Sleeve tattoos are very special. They are the first bigger size everyone considers. They became very popular recently. Walking in a short t-shirt, and showing your sleeve tattoo is a great moment. You immediately differentiate yourself from other people on the street.
From an artist point of view, sleeve tattoos are particular and hard to plan. Canvas is round and tall. While most of the designs that customers usually consider are in landscape orientation. Every tattooer has to find his own way to plan a sleeve. Myself, I love working with big demanding projects. Tricky to prepare, when appropriately designed they will look fantastic, and it is not uncommon for customers to come back often just to say how happy they are, and how often they hear compliments from their friend, and even others stopping them on the street.
A sleeve is a big tattoo for its wearer, but if we consider the full body as a canvas, it is actually relatively small. It is definitely much smaller than a leg sleeve tattoo. Compared to the full front chest, or fullback, the sleeve is a really complementary piece. That is why, always when someone comes to me for a sleeve, I asked did they considered other significant art pieces. After all, a body is one piece of art.
I also always say - size matters. Less and more prominent elements, clearly visible from a distance, are much better than 10-12 small pieces glued together randomly. Also, the sleeve looks best when it is treated as one piece, so by consequence subject matter should be the same. So, for instance, African lion doesn't go well with the dark street of London and Celtic legends. Stay within one subject matter, and the sleeve will be much better.
There is probably nothing more critical in the tattoo, and different to painting on canvas, then a flow. The flow is a rhythm of the piece, in which we try to complement natural movement of the body. It's muscle structure, the very essence of human proportion. And sleeve is really the first size of the tattoo, that can start working with that. Anything below is just a hope that next tattoo will follow the same rules, and flow will be achieved. But with sleeve tattoo, we are really able to complement body flow.