Book Review: Color Tattoo Art



It was last October when I reviewed Marisa Kakoulas’ book, Black and Grey Tattoo: From Street Art to Fine Art. Well, Marisa has teamed up with Edition Reuss and has done it again. Unlike it’s predecessor, Color Tattoo Art is only one volume but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t do some serious damage if wielded correctly!

Read on!

This book is a massive 496 pages packed full of beautiful photographs and stunning work by a variety of artists. This is a true art book and one that begs to be displayed somewhere visible. The cover alone is fantastic. Within, the glossy pages give you image after image of clear beautiful tattoo work and art by such artists as Gunnar, Woodpecker, Ulrich Krammer, King Rat, Sean Herman, Tony Ciavarro, Holly Azzara and many many more!

It also includes interviers (and photos) by artists Joe Capobianco, Genko, Kristel Oreto, Ed Perdomo, Elecric Pick, Jesse Smith and Olivier.

Like its predecessor, this book is multilingual with text in English, German and French. Also like it’s predecessor, while this book does include some interviews and an introduction by Marissa along with a foreward on “Heroes of Pop Culture” by Eberhard J. Wormer, the main focus of this book lies in the art.

Electric Pick

Electric Pick

The artwork in this book speaks for itself, page after colorful page. The work is as varied as the artists and covers a wide scope of subjects. This book isn’t just for tattoo artists and enthusiasts. As I mentioned previously, this is an art book. Anyone with an appreciation of art and particularly street and underground artwork, graffiti, comic art and the lowbrow art movement will appreciate this book. Of particular interest to me was a page featuring concept work by Woodpecker alongside a few photos of the finished products. The bright, bold work features some truly intricate designs that deserve more than a passing glance making this a book you will want to pick up time and time again.



Curious, I asked Marissa how she chose the artists that appear in the book:

Selecting the artists is difficult. Of course, there are long-time standouts in the genre but I’ve also travelled to a number of international conventions to look through portfolios and meet artists whom I didn’t know before. I ask many for suggestions, particularly from editors of international tattoo magazines; for example, I had a lot of help from Aleksandra Skoczylas of Tattoo Fest Magazine in Poland, Libor Smelik of Tetovani in the Czech Republic, and Miho Kawasaki and Izumi Akiba of Tattoo Burst in Japan. And of course, I spend a lot of hours online looking through portfolios. Curating the content is the hardest part of the job. Of course, I cannot feature every wonderful artist who specializes in this genre (either they don’t have time to participate or have their own projects), but I’m thrilled with the 42 artists featured from around the world.

Certainly, she has reason to be thrilled. Featuring artists from around the globe gives readers a chance to check out the work coming out of other countries as well as what may be right in their backyard. The focus in the media and in magazines, at least in North American, tends to remain solely on American artists. Here we have a chance to become familiar with artists and their work that we may otherwise never have known.

Backpiece by Genko

Backpiece by Genko

Asked if she faced any challenges while putting this book together, Marissa said:

What was really a challenge and most interesting was figuring out the title! As we went along, talking to artists and collecting amazing stories and imagery, we felt that “New School” wasn’t the perfect fit for the really innovative, exciting “color bombs” featured. What is “new school” anyway? As I note in my introduction, around the late eighties and early nineties, the label “New School” was often used to describe art that did not fit into traditional tattoo categories—much to the chagrin of some tattooists, who never wanted to be labeled in the first place. And so we decided to give the book a highly literal title so there would be little question about what dynamic work it holds: “Color Tattoo Art: Cartoon. Comics. Pin-Up. Manga. New School.”

Sleeve by Steph D

Sleeve by Steph D

The variety is apparent with each page turn. Busty pin-up girls. Superheroes. Nature. Religious themes. Smaller pieces to full back pieces. This book does not leave anything out, including featuring paintings and illustrations by the artists as well as beautiful portraits of the artists themselves, revealing the person behind the art. Portraits of the artists at work or snapshots at play such as that of Jime Litwalk eating popcicles with his son or Kowhey with his family provide us with more than a look at their work but a glimpse into the lives of these talented artists as well.

Jime Litwalk and son

Jime Litwalk and son

So what was it Marisa was looking to accomplish with this book?

The goal of the books is to present tattooing in a serious and artful way, respectful of the work on its pages. I think of them like my law school textbooks that have been on my shelf for over 17 years: they are meant to be timeless — art and law evolve like everything else but these books capture a moment, a foundation that is built upon. So looking back upon them, say 10 years from now, we can see how the art has moved forward. More practically, the books are also meant to be reference tools to inspire artists and collectors.

