Various film & TV show tattoos by Christien Tinsley using his custom-made transfers

This post is mostly aimed at UK (and non US-based) makeup artists who aren't familiar with Tinsley Studios and it's owner Christien Tinsley. Christien has been a makeup artist for a long time, he's a multi-Emmy nominee and in 2005 was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Makeup for his work on Passion of the Christ. He later developed a new technique, the Prosthetic Transfer, that earned him an Academy Award for Technical Achievement in 2007. He's pretty amazing.

Christien and Tinsley Studios create realistic looking tattoo transfers that are waterproof, easy to apply and potentially last for 4-7 days without the need for re-application, and are used in nearly every US film and TV show where there are fake tattoos (see his website for examples). His tattoo transfers are excellent and the studio is now available to supply UK makeup artists. I have used them and they are brilliant, so easy to use and boy do they last. They have tons of designs for you to choose from or they can use your own artwork, or they can design any look you want. (They also offer custom tattoo suits that provide an easy way to 'tattoo' background without the time and expense of transfers). 

I put this transfer on me so I could show the quality and length of time it lasted and specifically chose a large piece that covered the majority of my upper arm. I placed it on the inner side where it would rub the most and it was perfect for 4 days. In that time had 5 showers (with soap) and I went to a Bikram class twice, the really hot yoga where you sweat like a maniac for 90 mins. It only became less than perfect after 4 days.  

My transfer example on the 1st (left) and 4th (right) day

Check out the custom tattoos gallery on the Tinsley Studio website to see some examples and how great they look, all those tattoos were done by Christien using his tattoo transfers. Some of the large pieces, like the back, can be done all in one go, arms can be done in one but are sometimes broken up into forearm and upper arm pieces, it all depends on the look and the coverage areas. For a tricky curved area, such as arm sleeves, 
it's a good idea to get a pattern cast of the actor with proper measurements and contours of the body so they can create the tattoo so the images wrap according to the actor’s specific build, essentially like taking scalp measurements to build a perfectly fitting wig, or a life cast for personally fitted prosthetics. They liken this process to wrapping a piece of paper around a basketball: How do you make a basketball flat? How do you assemble the images so that they will piece together on a round surface? Where do you cut in so that the flat paper can bend around a curve but still be flush with the skin? It’s a bit more tricky but works beautifully when accurately done.

Christien strongly advices the following for all transfers; prepare the surface of the skin properly before applying, position the tattoo properly and take your time. If applied correctly you don't have to think about bad applications or edges. He also really recommends for custom orders to plan ahead.. the more time you have to order, test and make changes, the better.

Sons of Anarchy "Jax" back tattoo by Tracey Anderson done with Tinsley Transfers

Tracey Anderson is an emmy-nominated makeup artist, very well know and respected for her tattoo work. As Sons of Anarchy Makeup Department Head for seven seasons there is nothing she can't tell you about tattoos. All the tattoos on SOA were done with Tinsley Transfers so I got Tracey to tell us how she uses tattoo transfers and she kindly shared her vast experience and tips. (You can also read her great "Meet The Artists" interview with me here).

MANW: What is your preferred way to do tattoos?  
TA: I have seen many different methods of applying and removal and I guess there are 200 ways to do the dishes and in the end it doesn't matter as long as they get clean but I always use Tinsley Transfers, and when time allows I will have them customise the tones and size. I figure get the best tattoo transfers on the market but there are some great ones from other vendors. I do sometimes freehand smaller tattoos; I draw them and set with prosaide, and if I wanted to age it I would use a little Ben Nye Final Seal on a sponge..the alcohol in it bleeds the tattoo into the skin like a real aged tattoo.

MANW: Can you describe the process how you apply tattoo transfers? 
TA: Shave the area before starting the whole tattoo process and wipe with 99% alcohol. Lightly prosaide the back of the tattoo with a sponge, so thin you barely see residue, but I only do this on poreless skin, heavy drinkers or stunts actors to make sure they stay. I never prosaide the skin, that just creates a large area to catch dirt and fuzz from wardrobe. I use a makeup puff and Evian water to apply over the tattoo, I haven't researched it but I decided that kitchen sponges may have a chemical that interferes with the tattoo and tap water has chlorine which could break it down faster. I then blow dry it on cold, although I know some like to use warm water and a warm dryer and I get that activating the glue with heat may give a better adherence. I always take away tackiness with a light coating of RCMA powder and then I lightly wipe over with Ben Nye Final Seal sprayed on a wedge sponge to melt the powder. I don't spray the hell out of it because Final Seal creates a plastic coating which suffocates your actors skin which maybe breaks the tattoo down a bit, but mostly it can cause a heat rash because the skin can't breathe. 

MANW: What's the best way to age a tattoo? 
TA: The best way is to airbrush a water based foundation makeup over in their skin colour and tap it out with MAC blot powder or Colorescience sunscreen powder dusted over. 

MANW: Was Jax's big back piece just one piece, and do you have any tricks to getting such huge pieces on evenly other than just go slow and carefully? 
TA: Yes. I wet it down the middle first then fold my spraying out from there. The answer really is just take your time and never rush. 

MANW: Was it the same application to apply Juice's scalp tattoo as the body?
TA: It's always more challenging when you apply to a face, elbow or head. Just shave as close as possible and take your time. 

MANW: Can you apply tattoo transfers on a prosthetic?
TA: Yes, you can apply them on most prosthetic materials. However you can't apply on on dummies/ fake bodies. If you need to have one tattooed they must do it when they build the body. 

MANW: How do you keep continuity with tattoos and get it in the exact spot every day? 
TA: For continuity I line up the tattoo to freckles, wrinkles or scars when possible. I take lots of notes and photos.

Any other tricks you can share?
TA: When you cut the tattoo leave about 3 mm of flashing and if you need to reattach an edge tap it down with some prosaide. Touch up during the day can be done with alcohol activated pallets, tattoo pens are quick but not really your best bet for staying power. If I need to clean a tattoo during the day I wipe with a baby wipe and I always use Colorescience sunscreen powder if an actor will be in the sun, never spray sunscreen as it has alcohol which will break down the tattoo. You sunburn one swastika outline on a man and you never forget to sunscreen!

MANW: Tattoo transfers last for days, even with washing. Would you remove them at the end of every filming day and redo fresh the following day or leave on for a couple days if they still looked good? 
TA: I usually can get away with leaving a tattoo for up to 3 days and just touch up with alcohol pallet and clean with a baby wipe. Even main actors, including Jax, unless they had a scene where the tattoo was featured.

MANW: Talk us through removing tattoo transfers
TA: I only use Beta Solve from PPI to remove. You marinade the tattoo for a minute or so and it comes right off without irritating the skin from incessant rubbing. If I need to change a tattoo during the day I use alcohol and a scrub glove, you can't use any oils if you need to reapply.

Here is a playlist (27 videos) on SOA tattoos, seven of the short videos are Tracey talking about the tattoos (all Tinsley transfers) and show her applying them. One in particular where she overcomes the problem of applying Juice's scalp tattoo over his hair growth in Season 5 is pretty incredible. You should definitely watch these.

Tinsley Studio can be reached at customfx@tinsleystudio.com, www.TinsleyStudio.com.

You can follow me on Twitter here and Instagram here (@anniemakeup)


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