Gap filler tattoos are exactly what they sound like, small tattoos that fill the gap between other pieces to make a sleeve or torso look more fluid.
Generally when someone says gap filler they’re referring to a more old school style, as the custom with old school tattoos is to collect lots of smaller tattoos that then form a larger piece when it’s all put together.
Some common gap fillers include centipedes, flowers, butterflies, spider webs, nails, snakes, frogs, etc. Almost anything can be a gap filler if it can be made small enough and can have some diversity in placement to fit those odd angles.
If you’re going for that bodysuit look you’ll probably end up with some gap fillers unless you pre-planned your whole body before you started getting tattoos, or worked with a style like Japanese where gap fillers are less common (though not unheard of).
The Battle Royale is an old school design that consists of an eagle, a snake, and a dragon, all battling it out to be number one (sometimes it is depicted as an eagle vs a snake, or even other animals fighting).
This design has been passed down for generations through tattooers and tattoo collectors, usually as quite a large design like a full back piece, chest, or stomach, but also as smaller work on arms and legs.
This most famous design was tattooed on D.C (Dave) Paul by Huck Spaulding and Paul Rogers, though there are a few older designs that are bit different. One was tattooed by George Burchett when he was working with Japanese artist Hori Uno in his shop in London, and the other by Percy Waters in Detroit. Ben Corday’s version is also quite popular.
The Battle Royale is an American traditional design that has clear roots in Japanese tattooing as well as American. It was designed to represent the eternal struggle of keeping balance, particularly between the East and West, but life in general as well. Everything in life requires balance and hardship. This is a battle that will never be won.
Most people choose to get this piece in full colour as the first wearers of the tattoo would have, but it also looks great without colour, or as a more neo-traditional piece.
Owen Jensen and “Dainty Dotty” were artists who married sometime in the mid 1900’s. Owen was a tattoo artist with a number of cities and shops under his belt, and Dotty was initially a circus performer working as a “fat lady” before she started tattooing.
According to a letter written in 1972 to Steve Rogers, Owen Jensen was introduced to tattoos in 1911 in Utah after walking some 12 miles to see the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show, which featured James Malcolm as a performer, who had been tattooed by Charlie Wagner. A few years later Owen got his first tattoo from Bob Hodge.
It’s unknown who taught Owen to tattoo, but during WW1 he served overseas and tattooed other military folks while abroad. When he returned to the US he never stayed in one place too long, working in cities such as Michigan, Los Angeles, New York, San Diego, Norfolk, and finally Long Beach, just to name a few. He eventually met Dotty and the two married and settled in Long Beach, working near Bert Grimm. Around the early 1970’s Owen had a disagreement over flash with Bert who then apparently “ran him off.” Owen then worked with Lee Roy Minugh until he was stabbed in the back and beaten on July 5th 1976. Owen never fully recovered from the attack and died July 24th 1977.
Dainty Dotty was initially a circus performer as mentioned above. She first worked as a “fat lady” in the Ringling Brothers circus in the 1930’s and 40’s. Dotty learned how to tattoo after meeting Owen, and he supposedly tattooed her, but there are no known photos of Dotty with tattoos, though there are photos of her tattooing people, and her flash is still floating around!
Dotty is famous for being the world’s largest female tattoo artist, though she is in fact not the largest woman on record. Both Dotty and Owen tattooed classic old school designs such as eagles, skulls, roses, snakes, and patriotic pieces such as the statue of Liberty, American flags, and military designs.
Who doesn’t enjoy a nice cold beer at the end of a hard week or day, being able to sit out on a patio with friends or in a nice homey pub? Some people like beer so much that they’ve even chosen to immortalize their favourite drink on their skin as a tattoo!
Many people go for a realistic depiction of their drink of choice, but neo-traditional, American traditional, new school, and black and grey are also popular.
Now for some cool facts; Did you know that beer is actually the oldest recorded recipe in the world? Ancient Egyptians first recorded their recipes on scrolls that date back to around 5000 BCE, and was brewed with ingredients such as dates, pomegranate, and other local fruits and herbs. This early form of beer was used mainly in religious ceremonies, and was controlled directly by the Pharaoh of the time.
While beer recipes were written down around 5000 BCE, it is believed that the ancient Mesopotamians were also brewing beer, around 10,000 BCE based on the malted barley and bowls with a beer-like residue that have been found by archaeologists. This beer eventually made its way over to Europe from the Middle East, and became an important part of life for nearly everyone. Northern Europe in particular brewed a lot of beer, in large part due to the crops like barley that they were able to grow. Beer even became a popular alternative to water because it was often cleaner to drink (lots of water at that time was pretty badly contaminated by human and animal waste).