I would say that she has done just that, presented a timeless look into the world of colour tattoos and packaged it in such a way that the book itself becomes a piece of art and one that tattoo collectors and enthusiasts as well as those with an appreciation of the many forms of art would be remiss not to include on their shelves.

Art by Gunnar

Art by Gunnar

Looking to get a copy for yourself or maybe you would like to get one for a gift? Right now you can snag a copy from the author herself at a reduced price. These are limited so snatch one up quickly before she’s out! Marisa is offering copies for $158 with shipping in the United States and $180 with shipping to Canada. Email Marisa about getting your copy.

Too late? If you happen upon this after Marisa is out of copies, never fear!

In Europe, you can get a copy through

In the US & Canada, through Amazon and other bookstores.

Marisa Kakoulas is a New York lawyer, writer, and self-described tattoo nerd. You can find her blogging over at Needles and Sins.

Author: Marisa Kakoulas
Hardcover: 496 pages
Publisher: Editions Reuss (June 30, 2011)
Language: English, German, French
ISBN-10: 3934020933
ISBN-13: 978-3934020931
Shipping Weight: 7.5 pounds

15 thoughts on “Book Review: Color Tattoo Art

  1. The fine gent who did my pair of power rangers, Scott Olive is featured in this.

    Black and Grey tattoo art is such a great series, I really wish I had the money to sling for this one right now.

  2. meow – I know. I wish I could show you more. There is some really amazing work in there.

    Huxley – I agree. I’ve been buying tattoo related books for around 15 years and by far the books Marisa has put out exceed the quality of the others I have. In work, in photography, in presentation. I truly feel these books are on par with some of the books I have on say Richard Avedon, Nan Goldin, Andy Warhol, and other artist books. They’re what I would consider collector quality if you happen to collect art books.

    I would also like to thank the fine folks at Reuss and Matthias in particular for allowing me the chance to review this book and for being so helpful with sending high quality photos I could use.

  3. Thank you so very much! The books are a labor of love, and I’m truly grateful for the support of these monsters.

  4. This makes me really wish I had some extra cash right now. I don’t think my mom would even go for helping me out on this one. I guess it’s time to see if the university needs any guinea pigs for hire.

  5. Though the price will put off the average tattoo fan, the enthusiast will no doubt pick this one up regardless of it. I personally think libraries should be looking at these books as worthy purchases, especially since the explosion in mainstream interest in tattooing has seen many more people looking for more tattoo-related material. If you consider that tattoo magazines go for around $15.95-$20 per issue from a bookstore like Whitcoulls, the price of this book becomes a lot more economical. I mean, a handful of glossy tattoo magazines full of advertisments or a hardbound masterpiece like this? I know which one I’d choose.

    But like most other people, I lack the cash to buy it! 🙁

  6. Is there another colour book planned? for realism, abstract, traditional, or other colour styles that aren’t cartoon/newschool? That’s not my cup of tea, but I really loved the b/g book with a passion and would happily fork out the same money for a colour volume, but without the nickelodeon feel to it 🙂

  7. JonP – Put it on a gift wishlist! 😉 Or set some money aside for it?

    I know when I want a particular item that I can’t really afford, I just start setting aside money for it. In my case it’s not uncommon to receive gift cards to a bookstore, so that works out well in the case of art books. Even if it doesn’t cover the total cost it makes it so I can afford the book.

    I know that sometimes people are surprised at the price but if you go to the bookstore and go into the art section and look at the big art and photography books, the price is in line with those. And it’s the same size/quality as those.

    It was funny because the postal strike in Canada delayed all of my mail and I had actually kind of forgotten that I would be getting this book to review. So the mailman shows up and he has several packages and says “Careful this is heavy.” I went to grab the packages and nearly dropped them all because of the one very heavy box. That is one MASSIVE book.

  8. cribbage – I don’t know if Marisa plans a traditional style colour book but knowing Marisa, she’s always got something up her sleeve!

  9. Jon P – You also make a really good point about the cost of magazines vs the cost of the book. The average magazine is now over $10 and sometimes much closer to $20. And often you don’t save magazines like you do a book.

    The book will hold up to time better, for sure. Art books often increase in value (if you happen to care about such things). The quality of the photos in this book exceeds the quality of photos I often see in tattoo magazines. The quality of the paper that it’s printed on certainly far exceeds the magazines. The old tattoo books that I have don’t even come close to the quality of this book.

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