08:25 AM
Lithgow tattoo.pngWhen I think about custom tattooing, it's usually in the context of contemporary tattoo culture, around the time when artists and tattoo collectors moved beyond the tattoo "menu" on shop walls, as Don Ed Hardy has described, and pursued personalized art. However, over the weekend, I learned of the experience of Scottish traveler and author William Lithgow, who, in 1612, went to Jerusalem and personalized a traditional pilgrimage tattoo -- going beyond a tattoo menu centuries before what's commonly considered the "tattoo Renaissance" of the seventies here in the US.    

In her article, "Custom Tattoo Work - Historical Improvisation During William Lithgow's 1612 Pilgrimage," tattoo historian Dr. Anna Felicity Friedman explores Lithgow's story of how "he customized his tattoo experience in the Holy Land."

Anna explains that most pilgrimage tattoos were "rendered by stamping the image from a stock set of motifs." [She recently received her own "Arms of Jerusalem" design on a trip to Jerusalem from the Razzouk family, which you can read about in this Atlas Obscura piece.] However, in Lithgow's account of his pilgrimage tattoo, he talks about modifying his tattoo to honor his monarch -- thereby, also making a political statement with his mark: 

In the last night of my staying at Jerusalem, which was at the holy grave, I remembring that bounden duty, & loving zeale, which I owe unto my native Prince; whom I in all humility (next and immediate to Christ Jesus) acknowledge to be the supreme head, and Governour of the true Christian and Catholicke Church; by the remembrance of this obligation I say, I caused one Elias Bethleete, a Christian inhabitour of Bethleem, to ingrave on the flesh of my right arme, The never-conquered Crowne of Scotland, and the now inconquerable Crowne of England, joyned also to it, with this inscription, painefully carved in letters, within the circle of the Crowne, Vivat Jacobus Rex.
Anna goes on to describe the historical background, the subsequent revisions to the text, and other interesting finds her detailed discussion. The significance of it all is nicely explained as follows: 

Many tend to think of "custom" tattoos as a relatively modern development, but there is no reason to think that earlier tattoo customers could not also see the potential of the art form--the communicative possibilities--and decide to use the medium to permanently express or memorialize content they chose.

Slightly later in the early modern period we also find other examples of tattoo customization from the history of colonization of North America. Travelers in the 17th century used the technology of native American tattooers to have European motifs inscribed. DiƩreville was one of several observers who noted this. In 1699, he wrote that the French in Acadia had Native Americans tattoo them with "all types of images, crosses, the name of Jesus, flowers; anything that one might want." Custom tattoos have deeper roots than one might presume.

Read the full piece here.

08:50 AM
gagosian popup tattoo parlor.png"Pop-up tattoo parlors" have been increasing popular in the fine art world, melding performance, design, and permanence. More recently, I've written about The Dirty Poke art show in LA, and Scott Campbell's Whole Glory in NYC.

This week, on September 15th and 16th, Gagosian gallery is sponsoring "FLASH FLASH FLASH," a tattoo event at the New York Art Book Fair  at MoMA PS1, for which they commissioned 6 famed artists to put their own spin on the tattoo flash art tradition; their designs (shown above) will be tattooed by Fernando Lions and Gillian Goldstein of Brooklyn's Flyrite Tattoo

The artists involved are Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon, Throbbing Gristle & Psychic TV's Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, gallery artist Douglas Gordon, "freak folk" singer Devendra Banhart, Max Hooper Schneider, and Richard Wright.

Only 36 people will be tattooed -- 6 for each design. Already, Banhart and P-Orridge's tattoos are sold out. The cost per tattoo is $250, surprisingly affordable, and there seems to be no limits on tattoo placement.

You can make your appointment here.

The designs will also be featured in a book designed by Brian Roettinger, and will be available as temporary tattoos.

While I don't plan on getting tattooed, I will head over to the book fair this weekend as it runs through September 18th. It's an exciting event that attracts 370 booksellers, antiquarians, artists, institutions and independent publishers from twenty-eight countries. There are also a number of special events.

MoMA PS1 is located at 22-25 Jackson Avenue on 46th Avenue, Long Island City, NY.      

