There has been a lot of recent media coverage about blackwork tattoos and its apparent new arrival on the tattoo scene. Our very own Hanumantra’s work features heavily in articles in The Huffington Post and Tattoodo. Even the odious and right-wing, The Daily Mail has recently published an article on blackwork tattoos. Whilst it is obviously amazing that one of our artists has had his work published on some extremely popular websites. Once again, the mainstream, non tattoo related media seems to think this is a new “fad” among styles that will soon die off. Little do they know that blackwork has been a prominent style of tattooing since it began.

Modern Body Art - Blackwork Tattoo by Hanumantrablack tattoo sleeve at modern body art, birmingham









Tattoos date back thousands of years and the first ink used was black. It’s basically just carbon – Charred wood or bone. Ancient tribes used it as a mark of identity, authority and loyalty, and still do. Extensive blackwork tattoos were the norm amongst tribes. Hence the commonly used phrase “tribal tattoo.” If you want to read more about this, a great place to start would be on tattoo anthropologist, Lars Krutak’s website

Leo Zulueta is one of the pioneers of  blackwork tattoos and tribal. His interview in the highly influential 1989 book Modern Primitives helped bring this work into the mainstream. He also had his own famous backpiece tattooed by none other than Ed Hardy. An icon in Western tattooing, known for much more than just diamante encrusted t-shirts.

Tim Commerford, bassist with Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave is also well known for his extensive blackwork tattoos.

Left backpiece by Ed Hardy. Right backpiece by Leo Zulueta

Left backpiece by Ed Hardy. Right backpiece by Leo Zulueta. Both from the 1980s

Tim Commerford Tattoos

Extensive blackwork tattoos on Tim Commerford


With the explosion of social media platforms over the past few years it’s easy to think this is a new phenomenon. Blackwork divides opinion. But, love it or hate it, along with Japanese and traditional, it is one of the oldest styles of tattooing and is here to stay.

Blackwork Backpiece by Hanumantra

Further reading: “Getting the best Blackwork tattoo” by Hanumantra