Unlocking the Secrets to Illustrative Realism with Teresa Sharpe | Painful Pleasures Community

Unlocking the Secrets to Illustrative Realism with Teresa Sharpe

Illustrative realism requires intense technical know-how and a little personalization. Learn the best tips with Teresa Sharpe.
by Danny Tress Last Updated: March 1, 2024

Illustrative realism isn’t a cut-and-paste style… it’s highly personal. It looks wildly different depending on who’s tattooing. Every brushstroke, every hue, and every detail harmonizes and reflects the artist’s personality to create a lifelike, highly custom masterpiece. And because illustrative realism is so broad, it can branch off wherever you want to take it… pop culture, abstractions, and even landscapes. But despite being so versatile, it’s a technically demanding style tool. For your best illustrative realism, you need to master:

  • Linework (bold, delicate, and everything in between)
  • Stippling
  • Dotwork
  • Shading + Whipshading
  • Color Packing

Enter Teresa Sharpe, your illustrative realism guru. She describes her style as somewhere in the realm of illustrative realism (with a touch of neotraditional elements). While her illustrative style won’t look exactly like yours, she can teach you a thing or two about making yours better.


Looking at Teresa Sharpe’s portfolio, you’ll see portraits, abstractions, and fantastical concepts with realistic flair. You’ll also notice a striking balance between rich, vibrant color and black and gray. Perhaps most noticeably, you’ll see how well her pieces flow with the body, coming to life in a way that makes them look like natural extensions of the skin.

But Teresa Sharpe isn’t just a tattoo artist—she’s a visionary and a shop owner! She’s been the proud owner of Unkindness Art in Richmond, Virginia since 2015, a shop that calls itself a “purveyor of high-quality, custom tattoos and fine art.” With over a decade of experience refining her trademark illustrative style, Teresa herself is a purveyor of fine art who’s attracted clients from all over. Her work transcends the boundaries of traditional tattooing, but she’s nonetheless mastered the technical, foundational skills necessary for her work to evolve. whose work transcends the boundaries of traditional tattooing. With a career spanning over a decade and accolades that speak volumes, Teresa has cemented her place as one of the industry’s most revered artists. Her passion, dedication, and unwavering commitment to her craft are evident in her expansive portfolio which you can check out on her Insta.

Another thing you need to know about Teresa? She and all her fellow artists at Unkindness Art believe tattooing is for all bodies. Consequently, she’s mastered the art of creating illustrative realism work that looks stunning on all manner of skin tones and body types.


Achieving illustrative realism that comes to life on the skin isn’t just a matter of personal skill (although that’s a huge part of it). It’s also about using quality tattoo supplies that complement the way you work. Check out Teresa’s favorite go-to’s for creating her best illustrative realism. You’ll learn what these supplies are good for and how Teresa employs her skills to make tattoos that pack a vibrant punch.


Tattoo by Teresa Sharpe

When it comes to bringing her illustrative realism visions to life, Teresa Sharpe relies on the Cheyenne Sol Nova, which she calls “next level” as far as cordless machines go. With its unparalleled precision and versatility, this powerhouse of a machine allows Teresa to create the bold lines, intricate details, and seamless blends required to bring her work to life. All three of these techniques are evident in her large-scale work (a lot of her work is large-scale) not only to bring the tattoo to life but to ensure it flows with the body (learn more about making tattoos flow in our blog here).

You can see how her seamless blending and attention to detail fit perfectly with the contours of her client here in this full-back piece of Centuarides. She likes the long 5.0 stroke on her machine, the longer stroke length helping her create richer color and detailing. But even more than the technical elements, the Cheyenne Sol Nova gives Teresa Sharpe the stamina she needs to power through these massive masterpieces.

“I would say the battery on these things lasts a solid six to seven hours […]And I tattoo generally seven to seven-and-a-half hours a day, so that’s really important to me.”


Cheyenne needle cartridge in action

Obviously, Teresa Sharpe asserts, if she’s using a Cheyenne machine (and loving it), then she’s reaching for Cheyenne needles, too. This is largely because Cheyenne designs their needle cartridges to work optimally with their machines, so it’s the perfect dynamic duo. For creating lines of all varieties, Teresa has a very specific set of go-to configurations:

“For liners, I definitely like the 7.25, which is like their tight 7, and I like their tight 3s a lot. If I want a slightly bolder line, I’ll use the 7 power. But I do occasionally get out just a regular 7 later.”

Same goes for shading—Teresa’s definitely found her favorite configurations for her best illustrative shading work.

“I like to use the 7 mag, 9 mag, and 13 mags for shading.”

In Teresa Sharpe’s world, every stroke matters, Cheyenne cartridges offer the precision and control she demands, ensuring that every detail is executed with perfection.


Eternal tattoo ink

Every artist has a favorite ink. For Teresa Sharpe, Eternal is the go-to.

“They always seem to have colors that I can rely on. They heal well. They look nice. They go in easy. They’re definitely my main source of color.”

Finding a reliable ink that heals well is imperative for Teresa’s particular brand of colorful illustrative realism. She blends colors with finesse and has a keen eye for choosing palettes that marry gorgeously in every piece. Fusion Ink also provides Teresa with the smooth, consistent flow she needs to bring her imagination to life. For her bold black lines, she counts on Eternal black or occasionally Allegory Blak for ultimate richness.


Skull ink caps by Saferly

Okay… so these have nothing to do with illustrative realism and how you can make it better. But. Who doesn’t love an edgy setup? In Teresa Sharpe’s studio, every detail matters—including the ink caps. That’s why she reaches for Saferly Skull Ink Caps instead of anything standard. But it isn’t just about the fact that she thinks the “skull guys” are cute.

“Aside from that, they just hold ink. And they do it well.”


Close-up of Teresa Sharpe tattooing

Teresa Sharpe is new to Recovery CBD Foam Soap… and she gives it a thumbs-up. Infused with soothing CBD and natural ingredients, this cleansing soap calms the skin. Reduced redness and irritation help Teresa’s work heal better. But it also helps with visibility, keeping her canvas workable. Keeping the skin moist and nourished helps preserve her work and keep it vibrant.

“It definitely helps keep things from drying out and starting to like try to get crusty and heal over while I’m still working on other areas.”


Full-body tattoo by Teresa Sharpe

When it comes to preserving her artwork, Teresa Sharpe trusts Derm Shield to provide the ultimate protection. This transparent, breathable barrier film promotes optimal healing, ensuring that Teresa’s creations remain vibrant. With its durable construction and easy application, Derm Shield gives Teresa the peace of mind she needs. Consequently, she can focus on her artistry, knowing that her masterpieces are in good hands.


Teresa Sharpe’s insights into her favorite supplies and techniques are your key to work that wows. By leveraging her expertise and passion, you can take your illustrative realism to the next level! Try o ut some of her favorite supplies or tips to build your illustrative portfolio that attracts thousands of clients.

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