nigel palmer
nigel palmer - disrupting the surface


Random thoughts, musings, and reminders to self.

Posts tagged tattooing
Why Disrupting the Surface?
disrupt (dɪsˈrʌpt)
1. (tr) to throw into turmoil or disorder
2. (tr) to interrupt the progress of (a movement, meeting, etc)
3. to break or split (something) apart

'Disrupting the Surface' started fairly early on with my tattoo work and subsequently became an umbrella title for my other art projects.

I chose the phrase as I wanted something fairly memorable to work with, I thought is was fun, and it seemed to apply to me and my work on various levels, which I'll try to explain below.


Although 'disrupt' is currently a common term in the media with regard to technology and industry, I didn't use the term with that connotation in mind. It all came about as my early work began to move away from designs that complemented the rhythms and flow of the body, such as flowing 'tribal' patterns, into something more irregular.

As I began moving away from seeing tattooing as a service, and more toward using it as an outlet for my own artistic interests, more of my personality began to show through in the work. That was a personality with a short attention span, and a disregard for rules and expectations, more on that later.

A parallel to my work becoming more irregular and disorganised was my childhood interest in 'DPM' (Disruptive Pattern Material) camouflage, which led to an interest in the concepts of disruptive/distractive markings. After a brief stint playing with tattoo designs inspired by the American 'chocolate chip' camouflage, I moved away from camouflage inspired designs as camouflaging wasn't really my goal. Destroying recognisable patterns and structures was what really interested me.

  • Destruction of the body as a unified form.

  • Destruction of surface.

  • Destruction of ordinary.

  • Destruction of easy.


This ultimately took various stylistic forms, methods, and techniques, such as:

  • transforming regular geometric patterns into fractured, irregular compositions.

  • combining foreground and background into single layers

  • negative space becoming positive, and vise versa

  • placing emphasis on backgrounds and ignoring foreground elements

  • cutting off designs abruptly and leaving things 'unfinished'

  • utilising collage techniques to blend unrelated elements

The work became increasingly complex and chaotic in nature, but within all the noise I always hid a rhythm, a path running though from one end of the design to the other, and a form of continuity.

As my early work placed more emphasis and detail on the backgrounds, which seemed to be the opposite of what most people were doing at the time, my later work sought to hide simplicity under layers of 'stuff'.

All these techniques were employed to create obstacles in one way or another, whether that be to create confusion or deliberately limit the audience.

If I was doing it wrong, I was doing it right.


Well, I think that's enough for now but I'll try to continue this in another post......


about my tattoo works

I plan to put my tattooing on hiatus in 2019 and focus on my other projects. 



I have been tattooing professionally since 1998 although I had been dabbling with it since 1992, utilising tattoo techniques in my artwork and on myself.

Over the years my work developed into a graphic abstract style incorporating dotwork and greyshade techniques, and cycling through various graphic elements. Most of the work has been designed freehand, as the tattoo progressed, in an improvised and organic way. Rarely was any idea mapped out on paper first.

The main thread that runs through my tattoo work is not so much the finished designs, but the process of achieving those designs. I have a long term process of incorporating certain motifs or elements, then over time, adapting and transforming them into newly added elements.

As each element and mark made informs the next one, so each tattoo informs the next. It is a process of adding something new, and removing an old element from the repertoire once it has served its purpose, then cycling back to revisit old ideas with new eyes and experience.

This is not a linear process, and multiple streams of ideas can run simultaneously over many years. As time passes, various elements are combined and transformed, then recombined. For example, squares become cubes become irregular blocks, triangles become prisms become crystals.

The basic stylistic themes of my work have gone through many phases and developments, including in no particular order:

  • hexagons

  • circles

  • maps

  • grids

  • squares

  • triangles

  • typography

  • layers

  • negative space

  • regular structures and patterns

  • irregular structures and patterns

  • minimalism

  • maximalism

I am aesthetically drawn to minimalism but for some reason maximalism seems to creep into my tattoo designs.