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Jake Steele | Tattoo Artist | Painter | World Traveller

The Infamous Star Wars Sleeve.

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The Infamous Star Wars Sleeve.

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     It was around three PM on a random week day when I got called to the front to chat with a customer. The young apprentice called me to the front, then I looked the customer right in the eye, shook his hand, and introduced myself. . He showed me the tattoo that he already had, which was a black and gray full portrait of Yoda, and that piqued my interest. “That's a really nice tattoo, what are you looking to get?” “I’m looking to get a Star Wars Sleeve”, said the client. Now, I have heard this 1,000 times before and took it with a grain of salt, but like always I went into this on face value and took him at his word.

The Beginning

This was the original tattoo that the Star Wars Sleeve was inspired by.

     Little did I know, that meeting would change my life forever.

     Although the tattoo turned out immaculate and it's something I'm proud of, the real reward was the friendship we built through the process. The project started slow, but we gained momentum and collaborated week in and week out. With each session, our vision for the arm developed more and more. Our original 50 ideas for the sleeve had been thrown out the window by the time we put our last few appointments in the books. 

    There are two things that kept going through my mind during this project: “Damn yo, your arms bigger than I thought.” and “I can't believe this dude will sit for this long”. The amount of detail I crammed into that tattoo was intense for how big of a surface area I had to cover. Shawn allowed me to be a perfectionist and go back into the healed tattoo to make sure that its as immaculate as possible.

Session 13: Going back in healed Ewok to make it immaculate

The tattoo itself totaled 90+ hours, 15 or so sessions, and over a year’s time to complete. My initial plan of attack was to focus on the characters in Star Wars, the most iconic and recognizable from afar. He already had the black and gray Yoda, so we made the choice to keep it in that realistic style with no color. As soon as we pulled that trigger I knew the style and focus was going to be realistic portraits in black and gray. It was a bucket list tattoo for me to do a portrait sleeve and I was stoked that Shawn was willing to go for it. I knew that this would be the most challenging series of tattoos of my career, but I was ready. My immediate thought for the first portrait had to be Darth Vader. The lines and shades fit with the inner bicep, so I found the strongest references I could and we settled on one. We booked the appointment and the next Friday, the Star Wars sleeve had begun.

The Star Wars Sleeve first reference: Darth Vader

    That Vader session was 9 hours and Shawn sat like a champion. Never complaining, kept a smile on his face and we had a great conversation about life. I realized that this was an O.G. and I began to hope that this sleeve was a reality and not just another person getting one tattoo that I would never see again.

The first session in the books!
The Vader 4 days in. This was done in one nine hour session

    Once we banged out the Darth Vader, the game as they say, was afoot. The characters we decided must be in the sleeve were: a Storm Trooper, C3PO, Wicket and R2D2, Shawn also wanted to incorporate some of the vehicles and symbols from the movies, so we designed a space theme with portraits. Darth Vader's tie fighter, a few X-wings and an empire Tie Bomber rounded out the initial design.

There are thousands of Star Wars tattoos out there and several really nice sleeves, but none of them have an Ewok on such display.

Ewok Reference! Star Cruiser Zoom Zoom….Star Cruiser craaash
The Stencil and initial Shading

Wicket has been added to the Star Wars Sleeve

Shawn really wanted to be different and Wicket is one of his favorite characters, so it had to go on the inner wrist so he could see it. R2D2 and C3PO again are not the most represented on tattoos, so we went into it and feature them on the outer wrist.

C3PU Stencil and Shading: Familiar with over 6,000,000 languages!

This isn't the ‘typical' Star War's Sleeve; This is “The Infamous Star Wars Sleeve”.

Hello, master my Name is c3p0 I am a protocol droid
Vader's Tie Fighter on the Star Wars Sleeve

   The space concept allowed me to use nebulae and star fields as filler so we didn't just slam black. I used the client's skin tones to highlight the negative space some white super highlights to give it a pop.

No slamming black on the Star Wars Sleeve

.  We were almost done and the last session was in the books, we had decided to fill the back strap with more space and starfield, but at the last minute Shawn came up with the idea of putting Yoda's light saber in the mix. Since I didn't get to make the original Yoda I jumped at the idea of putting my touch at least surrounding it. Using some forced perspective we rendered the lightsaber as if Yoda was pulling it to him and it finished off the sleeve with perfection.

Lightsaber pull to me I do

During the tattoo process, I used a specific “tool kit” of tattoo equipment. Here’s a list of Ink, Machinery, and Disposables. 

  1. Dynamic Black 
  2. World Famous Grey wash set
  3. FK Irons Spektra Xion Rotary Tattoo Machine
  4. Bishop Rotary RCA Chord
  5. Critical Atom X Power Supply
  6. Stencil Anchored Tattoo stencil applicator 
  7. Vaseline 
  8. Ink Caps
  9. Green Soap
  10. Clip chord covers, machine bags, barrier film, and paper towels
  11. Cohesive Bandage 
  12. Saniderm 
  13. Kwadron Tattoo Cartridges

The tools of the trade to make the Star Wars Sleeve come alive!

     I am passionate about bringing out the best in others, and My career has enabled me to do so consistently for years. This project wasn’t just a Star Wars sleeve, it was “The Star Wars Sleeve“. Every inch on his arm was meticulously crafted though hours and hours of design. . They were replications of striking imagery for him to enjoy for years to come. The work brought about a sense of oneness, confidence, and accomplishment. 

     My desire is to bring my client’s vision to life and to enhance their experience. Every time I’m finished with a piece, the most satisfying moment is when they get up to see their new tattoo in the mirror. I rely on their approval to continue to do what I do so I take the utmost care for each and every tattoo. It doesn't matter if it is The Star Wars Sleeve, or a simple infinity sign I will provide the best possible service I can.

Thank you for taking this journey with me and learning how the biggest risk and hardest tattoo of my career lead to the best friendship and most immaculate sleeve of my life!

Jake and Shawn in California; April 2019

If you want to learn more about the tattoo journey I have been on or about a specific project that I've done, please check out the Jake Steele Tattoo Blog!


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