Master Black and Gray Realism with Pro Artist Kasey Gonzo Gonzalez | Painful Pleasures Community

Master Black and Gray Realism with Pro Artist Kasey Gonzo Gonzalez

Achieve black and gray realism that heals impeccably with this pro artist. Check out Kasey's top supplies for tattooing realism.
by Danny Tress Last Updated: September 26, 2023

If you want to create iconic black and gray realism that’s several shades above the rest… you need to pay attention to Kasey “Gonzo” Gonzalez. One of the biggest complaints about black-and-gray realism is that it doesn’t hold up over time. Gonzo disproves this argument. All his work heals beautifully. In this blog, you’ll find out some of his secrets so you can make your own work just as fire. 

So, Who’s Gonzo? 

Gonzo tattooing a client's arm

Featured in Ink Master Seasons 1 and 11, Gonzo is an accomplished tattooer with countless adoring clients. He’s also the shop owner at Athens Tattoo in Harford County, Maryland. But above all, Gonzo prioritizes leveling up his skills as a realism tattooer. 

While Gonzo’s style is certainly hyper-realistic, it’s also abstract and eccentric. So technically speaking, he specializes in surrealism rather than straight-up realism. Browsing his portfolio, you’ll see striking faces, animals, and skulls with abstract elements added for zest. But you can take his approach to surrealism and apply it to all kinds of realism tattooing… from portraiture to landscapes. Moreover, you can take plenty of inspiration from Gonzo’s twist on realism to make the style your own, too. 

Get one step closer to making your work heal as beautifully as Gonzo’s with: 

  1. His favorite tattoo supplies 
  2. His pro tips for improving your work 


Close up of Gonzo tattooing an arm

Here are all Gonzo’s favorite go-to supplies no matter what project he’s working on. Find out how each of his go-tos help him achieve his best work (and how they’ll help you, too!)


Gonzo first fell in love with the FK Irons Flux. So, it only makes sense that he’s progressed to using the Flux Max. The Flux Max gives him wireless flexibility to take on every angle of a new surrealist piece. Plus, it lets him see exactly what voltage he’s working with. Tracking your running voltage is vitally important to this style. You want to make sure you’re not operating your machine at too high a voltage when your tattoo requires light shading or soft detailing. 

Every artist is different, but Gonzo personally loves the 4mm stroke version of the Flux Max. He loves to let his needles hang. Before he started using the Flux and Flux Max, Gonzo struggled with letting his needles hang. Other models didn’t let his needles retract enough to let him tattoo consistently without hitting a dry spell. But with the Flux Max, he doesn’t encounter those hurdles. Take that or leave it but know that the Flux Max gives you three stroke length options: 3.2mm, 4.0mm, and 4.5mm. So, if you don’t like to let your needles hang as much, you might opt for a different stroke than Gonzo.  


Finding the ideal graywash and lining black ink for you is key to realism that’s as good as Gonzo’s. Gonzo counts on Empire Ink for its buttery smooth flow. He achieves his most effective realism with this ink, which has just enough gray in it… not too much, so that he might accidentally go too dark in some spots. He favors the Empire Whitewash Set for faces, detailing, you name it. 

But for those times when Gonzo wants to go super-dark and pack in the black, he turns to Panthera tattoo ink. Panthera, in fact, is what Gonzo used to black out his forearm. He digs the thin, fast-flowing consistency that goes right into the skin. 


If you want to craft iconic realism like Gonzo’s, you might find success with Peak Quartz needles. They’re Gonzo’s top weapon of choice for signature black and gray work that always heals beautifully. Lots of factors go into how his work heals so well, but his needle choices are a big one. That’s largely because Quartz is a quality-constructed cartridge option that doesn’t cause excessive trauma to the skin. 

Quartz also gives Gonzo all his favorite varieties. His go-to configurations, you might ask? Definitely #8 Bugpins for delicate lining and detailing. These super thin needles have the perfect amount of flexion and delicacy for handling the small details that make realism so real. Consider adding them to your own lineup. 

But for a lot of his portraiture, Gonzo also counts on plenty of round shaders and #9 magnums to get his smoothest shades and gradations. Gonzo also digs Quartz for its one-of-a-kind stabilizer that keeps his needles on track. Finding a sturdy needle that doesn’t wobble is essential for black-and-gray realism since it requires so much hyper-concentration and focus. 


Ditch your paper towels! Gonzo praises Wipeoutz premium tattoo wipes for being a super-soft alternative for clean wipe-age. He especially likes the fact that they don’t leave behind any fibers or residue. That can get messy when you’re trying to concentrate on crafting a perfect portrait tattoo. Plus, Wipeoutz are completely sterile and durable… you’ll get much more use out of them! 


Particularly as a black and gray artist, you’ll want a tray that lets you organize every shade you need. You don’t want to dip into the wrong ink cap and grab a darker wash than you intended. That’s why Kasey uses the Precision Needle Tray to keep everything organized by shade. 


Ok, the small daily essentials can be exciting too! These bad boys are, in Gonzo’s humble opinion, “super-clutch.” He praises the fact that you can easily pop off the razor cap with one hand. And, most importantly, they give you a super clean shave for a great tattooable surface area. In Gonzo’s terms, “you can shave the shit out of people” with a good Saferly disposable razor. 


Meet Gonzo, tour his setup, and find out a few of his secrets to nailing black-and-gray realism + marketing it on his Instagram. 


  Look to other successful artists to better your own skills! And be sure to share your favorite tips on Instagram or TikTok… whether it’s for black and gray realism, color tattooing, or whatever your signature style might be. 

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