Typography Today: Are Tattoo Artists Typographers?


When graffiti-turned-tattoo artist Kingsley Hayward first swapped out cans of spray paint for ink and rotary machines, he was primarily interested in producing darker images—like skulls, snakes and shrunken heads. “But lettering is quite popular; it doesn’t matter what kind of style you’re into, everybody loves lettering,” the London-based artist says. “I got asked quite a bit for lettering, so I steered that way.”

The self-proclaimed letterhead’s letters are exhaustively detailed with a level of intricacy that seems to combine elements of 16th-century Mannerist calligraphy with its gothic cousin, Fraktur.

typography and tattoos

“I like to base my stuff on structure, make sure everything matches up with something else so there’s a flow,” Hayward says. “I guess I have a rough idea in my head and then I go with it. No real method to the madness.”

His hybrid system of structure and madness is startlingly successful. Despite the few seconds it takes for the eye to adjust to the onslaught of detail, the letterforms seem to levitate above the swashes and exaggerated strokes and become quite legible. “I prefer to do a lot of small details that you might not pick up on straight away, but that bring everything together,” he says.

typography and tattoos

Almost paradoxically, he achieves this. Hayward draws inspiration from fellow script and lettering artists such as Scott Banks and El Whyner. And, of course, from his younger days as a graffiti artist.
“Graffiti and tattooing have a kind of strange friendship because your typical graffiti style doesn’t work as tattoos, but you can see graffiti’s huge influence in the majority of work by anyone who does lettering.”

typography and tattoos typography and tattoos


One thought on “Typography Today: Are Tattoo Artists Typographers?

  1. kariemil

    The difference between typography and calligraphy/lettering lies not in expression vs. clarity but reproduction vs. custom-made. Typography is mechanically reproducible and looks the same every time. Calligraphy and lettering are done by hand. So unless tattoo artists are using some kind of printing technology to create tattoos, then what they are doing is not typography but calligraphy/lettering.