Augmented Reality, 3D Painting and diversity - Darwin Enriquez’ trail-blazing vision for tattoo art.

Meet the Artist June 8, 2023

Darwin Enriquez is a multi-award winning body artist. With over 25 years of experience, Darwin is known for his stunning 3D realism pieces. His shop, Inknation sits above Time Square, and is a cultural melting pot of some of the finest tattoo artists from the US and South America. Darwin’s keen focus on fresh and diverse talent, along with his use of new techniques and technology has helped make his tattoo business one of the hottest in the New York.

To look at Darwin’s work with its heavy classical greek influence fused with modern subject matter, you’d be forgiven for thinking he had studied at a distinguished fine-art institution. “I’m basically self-taught. I’ve always liked drawing obviously, and drew and painted at school but I’ve never taken a specific class in drawing or design. So my art education has pretty much been everything by myself.”

One of the best things about being self-taught is you set the syllabus, and for Darwin that has involved a heavy dose of new technology and how it can be applied to his practice. From advances in tattoo gun technology facilitating finer tattoo detail, to using photogrammetry and Procreate’s 3D Painting for more accurate stencils, Darwin is always testing the waters and trying new things.

Darwin's neo-classical style is entirely self taught.

“I feel my personal style is constantly changing and evolving. I’m always thinking about the new and modern, and how I can use technology to simplify what I do in order to be more effective with my work. I’ll try anything that helps me develop better skills. I love learning, so I’m always studying something new. It helps me stay fresh, and allows me to reinvent myself and my work. But I always want to take that new ‘something’ and make it my own.”

Darwin utilizes iPad’s capability for photogrammetry to open up the new possibility of scanning every unique, living ‘canvas’ and knowing it will be 100% accurate to each individual. Up until very recently this required a lot of space and some very specialized equipment, “Before I had more hardware and a set up at home because it required a lot of lighting and space. I even wanted to buy a 3D scanner at one stage. But right now I'm just using my iPad and iPhone in the studio and it’s so much more simple.”

The application of photogrammetry and 3D helps Darwin achieve the stunning realism in his work that would be almost impossible to capture using traditional methods. His process of manipulating lighting, contrast and shapes are all done digitally. “My tattoos are mainly based on 3D lighting. I do all my tattoos thinking about where the light source is going to come from, and that helps gives them that realism or 3D effect. Sculpting in 3D helps you a lot in understanding lighting and how it works. If you adjust the location of a light source, it can help you see if a piece improves. I feel like this is a lot like good photography.

Photogrammetry and 3D Painting are extremely useful in planning how to build out an exisiting piece.

“Usually I take away all the lights and then start bringing them back in one-by-one until I start to get something dramatic. But in Procreate, because Lighting Studio has different environments, I’ll start the lighting like a projection with a front and back light. Right now I'm trying to use just one light, like a single focal point. I feel like this helps my black and gray pieces look more 3D and pop more.”

This considerate thought process and practice come from Darwin’s absolute love and respect for body art, “What makes tattooing unique is that you are marking a person with your art forever. Unlike a painting or a digital illustration that is static and doesn’t move or feel, and isn’t alive. We are working on people. They think, they feel pain, they have movements, they become our canvas so that we can capture our art. Tattooing a human body is different, the body has curves, folds and shapes. All this makes the art of tattooing very unique and special.”

Darwin uses Procreate's 3D Painting feature to preview how client's tattoos will look.

3D tech and Procreate not only come with huge technical and artistic benefits, but also work as a unique sales tool. "I use lidar and photogrammetry technology to scan parts of the body that are difficult for me to tattoo, or because I want to study a design on the actual body more. Sometimes I use it to present a design to my client so they can have a more realistic vision of how their tattoo will look. I actually use 3D Painting in various ways in my work. They [clients] always want to show their partners and friends, 'Oh, let me see.' So it's a very nice thing to show the client what a tattoo's going to look like before even getting tattooed.”

While 3D Painting has become the latest innovation at Inknation, Darwin’s relationship with Procreate goes all the way back to 2016. “Procreate is famous in the tattoo world because it's easier than the other programs, and that’s why every tattoo artist uses it. It’s beautifully simple. I use Procreate because it's more tactical using shortcuts with a keyboard to access all the functions. It's easy to maneuver the design, shift colors and it just speeds up my design process.

Darwin adopted Procreate early on to streamline and speed up his design process.

“It’s also a lot easier when it comes to making a stencil because the lines in Procreate are amazing. Stencils used to take a long time, even when digital became a thing. I’d have to trace a big piece, like a big back piece or a full sleeve, and it would take a long time in the other programs. With Procreate, it’s much easier and it cuts the time down for stencils. And then when Procreate put in 3D Painting, THAT was very exciting for me.”

When I found out about the Procreate update that implemented 3D, I said ‘This is the way!’

Darwin Enriquez

Darwin’s business model at Inknation isn’t rooted purely in technology, he also seeks to provide the opportunity and tools for success so his stable of artists can creatively thrive. The expectation at Inknation is that artists promote themselves and take their work to new levels, with the ultimate aim of opening their own studios if they want to. It’s the perfect magnet for attracting the best talent from across the Americas. This altruistic approach to business doesn’t just make financial sense, it also allows for a unique transfer of knowledge that helps everyone who works at the studio to grow.

“The truth is, knowing many cultures and artists from different countries makes us all more cultured and gain even more knowledge that helps us create. All the different styles and cultures enrich us with new knowledge, and we take what we like most from all of that and apply it to our practice. I think that great artists have always done this, and New York is a city that artists fall in love with because of the diversity and culture that it offers us. It inspires all of us, and Inknation is all of this.”

Inknation's inclusivity and embracing of new technology has helped it become a success.

With New York’s wealth of cultural influences, and advances in technology constantly pushing what is possible, Darwin and Inknation’s future is looking bright. After 25 years of tattooing around the world, and with his own successful New York studio you would think that Darwin had seen and done it all. But, like all true artists, his love of learning and how to apply this to his craft keeps him motivated.

“When learning something new in a program, or a new rendering technique for a design, it's exciting for me. I feel recharged every time there's a new technique, or a new feature, or a new basic element I can implement in my tattoos. Anything that helps me visualize better gets me excited. As an artist, you can’t help but use these new opportunities to learn and grow.” . We admire Darwin’s humble and down-to-earth approach to creativity and business, and look forward to watching Inknation continue to innovate and learn while pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in body art.

Discover more of Darwin’s work at his personal site, the Inknation site and Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

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