not a real fan of tattoos per say, although I have admired the work on some people; plus the work shown in the doc is pretty stunning. 

Color Outside The Lines is definitely a must-watch for aspiring artists and fans, especially for the former. The film documents subjects trying to get an apprenticeship, which by the way, can be a long process for little pay, if any. For those fervent about pursuing this line of work, perfecting the craft, just like any other artistic pursuit, can lead to a rewarding career.

Watch the trailer below:

Color Outside the Lines (Trailer) from artemus jenkins on Vimeo.

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2 Comments

  • No | July 3, 2012 10:13 AMReply

    Interesting. I've never been impressed with the tattoos on dark-skinned black folks: they tend to look as if they have some sort of green-skin fungi, and it seems from this trailer that the people with the more colorful and contrasting tats tend to be the lighter skinned folks. However, it would be interesting to see this film and get an education.

  • troy | July 3, 2012 9:46 AMReply

    I would watch just to here about the darker skin premise, too bad it wasn't detailed. Did it address the rampant heroine use amongst tattoo artists?

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