What is a free rein tattoo?

Free rein? Really?

What is a free rein tattoo? Explain creative freedom? How does it feel? And do you actually need it? I’m going to tell you, but first. Imagine you had the perfect studio, a limitless variety of materials available to you and all the time in the world to make your art. This is the kind of freedom many artists dream of, but in reality, such freedom can be overwhelming.

Imagine you had all that, where would you begin?

Creative Freedom comes from accepting and working within the limitations and STILL making great art and not excuses. So, what is a free rein tattoo?
Seth Godin has a great saying: “The thing about a clean sheet of paper is that it still has edges.” Realistically we’re always working within boundaries, often ones we’ve created for ourselves. Resource constraints, timelines, lack of knowledge, low energy or even the edge of a sheet of paper or computer screen, are all boundaries that we each face at one time or another. The thing is: the boundaries are only as restricting as we allow them to be.

Don’t Work Without Edges

Over the years I discovered that the low budgets made for a good constraint. And, far from restricting me. Once I embraced the limitations and pushed them as far as I could I could actually do very good work, pretty bloody cheap! Rather than viewing our boundaries as restrictions, the true creative mind sees the boundaries as empowering.

"You can't do real work without edges. But those edges don't have to be defined in the same way everyone defines them.”

I’m very lucky that my clients give me a lot of room to work in. But, I still like to have some client guidelines. Even the term free rein, (free reign or even free range) is a constraint. Because what’s unsaid is that any free rein piece will still have to look like all of my other work. I can’t just go off on some brand new tangent. I still have to produce work that looks like ‘me’.

So, instead of longing for creative freedom take creative control and identify, define, and re-define the boundaries from which you work. Whether it's the edge of a page or the edge of what's possible.


For a little over 10 years I was the head of the design department at one of the UK’s top twenty indie publishers. That might sound fancy but believe me it wasn’t really. I spent most of my days working for small clients with even smaller budgets. Early on I decided that I wasn’t going to let the fact that the client had no budget or taste get in my way. Produce the best work I could, that would print the best on the terrible quality paper that was our ‘local rag’. Mostly because I preferred this option to becoming one of the jaded broken husks of humanity that were the production department.
production zombie

What is a free rein tattoo?