Beer that is more similar to what you and I drink today was made in the early Middle Ages, combining hops and other herbs and spices to the barley that had already been used for a few hundred years. Around the year 1150, monks from Germany started using wild hops in beer and it caught on quick. It also acted as a natural preservative, allowing beer to last longer before needing to be drunk. While Pharaohs were the main brewers in Egypt thousands of years ago, monks were the main brewers in the Middle Ages, with almost all monasteries having an onsite brewery. Even today a number of Belgian monasteries still produce beer and rank as some of the best in the world.
Tony Torvis is the owner of Mortem Tattoo in Montréal, Canada. His work consists of traditional old school designs without colour, making his clients look like the brilliant black and white photographs of days long past.
Tony’s work is reminiscent of the great tattooers of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s but is still recognizable as a Tony Torvis piece.
Expect crisp clean lines and bold, powerful motifs such as dragons, snakes, lady heads, portraits, and flowers. There is original flash in the shop to choose from, or you can bring your own idea to him, or re-create an old piece of historical flash.
Tony’s Instagram page is full of both large and small scale work, from chest pieces to full backs, sleeves, and little filler pieces.
You’ll also notice from his Instagram page that the majority of clients are repeat customers. Tony’s tattoos are kind of like chips, you just can’t stop at one! Mortem tattoo is a must visit shop if you’re in the area, and there are other brilliant artists working there as well.
While existing for centuries, cacti have become extremely well known as a pop culture phenomenon more recently over the years, particularly among my fellow millennials. This definitely has something to do with how easy they are to take care of, requiring only sunlight, sand, and water on occasion; they pretty much thrive if left alone in a sunny spot.
They’ve become so popular now that you could light your cactus candle for the dinner table to see your cactus salt and pepper shakers and cactus glasses before you reveal your new cactus tattoo, all without ever having to mention the word cactus.
People seem to love the diversity and toughness of these prickly plants. They can come in all shapes and sizes; from tall and skinny to short and fat, perfectly round, multiple offshoots, each with their own unique personality.
This diversity makes them look great in photos, paintings, and tattoos, and their tough exterior could represent a kind of (symbolic) protection for the tattoo wearer.
As tattoos, the most popular cacti by far seems to be the tall skinny ones (San Pedro Cactus/cereus). These pieces are often done in old school, black work, neo-traditional, fine line, or new school styles.
Moira Ramone is a tattoo artist working out of Bont & Blauw Tattoo in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Moira does old school and neo-traditional work with and without colour, with a particular love for all things horror and punk.
Moira’s Instagram page is filled with images such as punk rock girls with black boots and tattoos of their own, horror icons like Jason Voorhees and Christmas Devil Krampus, circus performers, and portraits (among others).
Moira makes a point to create a safe space for all people regardless of skin colour, gender identity or sexual orientation. Tattooing is quite an intimate experience so it’s always great to be able to receive your new art from someone who makes an effort to make all people comfortable.
Whether you’re looking for a small or large piece, Moira does it all. If you’re passing through you can get something smaller, or if you live in the area (or can get there easily) maybe you could start a full back or sleeve.
If you can’t make it all the way to the Netherlands for a tattoo, or just want to support Moira from a distance you can check out her store here and get yourself some clothing, books, stickers, candles, original paintings, or prints.
Percy Waters was a well-known American tattoo artist from the early 1900’s. Born in 1888, in Anniston, Alabama, he was (allegedly) first introduced to tattooing through the sideshows of traveling circuses that passed through his hometown. At the time he was learning the trade of molder, and tattooing locals became a hobby on the side.
He’s known to many as a Michigan artist, and not from a small town in Alabama, due to the fact that in 1917 he tattooed someone he shouldn’t have and got in trouble. He left Anniston and moved to Detroit, Michigan. He built up a successful tattoo business where he also sold supplies to other tattoo artists. In 1929 he even got a license for his tattoo machine design, which was an adjustable two-coil electromagnetic machine that hasn’t changed too much in modern tattoo machines. It had also taken almost 55 years (from 1875) for the tattoo machine to be adjusted after Edison’s machine. In 1939 he moved back to Anniston and ran what was most likely the biggest tattoo supply company in the world at the time until his death in 1952.
Percy was very modest and was known to call himself “just a good tattooer”; However, he was quite well known regardless of his humility, particularly in the sideshow world where he tattooed “tattoo attractions” such as; Bobby Smith, Red Van, Detroit Dutch, Shelley Kemp, Clyde Williams, and Mrs. Ted Hamilton among others.
His style stays true to early 20th century old school designs. With classics such as portraits of women, dragons, eagles, snakes, panthers, good luck symbols, ships, and more. His original designs are still redrawn often today, and many contemporary artists are heavily inspired by him in their own styles.
Some of the most well-known tattoos he did were Pharaohs’ Horses as a back piece, an image of a woman riding an eagle, and whole-body suits made up of patriotic American pieces coupled with images such as butterflies, flowers, dragons, snakes, and ladies.