Tattoo History: Flash Art

Flash Art

Image source: via Wikipedia

Walking into a tattoo shop can almost be overwhelming to the senses. The incessant buzzing of tattoo machines, the sharp smell of disinfectants, and the walls covered with bright and colorful tattoo designs can combine for a sensory overload, but there is no denying that it can also be a very enjoyable experience.

Why ‘Flash’?

The posted images of tattoo designs that you can find on the walls of almost every tattoo shop in the world is known as “flash,” which is a name that comes from a time at the start of tattooing when artists had to work on the move, as tattooing was still very much an elicit practice. It was done mostly in locations that were frequented only by men at the time, such as bars or barber shops.

Artists would set up temporary shop in an existing business, and string their hand drawn designs wherever there was room, trying to attract customers. If the artist had to leave for any reason, he could grab his sheets of tattoo designs, and be “gone in a flash.”

Popular Flash Artists and Images

Even though today’s tattoo artists no longer have to worry about making a quick getaway, the name has stuck, and it’s not the only thing to still be around from the time when tattooing first got its start. Much of the iconic imagery from the early 20th century is still popular today, and can be found in many shops around the world.

Many of the designs and tattoo motifs that were created by such legendary artists such as Bert Grimm, Owen Jensen, Charlie Wagner, Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins is still used in flash art to this day. Some of the most popular images include eagles, daggers, skulls, hearts, ships, and butterflies. Today’s tattooists have taken the stellar flash created by the greats and added their own “twist” to the them, coming up with pictures of tattoos that are ready to be done, or to be used as inspiration for a brand new creation.

Sharing Flash Designs

These days, tattoo artists share their work with one another electronically, but in the days before the Internet, artists would trade flash with each other in person or through the mail, sharing their knowledge, techniques, and creativity with one another.

In the 1950s and 1960s, tattoo supply companies such as Spaulding and Rogers began to rise up to provide the tools of the tattooing trade, such as needles and tattoo machines. They also provided printed sheets of tattoo flash to shops, and the artists would then add color to the designs before hanging them on their shop walls as a way to advertise their available designs. This gave their customers hundreds of options for their tattoo choice, all of them ready to be placed at a moment’s notice.

The Unique Appeal of Flash

With the rise of custom tattoos in the 1980s and 1990s, flash made the switch from mass-produced designs to hand-painted and original artwork. This change allowed artists to showcase their own personal style, and present pre-prepared designs to customers that were looking for something unique, but weren’t quite sure what tattoo that they wanted to have done.

As well as it’s practical functions, flash usually serves as the decoration of a tattoo shop and can give the shop it’s own unique feel. All the flash on the walls at Cloak and Dagger is original and painted by the artists in the shop, and a lot of the sheets are available to purchase as prints. We are always painting new pages to add to the wall, so come down and take a look, and pick something just for you!