How to draw a tattoo sleeve

Written by arielle reed | 13/05/2017
How to draw a tattoo sleeve
A tattoo sleeve is a bold piece of self-expression. (Getty creative)

A tattoo sleeve is an arm-length tattoo piece comprised of several smaller pieces, bound together with transitions. The elements can work together or cover vastly different subject matter, dependent on preference. Though it can be designed all at once, the process of going from skin to ink will take a lot of time and money, which is why it is so important to establish a relationship with your artist. The end result is a highly individualised and personalised piece of collaborative art.

Draw the arm in pencil, being sure to include the shoulder and a bend in the elbow for reference. Then draw the inside of the arm bending the opposite way.

Place and draw on the major design elements in the key focus areas like the shoulder, bicep and forearm. These elements do not have to appear unified yet; just place them in the most appropriate location for the individual design.

Fill in the gaps with transition material. Common transitions are waves, space matter, clouds, smoke and tribal graphics. Base the selection of your transitions on the main design elements selected. For example, if you are using koi fish, waves would be the appropriate choice, unless you want to juxtapose a water-based design with air transitions such as clouds.

Finalise your drawing in permanent marker. When this dries and you are satisfied, you can erase any pencil that is still showing.

Add any colours you desire, unless you want to keep the design black and grey.


Use this drawing as a reference, but allow for the artist's trained eye make improvements along the way.

Things you need

  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Permanent marker, like a fine-point Sharpie

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