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  • Writer's pictureScott Glazier

The History of Flash Tattoos

Good Morning Speakeasy Readers!

It’s going to be a mostly sunny weekend in Los Angeles, hope everyone has fun plans. Today I’m going to go over the history of Flash Tattoos.

I would say most people who walk into a Los Angeles tattoo shop are there for a custom design, but regardless it is also not uncommon in this city to see many tattoo artists advertise flash tattoos on their walls and binders. As described by Los Angeles tattoo artist , Miryam Lumpini "A flash tattoo is an image of the tattoo already colored in and drawn so that you can have an understanding of what you’re getting on your skin before you get a tattoo, a lot of tattoo studios have these so that you can pick and choose an already existing design if you can’t come up with a custom design that you want to get."

A lot of the times you see flash art, it is from another artist outside of the shop and in the American traditional style, but some shops will custom make their own designs across all different tattoo styles.

Flash tattoos have been around for a very long time. It all began in the 1920s in New York City. This time and era is one of the most influential times in tattoo history. In the 1920s, the Bowery neighborhood became the hub of tattoo culture and one of the main tattoo artists responsible for that is Lew Alberts who was known as "Lew the Jew".

Lew was a prominent American tattoo artist known for revolutionizing the tattoo industry during the early 20th century. He is considered one of the forefathers of modern tattooing in America. When Lew was teenager, he went to a technical school where he studied drawing and metalwork. Before Lew became a tattoo artist he worked as a wallpaper designer. Lew Alberts is credited with developing flash tattoos in the early 1900s, and he was instrumental in designing new tattoo machines, innovating tattoo art techniques, and popularizing the use of electric tattoo machines. Just like many things that happened in the past, there are a couple versions of how Lew got the idea for flash tattoos.

One version is that Lew enlisted in the Army in 1899 and fought during the Spanish-American War in the Philippines. While there, he learned of the art of tattoos and got tattooed while he was in the military. It is said that when Lew left the military, he was appalled by the lack of quality in tattoos designs and once he returned to the States he opened a tattoo shop in New York where he began to design tattoo flash.

The other story is that when Lew returned to the States, he was passing through Portland, Oregon and came across a drunken tattoo artist named Charlie Western. Lew bought up all of Western’s flash designs, and then took it back to New York and sold the designs as his own. Regardless of the true story, there is no denying that Lew was instrumental in popularizing flash tattoos and also creating amazing flash tattoo designs throughout his career.

Tattoo flash became an important part of the tattoo subculture. It allowed tattoo artists to showcase their unique styles and designs and provided inspiration for future tattoo artists. Today, tattoo flash remains a popular and important part of the tattoo industry and has evolved to encompass modern day influences such as movies, manga, comics, and more.

I'd say for many artist that creating a custom piece is the most exciting to work on, but as someone who is just getting started in the tattoo industry I think creating sheets of custom flash tattoo designs in my own style is a great way to introduce people to my art and give them ideas of what kind of custom design they might want from me in the future.

Flash tattoos really took the tattoo industry to a new level, and we wouldn’t be where we are today without them. I hope you enjoyed this little snippet into the history of tattooing as much as I did.

Until next time my fellow apes,

Peter Hernandez


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