Kasey “Gonzo” Gonzalez’s Top 5 Tips for Realism Tattooing | Painful Pleasures Community

Kasey “Gonzo” Gonzalez’s Top 5 Tips for Realism Tattooing

Surrealism tattoo artist Kasey "Gonzo" Gonzalez shares his top 5 tips for tattooing realistically in black and gray.
by Danny Tress Last Updated: October 13, 2021

Kasey “Gonzo” Gonzalez is one of the top hyper-realistic tattooers in the game. His portfolio is full of imaginative black and grey tattoos so life-like, they pop off the skin. His mesmerizing works of surrealism have clients lining up from around the world. With an appearance on Ink Master season 11 and thousands of fans worldwide, Gonzo has earned his crown as a black-and-gray realism expert. 

We got the chance to visit Gonzo’s shop, Athens Tattoo in Bel Air, Maryland, and chat with him about his process. Check out his top 5 tips for tattooing black and grey realism below. 

Gonzo Tip #1: Know Your Values 

“I see a lot of black and grey artists that have decent, but not correct value. […] People don’t understand the difference between what’s really, really light versus what’s actually true white. The same thing goes for what’s really, really dark versus what’s actually [just] black. I feel like people will simplify too much […] but if you’re trying to do a real genuine realism [tattoo], you have to pay attention to those [tones].” 

Gonzo Tip #2: Work That Needle Tip 

“I run my machine really fast and hang my needle a good bit. I like to work off the tip of the needle a lot when I do that. It makes it so the ink traces and chases my needle and I can do large areas without ever having to stop and wipe, which seems to me like it’ll cut down on irritation […] I can get my blends a lot smoother just by running off the tip of the needle.” 

Gonzo Tip #3: Ointment, Ointment, and More Ointment! 

“Use the f*** out of ointment […] I’m not saying [to] put a thick-a** layer on somebody. But consistently wipe ointment in the skin to keep it smooth, so that way your needle can glide across it. That’s one of my big, big things […] just using a lot of ointment other than working bottom-up, obviously just to preserve your stencil.” 

Gonzo Tip #4: Do What Works for You 

“Some people are big on working from dark to light. Some people are big on doing the opposite. To me, it all depends on the area. Sometimes, I’ll map the blacks in, and sometimes, I have to start with light shading.” 

Gonzo’s Ultimate Tip #5: It’s All in the Eyes 

“The best advice I give somebody trying to do realism is to really pay attention to what you’re looking at. [Realism tattooing is about] training your eyes as much as it is training your hands.” 

You can see Gonzo in action on our YouTube channel, where he takes you through his complete setup tour, including all his favorite products. You can also check out Gonzo and Harlan Kantner’s tips for collaboration and see what they created by blending their styles. Also, be sure to explore Kasey “Gonzo” Gonzalez’s full portfolio on his Instagram page. 

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