Tyler Hobbs, an Austin-based artist known for his pioneering work with algorithms and coding, wants to use your skin as a canvas. His generative artwork, which sells for millions as non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and prints, will soon be available as automated tattoos thanks to his partnership with a new technology-focused tattoo startup.
A figurehead of the generative art movement today, Hobbs is a former programmer who uses plotters and computer programs to create both digital and tangible works. He’s most well-known for his Fidenza series, consisting of 999 algorithmically generated NFTS which consistently demand seven-figure sums at auction.
His tattoo collaboration with Blackdot, a Texas-based firm, will employ hardware, software and cloud technology to bring new forms of art to the tattoo world. Blackdot has built an automated tattooing device that applies preloaded designs using minuscule dots—without the intervention of a human tattoo artist. “It just seemed like such a natural fit, this blend of the digital and human combining man and machine in a way,” said Hobbs in a statement.
Hobbs, who began discussing the project with Blackdot back in 2021, will design three custom tattoos depicting birds in flight, complete with minuscule corners and pixelation effects. The application sessions, which will cost nearly $10,000 each, are already in demand—the application deadline was pushed back a week to Oct. 26 in response to an overwhelming number of requests, according to Blackdot’s founder and CEO Joel Pennington.
Pennington’s interest in tattoos began during his stint as an advisor for start-up Bellwether Coffee. “I was surrounded by people with tattoos for the first time,” he told Observer. Through conversations with colleagues, he learned about a demand for small and detailed tattoos, a style that is harder to find in smaller cities and often involves lengthy waiting lists from renowned tattoo artists.
With Blackdot’s technology, concealed test dots are conducted to learn about and compare a client’s skin characteristics. Its device then produces tiny grayscale dots measuring 0.25mm in diameter, with depth control that not only allows for precise designs but also minimal pain, according to Pennington, who has two tattoos applied via Blackdot’s technology. “Reduced pain was a side benefit,” he said. The process is consistent with a modernized version of stick-and-poke tattooing, a non-electric form of tattooing using needles to create individual dots.
Bringing the art world and the tattoo world together
In addition to providing generative artwork with custom designs from Hobbs, Blackdot’s initial offerings also include pre-designed limited edition and limited release pieces from tattoo artist Omar Tunca and illustrator John Craig, the latter of whom designed the cover for The Smashing Pumpkins’ 1995 album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Artists will receive royalties each time their designs, which are stored in a secure cloud, are used in tattoo application.
Blackdot will also offer “Tradeable Tattoos,” limited edition tattoos in the form of NFTs that can be traded, gifted and eventually redeemed as physical tattoos. The company will begin with the application of two or three tattoos per month in its Austin studio, with plans to ramp up production after expanding to a retail establishment in the city with multiple tattooing devices in operation. Plans in the works include studios in hubs like New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Las Vegas, where customers can receive tattoos after commissioning designs from artists around the globe.
Pennington says the technology will provide a new level of preciseness in tattoos, but he isn’t planning on displacing human tattoo artists. “Blackdot cannot replicate or replace regular tattooists,” he said. “My goal here is to open up these different categories to art and enable people to have more forms of self-expression.”