My Tattoos – Traditional Japanese Dragon by Forrest Cavacco

UPDATED in red below and with final healed pic. Scroll down if you’ve been here before!

So I had always planned to include posts on my tattoos for the blog but haven’t really been doing that so I’m starting now.

Yesterday I went to Allstar Ink Tattoo in Limerick to get a very traditional Japanese dragon on the left side of my chest from a superb tattooer named Forrest Cavacco.

Check out this blog post I did way back about how good a shop Allstar Ink Tattoo is.

You can see more of Forrest’s work over at his blog here at the Forrest Cavacco Blog or you can check out his gallery over here at Cobra Custom Tattoo website, which is the shop he normally works out of.

I’d been planning to get a dragon on the left side of my chest to complement the Hanya / Hannya mask I already have on the opposite side. I’ll do a blog post on that one at some point.

Forrest and I debated whether to do a 3/4 turn dragon or to do one straight on. The more traditional approach would see it as a 3/4, considering the Hanya on the opposite side is a 3/4 turn already. Forrest is usually a traditionalist in this regard but we both thought that seeing as it wasnt an addition to a larger series of traditional Japanese pieces, maybe we needn’t be constrained by that traditional approach. So we decided to have a look at what a straight on one would look like.

Here’s his quick hand drawing on me of the straight on option. He literally sketched that on in marker in about 90 seconds or so.

dragon straight sketch

We discussed it and we sought input from a few of the other artists in the shop – Ross Nagle, Chris Nunez as well as Shop Manager Dale -  and we decided we liked it but that we’d draw on the 3/4 turn and see how it looked.

So we did and we ALL preferred it so that’s what we went with.

Here’s a pic of the first stage complete which was all the main outline of the tattoo.

Dragon 1

Forrest had decided that he’d be drawing on the background stuff freehand which I was excited about. That’s always a sign of an artist comfortable with his craft. It was especially exciting as the background of a piece is extra important in traditional Japanese work as it’s always been seen as the key to making the main element pop.

Here’s a pic of it once he did the background.

Dragon bacground

Once that was done it was time to fill in the scales on the dragon’s claws. It made sense to do this next as it involved still working in black ink.

Dragon bg + scales

That’s generally how tattooers do it. In as much as possible, they try to do colours one at a time and do whatever elements need to be in that colour at the same time.

With the vast majority of the black work done, it was time to get in to the colour stuff. Now, for me, I always much prefer the colouring in. It is literally that; colouring in. I enjoy the needle work of that much more than drawing straight lines in black.

Forrest has perfected his Japanese work under the guidance of Horiyoshi III who is one of the recognised masters of the style. As a result he has very set feelings on what colours will work for which elements. With that said he always offers a choice of colours for each element. It’s just that it’s likely to be a choice between two colours! haha

He had asked me originally if I had an overall colour plan for the piece but I had said no. I wanted him to advise in that regard. That’s how I approach most of my tattoos. I tend to research my tattooers and choose them on the basis of their work and my feeling that I can trust them to make important decisions on the tattoo from an experienced perspective, thus ensuring I get as good a piece as they can do.

He was keen to do the main dragon head in what will soften to being a grey of sorts. It looks a bit different at the minute. Beyond that colours were to be used as accents to the main grey.

Et, voila.

Dragon final

So, by way of UPDATE below is a pic of the final healed product, 2 weeks later.

You can see how much of the colour in the pic above was actually bruising and swelling.

The colours have settled as designed and it’s looking good.

dragon final healed

As you can see the dragon’s face is a much lighter colour than it looked and the yellow accents are more muted too.

The red has stayed popping and the shading in the background is more visible now.

This piece has healed better than any other tattoo I have. It literally di not peel or flake one bit. Amazing.

The piece on my arm that it joins up with is a work in progress from a different artist. It’s a cubist style so COMPLETELY different to the traditional Japanese piece beside it. I like that contrast.

So there you have it. All done in just under 5 hours and that included a lot of craic and banter in the shop.

It truly is a superb shop with world class artists guesting very regularly.

If YOU are serious about a tattoo then get down to Ross or one of the guests.

So, do you like my dragon?

Do you think I’m mental?


    • Thanks Alan. The background in Jap traditionals is key. It tends to be the wind / waves effect, especially for chest panels like what I got. I love it. I love how it frames the piece. Detail in the dragon is exceptional.

    • Hi Luke. I’ve one sitting left for the cubist one. Bugs is doing it. I’m due over at the end of the Summer for it. Once it’s done I’ll be putting up a good post about it. It’s going to be one of my favourite pieces. Easily. Cheers for the comment.

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