07:21 AM
german_eagle_tattoo.jpgGot some interesting tattoo headlines for ya, from Nazi tattoo links to hacked prison guns to "kinky" tattoos and lots more. Here we go:

The big story centered on what is described as a "Nazi tattoo" on a Philadelphia police officer. Photos, like the one above, of Ian Hans Lichtermann circulated around social media after the cop was snapped on July 26th at a Black Resistance March held during the Democratic National Convention. The tattoo in question is the word "Fatherland" above a large eagle with outstretched wings, which resembles part of the official insignia of Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party. The Philadelphia Police Department is investigating; however, as writes, there is no official tattoo policy for its police officers. The article explains: "Existing officers who want a tattoo on a forearm, neck, or face must obtain approval from a review board [...] The process includes submitting the tattoo's design for consideration, and offensive or lewd images almost certainly would be rejected." In an official statement, the Philly PD wrote: "We must ensure that all constitutional rights are adhered to while at the same time ensuring public safety and public trust aren't negatively impacted." It will be interesting to see if a policy is drafted after this incident.

On the criminal tattoo tip, there's this cool hack of a prison-made tattoo gun, in which a machine is fashioned out of a pen, a Walkman, paper clips, rubber bands, and a set of batteries.

Vice (of course) has the salacious headline "Kinky couples tattoo each other" for its piece on tattooing and other body modification in people's sex lives and the interplay of pain and pleasure. Here's more on the appeal:

They like the interaction,' says Dulcinea Pitagora, a New York-based kink-friendly therapist. 'They like the intimacy of that experience. Another reason could be the permanence of it, the bonding aspect in terms of making a long-term commitment.' According to Pitagora, tattooing is the 'most common' way for a domme to mark a sub today, with 'scarification' as a close second.
To me, the sexiest articles involve tattoo law. Don't judge! Following my discussion on the latest tattoo copyright case in the US, The New Zealand Herald talks about copyright issues that face tattoo artists (and celebrities) in their own country. There are key distinctions between tattoo copyright in the US and New Zealand, as the article points out: "Copyright goes further in New Zealand than in the United States as tattoo artists there do not have moral rights in their work. In New Zealand, a tattoo artist could sue for breach of their moral rights if changes are made to their design by a second tattoo artist." It's a fascinating read, especially for my fellow law nerds. 

There were also some really interesting tattoo artist profiles:

The OC Weekly talked to Carlos Torres, realism's finest (and super cool dude). In it, Carlos discusses the San Pedro tattoo scene and his thoughts in the global explosion of tattooing. Most interesting to me is his fine art approach to creating new tattoo references by going as far as staging shoots with costumed models and photographing them himself for clients wishing completely original large-scale custom work. See more of Carlos' work on Instagram.

One of the godfathers of Black & Grey tattooing, Freddy Negrete, is profiled in LA Weekly, with the hook being his book "Smile Now, Cry Later: Guns, Gangs, and Tattoos-My Life in Black and Gray," which was recently released. The LA Weekly article offers a glimpse into the book, discussing Freddy's 40 years of tattooing, from prison to celebrity clients. Here's a taste from Freddy on his legacy:

In the '60s and '70s, tattooing was controlled by bikers, and they weren't about to let any Chicano gangster just start tattooing," Negrete says. I was the first prominent Chicano gangster tattooer in East L.A., and I brought this style from the prisons that was different than they were doing. It didn't involve any color, so it seemed like it was easier, but when Ed Hardy brought me into the shop, people started to see it wasn't so easy because of how much detail went into it.
In another installment of The Stir's Lady Tattoo Artists We Love, the wonderful Rose Hardy is featured, talking about her start in tattooing in New Zealand, her work on mastectomy and C-section scars, and her tattoo life today at Kings Avenue in NYC. Check Rose's work, including the backpiece below, on her Instagram.

rose hardy tattoo.jpgAnd Nicaraguan artist Juan Carlos Mendoza is the subject of a written profile and video interview on for his work influenced by contemporary art and how he adapts it to the body.

Feel free to comment on any of these news stories in our Facebook group or Tweet at me.
08:40 AM
nba2k16.jpgBack in February, I geeked out over the latest tattoo law news in "Videogame Maker Sued for Copyright Infringement Over Basketball Stars' Tattoos." As I wrote in that post, a lawsuit was filed in federal court in New York against Take-Two Interactive and other companies associated with the video game NBA 2K16 for reproducing the tattoos of the basketball stars featured in the game series without permission.

The suit was filed by Solid Oak Sketches, a company who licensed the tattoo designs from the following artists who tattooed stars like Lebron James and Kobe Bryant:  Justin Wright (LeBron James), Shawn Rome (LeBron James), Tommy Ray Cornett (Eric Bledsoe and Kenyon Martin), Robert Benedetti (Kobe Bryant), and Leslie Hennelly (DeAndre Jordan). In those licensing agreements, the tattooers agreed to
8% of the net earnings of Solid Oak for their designs.

