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Sacred Geometry The Art of Dillon Forte Tattoo Artist

A tattoo by renowned artist Dillon Forte begins with a circle. “Circles embody the cyclical nature of reality. From tiny atoms to expansive solar systems, circles make up the world around us,” said Forte from his studio in Oakland, Calif.

From the circle, Forte draws more inspiration from fractals in nature (a mathematical phenomenon involving a scale-less pattern, like ice crystals or snowflakes or tree branches and leaves or rivers). He is also drawn to eastern mythology, outer space and quantum physics -- all subjects that ask and answer questions about the fundamental structure of life.

For much of his work, these varied influences result in a mandala, a geometric design intended to represent the universe and all existence. The etymology of the word itself comes from “manda,” meaning essence, combined with the suffix “la,” meaning container, and they are characteristically circles within and overlapped by other circles, with four openings or “gates.”  Buddhists believe the mandala contains the path to enlightenment, with the center being the seed, or starting point.

That’s a far cry from the standard hearts and skulls found on tattoo studio walls. But for Forte, a tattoo extends beyond a trend or a wild night out with friends. “Everyone has their own story. Tattoos are an expression of an individual’s past, present and future. These timelines are always changing and evolving.”

The art of creating symmetry

To tell that story, Forte schedules a consultation with the client. Before the meeting, Forte draws up a few concepts using his Wacom Cintiq, which facilitates creating his precise, symmetrical patterns and dot work. With the Cintiq, he zooms while at the same time preserving the perspective and proportions that only a more distant view gives. He strives to create “something that balances a bold, iconic presence with relatively intricate detail” by fusing strong shapes with delicate dots and shading.

Once Forte and the client meet at the consultation, a photo shoot of the target areas takes place. Forte’s major requirement is that whatever goes on the skin must work with the topology and flow of the client’s anatomy. This demands that he has a very strong grasp of his subject’s contours and symmetry. He retains these pictures for later work: “Ideally, eventually the majority of my clients will be getting full bodysuits. I believe planning the body as a whole, versus having a single stamp or collage.” 

Technology as a tattooing machine

Post-consultation, Forte takes the photos of the body and loads them into software programs such as Adobe Photoshop CS6, Corel Painter and Adobe Illustrator. From there he projects, transforms, and superimposes his designs on the relevant area of skin which allows for much greater efficiency and accuracy. While on the screen, the precise placement of the proposed tattoo allows both him and his client the opportunity to identify and solve potential problems immediately. As Forte tells it, in the past, “you would draw something on with sharpies, or freehand, or with a stencil, and it won't look anything like the end result … the finished product will look nothing like the stencil.” The Cintiq allows for a more accurate representation of his proposed work, eliminating any discrepancies and improving overall client satisfaction.

For Forte, his Cintiq is a vital component and an indispensable part of his workflow process. The Cintiq enables him to go from design to execution in a far more fluid motion. Forte said, “It’s a more holistic approach to tattooing, and because of that, technology such as the Cintiq is a key component to the digital age and digital media in terms of artwork.”

Forte’s art portrays complex ideas with basic shapes. He finds inspiration in the ancient. But when it comes time to ink, Forte doesn’t choose new age music. “My clients are surprised when they come to the shop and I’m slappin’ rap music.”  It’s the strong syncopated rhythms and a looping beats that inspires the circles where he starts.