Walking into a tattoo shop can be an attack on the senses – the incessant buzzing of tattoo machines and the smell of disinfectant are an acquired taste, but the walls and walls of tattoo designs, also known as tattoo flash, should have something for everyone to enjoy.

Cap Coleman in his shopCap Coleman in his tattoo shop

Flash by StoneyTattoo flash by Leonard “Stoney” St. Clair

Tattoo flash refers to the sheets of designs that you see on the walls of a tattoo shop. Iconic tattoo imagery from the early and mid 20th century is still popular today, and while the technology and (sometimes) the style have been updated, the designs and motifs remain the same. Eagles, daggers, skulls, hearts, ships and butterflies were drawn, painted and tattooed throughout the last 100 years by artists like Bert Grimm, Owen Jensen, Charlie Wagner, Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins, Les Skuse, Leonard “Stoney” St Clair to name but a few.

Swallow in his shop Swallow Tattoo Studio, Hong KongSwallow in his tattoo shop in Hong Kong

The name “flash” comes from the time when tattooers used to work on the move. They would set up shop in a bar or barber shop, string the sheets of designs together and hang them from the wall. Due to the illicit nature of the environments the tattooer may have to up and leave in a “flash”, hence the name. Nowadays tattoo artists don’t have the same problem, but the name has stuck – as have the designs. Today tattooers tend to use flash to show their own style by putting a twist on classic tattoo designs. Images on the wall are often ready to be tattooed, or can be used as inspiration for a new tattoo.

Flash by Owen JensenTattoo flash by Owen Jensen

In the days before the internet, artists would trade flash with each other in the mail or in person as a way of sharing their knowledge and creativity, a practice which continues today. With the rise of tattoo supply companies in the 50’s and 60’s, suppliers like Spaulding And Rogers would sell printed sheets of flash to tattoo shops that could be coloured by the artists and hung on the walls, giving potential customers hundreds of well made designs to choose from, all ready to be tattooed. With the rise of custom tattooing in the 80’s and 90’s, hand painted and original work began to replace mass produced flash. This allowed artists to showcase their style and their own pre-prepared designs outside of a portfolio.

lesskuseflashTattoo flash by Les Skuse

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 to get tattooed!

FlashWallSome flash on the wall at Cloak And Dagger

al-flashSome recent flash by Al-Boy

hugh-flashSome recent flash by Hugh Sheldon

Cloak and Dagger Tattoo Parlour 34 Cheshire Street, Shoreditch, London. E2 6EH.