A couple of weeks ago, a ruling came down concerning that suit, and among some tattooers talking about it, there was a bit of confusion, so I figured I'd break it down a bit here.

On August 2nd, U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain in Manhattan said that the videogame maker cannot be held liable to Solid Oak Sketches for statutory damages -- which could rack up as much as $150,000 per copyright infringement -- because Soild Oak did not register the tattoo designs with the US Copyright Office until 2015, years after the release of NBA 2K14 in 2013, when the alleged infringement of the tattoo designs began.

In order to obtain statutory damages and attorneys' fees, Solid Oak must have registered its copyright prior to the alleged infringement. Solid Oak argued that, because the NBA 2K16 version was released after copyright registration, they were still entitled to those statutory damages and attorneys' fees; however, the court didn't buy it, stating that "the first act of infringement in a series of ongoing infringements occurred prior to the work's copyright registration."

You can read that opinion and order here.

The Hollywood Reporter's article on the suit got some traction last week on social media, and that's where I found that some were confused about what the decision meant. The ruling does not mean that the court found that there was no copyright infringement, rather, they said that, because of when it was registered, Solid Oak and the artists were not going to get the really big money, which would have added up to a massive amount considering the number of tattoos represented in the games.

What Solid Oak and the artists are then left with is proving actual damages -- the money from demonstrated loss that they suffered as a result of the infringement, such as lost licensing revenue or any other provable financial loss directly attributable to the game's use of their artwork. That's tougher to do, but they could still see some decent money if the judge finds infringement.

The big argument of the defendant is that the use of tattoos seen on the bodies of the basketball stars is fair use and de minimis use. Stanford's general definition of fair use is "any copying of copyrighted material done for a limited and 'transformative' purpose, such as to comment upon, criticize, or parody a copyrighted work. Such uses can be done without permission from the copyright owner." And de minimis can be summed up as "the amount of material copied is so small (or 'de minimis') that the court permits it without even conducting a fair use analysis," as per this Stanford resource.

In their court filings, Take-Two asserts:

Indeed, if Solid Oak were correct, it would mean that anyone appearing in public, on a television program, or in an advertisement would need to license the display of their tattoos. This is not the law and, if it were, it would be an encroachment on basic human rights.
Take-Two also made some other interesting arguments which you can read here.

It's really a fascinating debate and I really can't wait till a court rules on it rather than the cases just settling, as what happened to the Mike Tyson Tattoo Case.

For more on my writing on tattoo copyright check these links:
12:36 PM
robot_tattoo.jpgTattoo headlines were ho-hum until this past week, when the news started covering interesting stories in tech, sports, politics, law, and fashion. Here are my favorites:

The story with the most coverage is the latest in robotic tattooing. Check this video (embedded below) "World's First Tattoo by Industrial Robot," in which French designers Pierre Emm and Johan da Silveira, along with Autodesk engineer David Thomasson, used 3D scanning tech, custom computer software, and an industrial robot to create a precision tattoo on real flesh. The designers told The Verge that the hardest part was adapting the robotic arm to work on the uneven surfaces of the human body. The Verge also reports that they plan to turn their project into a commercial operation. "It was not the goal in the beginning [...] But many of the tattoo artists and studios we have worked with along the way are impatient to get their hands on these machines." This isn't Emm and da Silviera's first foray into robotic tattooing: back in 2014, I wrote about their 3D printer tattoo machine. This latest project builds on that, kicking it up a notch. But really, no matter how precise, tattooing for me is also about that relationship between artist and client. That trust and bond is important, so I won't be giving that up soon for a straighter line.

Tattoos on Olympic athletes are also garnering tons of attention. The Washington Post tattoo slideshow is worth a look, and its particular focus is the exclusive Olympic Rings tattoo,"the one tattoo that only we can get," according to archer Brady Ellison. Another interesting note in the article is the story of how a British Paralympic swimmer was disqualified from a race in May because his Olympic rings tattoo was visible, violating an International Paralympic Committee swimming rule that clearly states, "Body advertisements are not allowed in any way whatsoever (this includes tattoos and symbols)." According to the Washington Post: "Technically, Paralympians compete under a different banner and for a different organization that features a different logo. To Paralympic officials, the Olympic rings were no different than a Nike swoosh. The International Olympic Committee has indicated that it has no plans to ban ink of the rings and has even expressed enthusiasm for athletes' marking their accomplishments in such an enduring way."

Also check this Kotaku article by Brian Ashcraft on how the multitude of tattooed Olympians, and their fans, will flood the next summer games in Japan, forcing the country to rethink its anti-tattooing laws and also people's perception of tattoos in general. The article also includes a number of personal pics of the athletes' tattoos.

