Tattoo Styles – Negative Space / Reverse Shading Tattoos

Posted on 24 September 2012 by Karen L. Hudson

Negative Space Tattoo by Cory Ferguson

One style of tattooing that has gained in popularity over the years is the negative space style. Negative space art has been around for a long time, and it’s created simply by coloring or shading outside the design instead of inside (which is why it’s sometimes referred to as reverse shading). Because the inside of the design lacks detail, this particular tattoo style works best with simple, geometric shapes. But it doesn’t always have to be completely flat.

Pumpkin Carving - An Example of Negative Space Imagery

Think of pumpkin carving patterns. These images are purposely created in reverse so that the light and dark areas are opposite from how they would be in a “normal” drawing. If your skin replaces the “lighted” areas of the design, and the tattoo ink fills in the dark areas, you can create very intricate patterns with this type of style. Don’t limit yourself! Reverse shading tattoos don’t have to be tribal or stars – there are many other options once you broaden your mind creatively.

Just about any negative image can be duplicated on skin. If the detail is too close, your artist may decide to reduce some of it for the sake of clarity, but the image itself should still provide the same dynamic effect.

Negative Space Flowers Tattoo by Jon - Larsons Tattooing

Keep in mind, too, that the entire tattoo image doesn’t have to be done in negative space imagery – you can highlight or add dynamics to a regular tattooed design by adding just a few negative spaces images around it or in the background. This butterflies and lilies tattoo by Jon at Larsons Tattooing is a good example of that. The butterflies and flowers are done in normal positive space imaging with negative space stars and swirls in the background to add dynamics to the overall image.

Negative space tattoos go hand-in-hand with Dotwork Tattoos and oftentimes you’ll find the same artists doing both.

More Examples of Negative Space Tattoos

About the Guru:
Karen L. Hudson has been writing for the body art community since 1999. She is the author of Chick Ink: 40 Stories of Tattoos--and the Women Who Wear Them and Living Canvas: Your Total Guide to Tattoos, Piercings, and Body Modification. After leaving her position as's body art expert in 2011, she founded Tat2Guru to continue her efforts as a safety and acceptance advocate for the body art community. Read Her Full Bio

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