Forget Chinese characters and the Southern Cross, there is much more to tattoos than following kitsch trends.

Tattooing is considered a craft by many in the industry and rightly so.

"It's an informal apprenticeship. It's a craft that's handed down from master to apprentice," says Kian Forreal from Inner Vision Tattoo in Sydney.

Forreal says it takes years of practice before you develop a skills set.


The drawing he does at home is only one aspect of the process, he says, "but the craft of getting the art onto the skin is the real technical stuff".

Alvaro Flores from Korpus Studio in Melbourne agrees practice makes perfect.

"Drawing is really important. You need to draw and know what way you want your tattoo to be because it's totally different to draw on the paper and afterwards on the skin," he says.

Born in Spain, Flores says travelling helped him develop as a tattoo artist as he had the chance to work with different artists and learn their styles.

Flores got his first tattoo aged 14, while Forreal was 15 when he got his.

When asked what the attraction is, Forreal says: "Having something on your skin that's there, it's not coming off and if it's done right and it looks good it's a powerful kind of thing. It's a bit magical."

He also says it's important to find a tattoo artist you can trust to do a good job, as well as someone you connect with.

"You want to have a good memento of your experience as well as the tattoo itself so having a skilled artist is good but having a decent person helps too," Forreal says.

Canadian-born Forreal says designs always follow trends, such as the tribal arm bands popular in the 90s.

Before then, dolphins and little roses were in fashion, and now, he says, many people are opting for coloured portraits.

Black and grey work is still being done, as well as the Japanese styles he bases his designs around.

Forreal says he tries to stick to the traditional motifs and compositions of the Edo period (1600-1868) in Japan.

Much of his work covers the entire back. These large-scale tattoos take about 60 hours and are done in stages over a number of weeks. The smallest tattoo he would do is half a sleeve.

He also uses a lot of vibrant colour, such as lime greens, pinks, reds and yellows.

For people considering inking themselves, Forreal recommends doing research and finding a style you will always be happy with.

"It's a very 'now' culture we have ... but this is something that's going to be stuck with you for your whole life.

"If you go and get something silly like a band's name or a logo from a pop culture thing at the moment, in five years it's going to be irrelevant and you'll probably regret it.

"For me tattooing is more of a classic artform where you're buying a piece of art and wearing it. It's something that you're going to wear 'til the day you die..."