My favorite article was on ancestral Maori tattoo traditions meets modern politics. Nanaia Mahuta is first female member of the New Zealand parliament to wear the moko kauae tattoo while in office.  According to, Mahuta stated that "it was time for New Zealand to accept that Maori traditions were strong and everlasting," adding:

I'm certain just as parliament sees the growing contribution that Maori are making in all places in all sorts of ways that it is a growing recognition that we are not going anywhere. We expect to see the way that we think,  the way that we celebrate and cherish our culture, our heritage and language and all things that are important is a key defining part in the way New Zealand continues to grow and that's got to be positive.

Here are some other links to check out:

* The NY Times looks at cover-ups in "A Face-Lift for Tattoos."

* Mexican prisoners are using their tattoo skills for purse designs.

* A judge causes controversy by allowing a make-up artist to cover a defendant's Neo-Nazi tattoos.

* And our friend Michele Myles of Daredevil Tattoo is featured in The Stir's "Lady Tattoo Artists We Love."

World's First Tattoo by Industrial Robot from Pier 9 on Vimeo.

07:39 AM
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The excellent Highlark Magazine has an interview with Zac Scheinbaum, who is part of the Kings Avenue Tattoo crew in NYC. Zac has a diverse portfolio, but I am particularly a fan his blackwork, which flows with different stylistic influences, from sacred geometry to traditional Americana motifs.

Highlark interviews Zac about his work and upcoming projects. Here's a taste from their Q&A:

A lot of your imagery could be described as macabre- what, in your opinion, draws people to expressing these themes of life and death in tattoo form, and how do you personally approach those themes as an artist?

A lot of clients come in and say, "Man I really like that heavy black, that super dark work you do." In all truth, I just posted a picture of a huge dark snake I did on a close friend. We had to make the snake so dark in order to cover up some script that went across his chest. I had done that script also years before so it was in a way sort of a favor. When he came in, I was at SAVED at the time, and Anderson Luna, was like "You should do a massive black snake over that." That's what surprises me about the internet, you show a piece of art, or tattoo, and sometimes it just sort of explodes. So by doing that and other predominantly black and grey work, I think it lends itself well to that imagery.

I've always been more interested in works of art, especially religious or some older European paintings because they weren't afraid to depict brutality or violence or swords etc.. And as a kid being dragged to museums, I found those incredibly stimulating. Now I'm so thankful for those times! Ha! Then you start seeing as you explore more and more into the art world how other cultures interpret those things, or the stories or myths that go along with them.

Read more of the interview here and also check the cool stop-motion video they made of a session with Zac (embedded below).

See more of Zac's work on his site and on Instagram.

07:26 AM
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I really enjoyed this installment of the the Proust Questionnaire for Tattoo Artists with multidisciplinary artist Michael Kortez. Michael's work infuses Cubism, Pop Art, Surrealism and Traditional Tattooing styles into his own unique portfolio. You can find him tattooing at Tattoo Mania in West Hollywood, California.

For this Q&A, Michael offers some insight into the man behind the artwork.

What is your current state of mind?
Trying to be open for growth and ready for anything.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Perfect happiness is waking up everyday and doing exactly what I want to do.

What is your greatest fear?
Losing the rest of my eyesight. I use bottle cap glasses.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Which living person do you most admire?
Tattoo Godmother Shanghai Kate.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

I'm a Cancer, so my sensitivity.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?

What is your greatest extravagance?
I spend a lot of money on records, movies and Beatles Boots.

What is your favorite journey?
Traveling to Europe was a blast...I look forward to going back at some point.

What is your most treasured possession?
Pictures of my father. There are only 3 in existence.

When and where were you happiest?
Here and Now.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I would give myself a quicker wit.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Becoming a professional artist.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

The ninth circle of hell.

What is your most marked characteristic?
My enthusiasm.

Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
Holden Caulfield.

How would you like to die?
In my sleep, dreaming.

What is your motto?
EVER FORWARD...Nothing can stop you.

See more of Michael's work on Instagram.

michael cortez tattoo 5.jpg
07:56 AM

Past posts on stick & poke tattoos -- particularly the sale of commercial stick & poke kits -- have led to some interesting debates, and I'm guessing this video on The Dirty Poke, a backyard stick-and-poke tattoo shed, will lead to one too.

The Dirty Poke was a month-long art show/tattoo shop in a converted tool shed in Mount Washington, Los Angeles.  On Sundays, the artists gave hand-poked, as well as machine, tattoos of "imagery related to the rustic side of LA Life."

