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Sunrise / sunset tattoo design

Feb 2020

In February 2020, my friend Jessie came to me with a request for something I'd never done before: help her design her next tattoo. The theme was to be a 'glass half full or half empty' metaphor – a nature scene, with a sun on the horizon, ambiguously in the process of either rising or setting. Additionally, she wanted the design to have geometric elements or motifs. 

With those general guidelines in mind, I sketched out some 2 dozen rough ideas, the best of which are shown above. We looked through the designs together and decided to pursue two of them further: the sun and mountains reflecting in the water, and the sun's arc passing both above and below the horizon.

For the second iteration​, I generated higher-quality sketches of each idea. Jessie preferred for the designs not to be inscribed in shapes or borders, in order to more smoothly integrate with her existing tattoos, so I got rid of those. 

At this stage, she was leaning heavily towards the design tracking the sun's arc behind the mountains, but wasn't quite satisfied with the exact rendering of the tight, overlapping suns. We also had yet to figure out how the design would actually be mapped onto her arm.

While playing around with the design later, I was struck with the idea of wrapping the sun's path all the way around her arm in a continuous loop. The mountains would run lengthwise along her inner forearm, while the upward and downward arcs of the sun would connect on the opposite side. I quickly sketched out the idea, adding space between the suns, and sent it to Jessie, who approved.

Along with ​that sketch, I sent some schematics illustrating how the components of the design would all be arrayed, and some possible styles for rendering the suns.


From there, the tattoo artist, CJ Tattoo in New York, took over. They translated the design into their own artistic style, swapping the suns for planets and bathing the whole thing in swirls of cosmic color. The end result came out looking extremely cool:

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