Updated: Jul 17, 2019
As part of our Design series, I sat down to talk with Logan Square Tattoo resident artist Mike Mac to talk about finger waves, why they work so well, and why they are so hard to draw.
G- What are finger waves?
M- Fingerwaves are just the japanese illustration of waves. They call them finger waves because they look like if your hand was curled over. Which is a good way to learn how to draw them, just curl your fingers up, and you have finger waves.
G- I see a lot of bad finger wave tattoos. Why are they so complicated? What makes a good finger wave?
M- Hmm. I’m not sure the word to describe it. They shouldn't just be the same all the way through, but they should be consistent in the shape. Not like a step later, which is where you see a lot of people get it wrong- where it’s like 1-2-3,1-2-3…..
G- Right, but also it shouldn’t look so chaotic that it looks like a mess
M- yeah, but it should look chaotic enough that it looks organic.
G- Right. That’s why it’s so hard. It’s hard to even explain. But you know it when you see it done well.
M- It’s hard to tell someone how to do a good one, but it’s really easy to point out a bad one. You’ll be talking to someone who can draw some amazing shit, and you ask them to draw a fingerwave and they can’t.
G- haha, myself included. I keep trying. Every year I finally think I’ve got a little bit of it. Then I realize I definitely don’t.
M- well I think you could get good at it. The issue is every year you try to do it for that one piece, and then you put it down for a year.
G- yeah. There’s a lot of people doing the same thing. I’ve just given up on using them because it’s just sort of disappointing to me. I now recognize what a good one looks like….
M- Is disappointing the work? Or disheartening?
G- yeah, disheartening. It’s one of those things that you can get so critical on, for something that looks like it should be so easy to draw. Like a lot of Japanese work, really.
M- The same thing with American traditional work too. Like it looks so easy, and you go to draw it and you’re like, shit….
G- yeah, full of weird little moves….
M- Right, and the simplicity that makes it what it is. But there’s enough reference that you really don’t have an excuse.
G- How did you get good at drawing finger waves?
M- By not being good at drawing finger waves for a long time. By people Telling me that they weren’t good.
G- yeah, you’ve had some really hard hitters give you some pretty good critiques.
M- Yeah I’ve definitely been lucky with who’s caring about me.
G. Who are your favorite go to references?
G- that’s where it gets tricky, people trying to stylize them
M- yeah well, you gotta learn to walk before you can run, which is the problem with, well, I’m not going to name names
G- haha, we’re not going to get catty here on the internet. It’ll be placed on record for everyone to read…
M- Yeah. But before you stylize something, you should learn to draw it the right way. Evan Griffiths @Griff_Tattoo does some really cool stuff. Anybody doing large scale japanese work for the most part can do a really awesome finger wave. It’s the people that don’t do it for the most part that try to randomly do a fingerwave nine out of ten times miss the mark.
G- myself included in that.
M-well I miss the mark too sometimes. But if it’s between you and me you’re going to say what do you mean that looks great? Because you don’t see..you don’t have the expectation that I have for what I want to be doing.
G- well, that’s with everyone. Anyone who cares about their stuff probably feels that way regularly.
G-As far as Japanese tattooing goes, and I guess americana as well, it’s definitely one of the better tools for background as well as tying a piece together.
M- Sure. But also on their own. Some of the most interesting sleeves out there are sleeves of just finger waves. I think of finger waves very much like biomech, where you look at it and it just looks cool, I don’t need to explain why I want it.
G- Right, minimal subject matter, really excellent flow. Ok let’s wrap this up. Thanks for talking with me!
To see some really good examples of finger waves done well, check out the instagrams of the references Mike mentions, as well as Mike’s IG where he is always posting new tattoo ideas, many of them using finger waves. Or just ask him to a wave sleeve on you, because that would be really, really cool!