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50 Shades of Black

Tattoo artist Alena Zozulenko prefers black and white tattoos, emphasizing their durability and how they cater to clients' desires for small, personalized designs. The black and white tattoo trend is gaining popularity in the US, previously associated with Europe.

Tattoofilter in Interviews

Insider has released the top five tattoo designs that will be popular this year. Among them are graphic gray wash tattoos. What makes them unique, and can they really be at the peak of popularity in 2023? We discussed it with our expert, tattoo artist Alena Zozulenko, who works in the New York studio Dot Create Group and prefers black and white images on the body to color.

A Matter of Technique

First, let's dive a little deeper into the process of creating black and white gray wash tattoos. In terms of equipment, it is all pretty routine – a tattoo machine and ink. But in our case, the color is just black. Of course, the artist also uses other shades that are close to black, for example, to add volume to the pattern. To get the necessary range of shades, the ink is diluted or a ready-to-use set is bought. The next step is to apply the pattern to the skin. However, it is sometimes more difficult to make it really spectacular than with colored tattoos.

Alena Zozulenko, Tattoo Artist, Dot Create Group: "Colored tattoos usually always look spectacular on the body; they attract attention. With black and white, it is more difficult. A lot depends on a particular artist, on his professionalism. For a pattern to look good, you need to work not only with the composition but also with the silhouette. On the other hand, black tattoos stay on the body much longer in their original form. This is because black ink is more durable. This is especially true with small black and white tattoos. I've seen a lot of colored miniature tattoos that don't really look presentable or heal well over time. With the black and white style, these risks are almost nil."


Some time ago, industry experts saw a strong demand for large tattoos, but it is already clear that the trend is changing. More and more clients are opting for small tattoos – minimalist, graphic, and detailed. Tattoo artists have at least two explanations for this. First, it is always easier to start with a small tattoo. Over time, you can even create a whole composition of several designs united by one concept. The second reason is technical. Tattoo equipment is constantly improving, and the same goes for ink production. Modern tattoo artists have many more options to create complex and at the same time small-sized tattoos.

Alena Zozulenko, Tattoo Artist, Dot Create Group: "I’m sure you shouldn't choose trendy tattoos, but rather ones that the client likes. It should be understood that a tattoo is not a branded thing that you buy today and throw away next season. That's why I always pay attention to the client's wishes. I make two or three sketches that we can adjust together right before the session. Besides, I never copy patterns from the Internet for my sketches. Yes, I may use something as a basis, but I will definitely add my own elements, my own vision. If you churn out tattoos without thinking, you can forget about the author's style forever. It is definitely not about me. I create my work from the ground up. I really like knowing that each such project is unique."

Alena says that she often has to use the freehand technique – when a pattern is applied directly on the body. It is very important to take into account the location of the tattoo, all anatomical features, so that in the end, the tattoo will "work" well and look beautiful from any angle, says A. Zozulenko.


When it comes to tattoo style, color realism and old school are still very popular in the U.S. But of course, there are also those who prefer black, graphic tattoos. However, finding the right tattoo artist in the U.S. can be difficult. Alena admits that many clients were very excited to see her in New York.

Alena Zozulenko, Tattoo Artist, Dot Create Group: "I have worked a lot in Europe, and I know that black and white tattoos are very popular there. In the U.S., this style is considered more of a European style, but it is slowly gaining popularity. It used to be that local clients had to go to Europe to get a tattoo in that style, but now I'm in the U.S. and I'm ready to get it going. Whether or not this trend will become more popular is hard to predict. But again, when choosing a tattoo, you should not be guided by fashion, but by your desire to convey your unique message to those around you."


During her time in the U.S., Alena noticed that the local tattoo industry is very closely connected to show business. It has its own celebrities with millions of followers on Instagram. Most of them are participants of reality shows about tattoos. By the way, not so long ago, A. Zozulenko received an offer to participate in a reality show as a tattoo artist. Alena is still thinking about it.

Alena Zozulenko, Tattoo Artist, Dot Create Group: "In the U.S., our industry has long gone beyond the background and is as close to show business as possible. Large tattoo studios try to work not only with brands but also with celebrities. Actors, musicians, and top bloggers are happy to take part in collaborations. Tattooing is becoming a luxury service. There is a reason why so many high-priced studios are opening in the U.S. Clients are willing to pay, and tattoo artists are willing to create and develop their careers. I can say with confidence that the U.S. has all the ingredients."

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