Normally, when someone looks at a tattoo and says, “Looks like that must have hurt,” they’re just pointing out the experience of getting a tattoo, not the actual look of the tattoo. The Realist by SJ Horvath The “scrape, bruise and scar cosmetic tattoos” don’t just look like they hurt, they look like they need to be cleaned up with bactin and a bandage or of them.
Recently, Horvath’s work has gone viral on social media as people can’t help but be intrigued by the style. Some are impressed with the realism of the bruise coloring, others are puzzled as to why people would want to be permanently bruised in the first place. The tattoos are realistic enough that Instagram deleted some of their posts claiming the image goes against their guidelines, presumably for depicting violent imagery.
We spoke with Horvath about how she got the idea for bruise tattoos, why clients seek them out, and more.
Can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about who you are?
My name is SJ Horvath. Mother. Artist. Collector of oddities. Hillbilly. A threat in Mario Kart. I co-own and operate Black Moon Tattoo in Knoxville, Tennessee with my husband, Mo. I’ve been an artist all my life. I can’t even remember a time when I wasn’t drawing, painting, sculpting, tinkering or just making a huge mess. I love being able to express myself in a way that I can’t always vocalize.
Tell us how you became a tattoo artist?
In 2016, I was able to find an apprenticeship at an established walk-in store in Knoxville, and the start was honestly the toughest few years of my life. I wanted a career I knew I loved and I put blood, sweat, tears and money into achieving that goal.
How did you find your tattoo style?
My tattoo style is all over the place. It’s a bit illustrative and a bit neo-traditional. Especially color. Usually flickers. I am a self-taught artist and I always want to learn and grow.
Lately I’ve fallen into the beauty of unconventional cosmetic tattoos. I do scrapes, scars, slaps, bites, freckles, bruises and blemishes. Giving people the power to choose what they want their meat suit to look like, having me help them become more of themselves, is extremely rewarding to me.
When did you get the idea for bruise/scrape tattoos?
About four years ago, my colleague Finn and I were talking about the beauty of bruises. I know, it sounds silly, but they’re like tiny little galaxies under the surface. We were convinced they were tattooable. He trusted me enough to do nasty color washes and wrap them on the side of his knee.
If it wasn’t for this day, I would have never found my love for the sfx tattoo. Bruise/Scrape tattoos have become popular and have recently become gnarlier.
How do you do your research/references for these?
I’ve been into horror movies, macabre art and special effects for a very long time. I feel like a lot of my experience drawing scary horror scenes and sfx makeup has made the tattoo medium so much easier for me to get into. I honestly don’t use reference for my cosmetic tattoos. I don’t stencil them, not even my freckles. I just go there with the idea of making it special and unique for the customer at that time. I am my heart, not a stencil.
What kind of customers come to ask for these tattoos? Are they trying to commemorate a previously suffered injury? We would like to understand the state of mind of who would be interested in these?
I encountered several different reasons:
– Clients who have SH (self-harm) addictions have told me that seeing something realistic about themselves will prevent them from self-harming. Some people want to represent internal pain with something visible.
-Some people just want to look different from the “beauty” that society has created.
-Some people want to remember difficult times in their lives that made them stronger.
-Some people just think it looks cool.
It’s not for me to judge anyone; Just to provide a well done service in a clean and safe environment. I love being the person who can provide this service to this specific demographic.
What kind of reaction have people had to bruise/scrape tattoos?
Never in my life did I expect my weird tattoo style to go viral on so many platforms. I get a lot of hate and even more love. I feel like I’m finally reaching the demographic that was intended for me.
Some people become inspired and empowered after hearing about it and seeing it on friends and family.
In person, most people won’t even say anything until you tell them it’s a tattoo. And even when you do, they usually don’t believe it until you squeeze or manipulate the skin. It’s super trippy.
What’s the secret to making one of these tattoos look good?
From the customer’s point of view? Trust. Rock those beautiful imperfections with confidence.
From the artist’s point of view, there is no secret. Knowing how your colors blend under different skin tones, how scrapes and blemishes heal at different stages, and what a wound would look like on a thin-skinned bony area versus an oily area are what make these tattoos what they are. They are messy and chaotic, but you still need to have that knowledge to make them look realistic.