Chapter One Tattoo

Blackwork Tattoos: History and Designs

Blackwork tattoos, eye-catching and visually captivating, are an ever-evolving tattoo style that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Heavily inspired by ancient tribal tattooing and utilizing large planes of black ink, blackwork tattoos are a popular tattoo style due to their countless design options. Perfect for all skin tones, blackwork tattoos are a unique and instantly recognizable style of tattoos, making them perfect for those wanting a tattoo that will turn heads. 

San Diego is a great place to get blackwork tattoos! Chapter One Tattoo is the go-to spot for blackwork lovers in San Diego. This exclusive parlor specializes in blackwork, creating intricate black and white designs with aesthetically pleasing composition. We offer custom pieces that make blackwork tattoos stand out and even customize individual elements within an existing tattoo. 

What Are Blackwork Tattoos?

Blackwork tattoos are a unique and eye-catching style of tattooing, characterized by their use of solid planes of black ink. Heavily inspired by tribal and Polynesian tattoos, blackwork tattoos typically feature geometric shapes, abstract patterns, or figurative scenes or subjects that usually occupy a large section of the body. Blackwork tattoos, also occasionally referred to as “dark art” tattoos, often feature designs inspired by alchemy, esoterica, or other dated or hermetic iconography. Tarot cards, sigils, religious figures, mandalas, calligraphy, and other arcane or philosophical symbols are common design choices for this style of tattoo.

Inspired by etches and engraving, the pioneers of the blackwork tattoo style used black ink to create designs using negative space to create a captivating tattoo. There are countless design options for those who adore the blackwork tattoo style, so each piece is likely to be a personal and timeless tattoo. Blackwork tattoos are known for their longevity. Due to only using the darkest ink and having the high contrast skin breaks it allows the tattoo to look great as the years go on, sometimes even looking better with age. The use of negative space sets blackwork tattoos apart from other styles.

History of Blackwork Tattoos

Blackwork tattoos started with tribal tattoos and Mendhi art, but have since evolved to incorporate many different subject matters and elements. As with many other contemporary tattoo styles, the emergence of blackwork tattoos resides within inspiration taken from tribal tattooing. Polynesian tattooing, which primarily features large black ink designs and abstract patterns, is a clear inspiration for the contemporary style. After Polynesian-inspired designs became popularized in Western culture during the 1900s, blackwork tattoos became more commonplace, especially among sailors and servicemen. 

Some of the pioneers of blackwork tattooing include Clinton Lee, Ciara Havishya, James Lau, Jondix, Helen Hitori, and Dillon Forte. These blackwork tattoo artists are responsible for taking the fundamentals of ancient tribal tattooing and adding contemporary design elements. Similar to how Polynesian tattoo designs are typically inspired by a person’s beliefs or personal history, blackwork tattoo designs are often chosen by those who want to represent certain religious or philosophical imagery in an eye-catching and aesthetically pleasing way.

Popular Blackwork Tattoo Ideas

As the blackwork tattoo style continues to evolve over time, design options have also expanded. While blackwork tattoo designs are versatile, these designs will usually take up a significant portion of the body to accomplish the desired look. Some of the most popular blackwork tattoo ideas include: 

  • Blackwork Architecture Tattoos – Architectural designs, such as churches, castles, or literature-inspired scenery is a common design choice for those who love the blackwork tattoo style. Usually larger in scale, blackwork tattoo artists can capture a great sense of detail within the landscape using black ink and negative space.  
  • Blackwork Mandala Tattoos – Mandalas, one of the most popular geometric design choices, represents the spiritual journey toward actualization through layers of dedication. Mandalas are a popular design option for many but translate perfectly into the blackwork tattoo style due to their symmetry and captivating imagery. 
  • Blackwork Geometric Tattoo – Geometric tattoos, defined by recurring shapes, patterns, or linework, is one of the most popular choices for those who adore the blackwork tattoo style. A geometric design might be the main image, like many Polynesian designs, or can accompany other images within the blackwork tattoo design. Dotwork is another common geometric blackwork tattoo design choice. 
  • Blackwork Nature Tattoos – Sprawling landscapes, the sun, moon, and ocean are common design choices among those looking for blackwork tattoo ideas. There is a lot of symmetry within nature, so it’s popular to choose natural elements, mythological creatures, or animals for a blackwork tattoo.

How to Choose the Best Blackwork Tattoo?


Due to their bold hues and larger scale, it’s important to consider all your design options before moving forward with a blackwork tattoo. Any experienced blackwork tattoo artist should be able to translate your design ideas into a blackwork tattoo, but you should consider placement carefully to make sure the tattoo looks aesthetically pleasing. Once a design and location have been chosen, make sure to select an experienced blackwork tattoo artist that can properly execute your idea. This will guarantee that the tattoo is not a blotted mess but rather a beautiful piece of art.

Book an Appointment with a Blackwork Tattoo Artist in san diego at Chapter One Tattoo!

There’s no better place to get a blackwork tattoo in San Diego than Chapter One Tattoo! Blackwork tattoos demand a heightened sense of artistry and skill but can make for one of the greatest-looking tattoos. As with other tattoo styles, receiving a quality-designed blackwork tattoo will depend upon the tattoo artist. Chapter One Tattoo prides itself on our vibrantly designed blackwork designs and trusted team of blackwork tattoo artists. Check out the Chapter One team that specializes in the blackwork tattoo style and book an appointment today! 

Colton James Phillips

Gary Dunn

Casey Sullivan

Isaac Combs