A lot of what you see in the video are those hipster "I don't care if it's dumb and shitty" tattoos, and the artists featured, Matthew Johnson and Joel Kyack, take an irreverent approach to tattooing, which may annoy some, particularly when Matt characterizes tattoos as bad decisions.

Like many who preach the democratization of tattooing through stick & pokes, Joel talks about how anyone can do a handpoke and how he teaches others by using his body as their scratchpad. There's no discussion of health and hygiene, but that doesn't make for a fun video anyway. And whatever you think of the discussion, the video is pretty fun, and Super Deluxe did a good job with it. Worth a look.

For a more serious look at hand tattooing and some artful examples, check this post on Handpoke Tattoo: 23 Artists' Words and Ink.
09:41 AM
HR Giger Empire State Tattoo.jpgThe NY Empire State Tattoo Expo kicks off tomorrow, and I'm excited to take my baby bump over there to have fun at the show (not working! yeah!). It'll also be my husband's first tattoo convention -- he's already studied "How Not To Get a Tattoo at a Convention" - and so I'm lining up a list of highlights, kind of like a convention plan of attack.

The first thing on my attack list is to view the art of one of tattooing's greatest artistic influences: H.R. Giger. While his legacy in pop culture is his acclaim for designing the Alien creature, for the tattoo community, he inspired a whole stylistic genre: biomechanical tattoo design -- art that conveys man and machine fused in surrealist dreamscapes.

The H.R. Giger works on view will be Harkonnen Chair, the Nubian Queen, and the Birthmachine Baby sculptures.

On the last day of the show, Sunday, July 17th, at 5pm, there will be a contest for the best H.R. Giger Inspired Tattoo (like the one shown below). The prizes are stellar: 
1st Place Winner will receive the Tattoo Biomechanoid, a Limited Edition Giger sculpture; and the 2nd Place Winner will receive the Tattoo Biomechanoid Ring, also designed by Giger.

Once we've checked Giger off our convention To Do list, we'll be checking out the other tattoo competitions, viewing portfolios of the top artists in attendance, and buying lots of cool stuff (including tattoo baby clothes!). For tattoo artists, the seminars are a must-see, with the very best in the industry sharing their secrets. 

I'll be posting photos from the show on my Instagram and later on the blog. Hope to see you there!

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H.R. Giger inspired tattoo by Paul Booth.
07:47 AM
ancient tattoos.pngSome interesting news on the ancient tattoo front: a new study found that 3,000-year-old chips of volcanic glass were used to tattoo in the South Pacific -- and these tools may offer greater insight into ancient tattooing practice. 

The study, recently published in the August 2016 Journal of Archaeological Science, is entitled "Detecting early tattooing in the Pacific region through experimental usewear and residue analyses of obsidian tools," and conducted by Nina Kononenkoa, Robin Torrencea, and Peter Sheppard.

Live Science breaks the study down:

The scientists analyzed 15 obsidian artifacts recovered from the Nanggu site in the Solomon Islands. (Obsidian is a dark natural glass that forms when lava cools.) The creators of these artifacts, which are at least 3,000 years old, reshaped naturally occurring obsidian flakes so that each possessed a short, point on its edge, the researchers said. To create a tattoo, the surface of the skin must be broken so that pigment can be embedded and thus remain under the skin permanently after the wound heals. In 2015, the researchers performed 26 tattooing experiments with pigskin, using black charcoal pigment and red ochre dye, over the course of about four months. They used obsidian tools that copied the size and shape of the ancient artifacts from Nanggu.

When the scientists compared the ancient Nanggu artifacts with those used in the experiments, they found that both sets of tools had similar signs of wear and tear, such as microscopic chipping, rounding and blunting of the edges, and thin scratches. They also detected residues of blood, charcoal and ochre on the Nanggu artifacts.

"The research demonstrates the antiquity and significance of human body decoration by tattooing as a cultural tradition amongst the earliest settlers of Oceania," Torrence said.

On, there's further discussion of the study, including on the types of tattooing techniques in the islands: "One was to make incisions and rub pigment into the skin. Another was to sketch the design on the skin in charcoal or ochre pigments and then make incisions. Another was to pierce the skin, either with the pigment on the point of the tool or on the skin."

For further reading regarding tattooing on the Solomon Islands, Ancient Origins also points to our friend Lars Krutak, tattoo anthropologist, and his article online entitled The Art of Nature: Tattoo History of Western Oceania. While you're on Lar's site, you can check more on ancient as well as contemporary tattooing.
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