07:41 AM
The Kunsten på Kroppen team low.JPGThe Kunsten pa Kroppen team hand tattooing.

Sharuzen low.JPGSharuzen tattooing.

 Meatshop low.JPGMeatshop tattoo.

The Frankfurt  Tattoo Convention has always been a fun show for me. It is HUGE, but still, the convention crew works hard to take care of its artists and attendees. They also chose interesting themes and invite artists accordingly. This year -- the 24th year! -- it celebrated a Scandinavian theme, with top artists from that region in attendance. While I wish I was in attendance this year, our friend (and fave guest blogger) Serinde enjoyed the show and is sharing her photos and thoughts in this guest blog. See more of Serinde's photos on the Frankfurt Tattoo Flickr Album.


I went "on mission" for Needles & Sins to cover the Frankfurt convention. It was a pretty easy mission to get to, considering how central the venue is in Frankfurt. So many tattoo shows require a trek to get there, but not this well established event. Plus, locations that are easy to access draw a diverse crowd. 

And the show drew a crowd. Artists and traders were all settled in the same hall, but the organizers paid attention to leave enough space between the rows so that you can always walk around without getting stuck in traffic. No bleeding people rubbing up against you!
It also was of special interest to me because of the convention's intriguing Nordic theme - as a Scandinavia lover and tattoo enthusiast, it was a natural draw. Plus, the beautiful convention poster designed by Jannicke Wiese-Hansen of Nidhogg definitely suggested something very Viking (and fun) would be going on.
There was no "Nordic event" per say, but many Scandinavian and Nordic artists had been invited. Almost all Scandinavian artists were within the same convention area, whether they worked in a Nordic/Viking style, like Meatshop from Denmark, or Nidhogg from Norway, or in a completely different style, such as Adrian Hing, Isso, and others.

Other Nordic artists were in the "traditional" area, which featured only artists using hand-tattooing techniques; among them, you could find the following studios specialized in Viking style and dotwork : Ihuda (with Tor Ola Svennevig), Kunsten pa Kroppen (with Kai Uwe Faust and Uffe Berenth), and Skin and Bone (with Colin Dale).
Durga tattoo low.JPGDurga hand tattooing.

Durga tattooing low.JPGClose up of Durga hand tattooing.

This traditional area also included Horikaze & Horimyo, Brent McCown, Durga tattoo, Ferank Manseed, Pauhi, and Bunga Terung. Hand-tattooing is always impressive, and "visual" for the visitors. It's a real show on its own, attracting attention from tattoo collectors and the press, who followed the "tap, tap, tap" sound of the tools.

It was also interesting to look at the artists using the hand-poking method, as they all have a very personal way to work - the way they hold their tools, their gestures and speed. [And while I was there, I took the opportunity for a quick session withTor Ola Svennevig.]

The Nordic theme of the convention inspired even non-Nordic artists and clients; I spotted a Viking dragon being tattooed by a French artist from Tattoo Lyon Lugh Spirit studio. But the main tattoo trend at this convention was the portrait/realistic style. The tattoo competition even had its own specific "realistic" category, which doesn't always exist in other conventions.

The contests, hosted by Daniel Krause, were also a fun component to the convention, but because I'm not fluent in German and partly because of a slight lack of information regarding the artists who made each tattoo, it was difficult to learn which artists were the winners.

All in all, after 3 days of haunting the place and watching artists tattooing non-stop like crazy, this convention left me with a very positive impression of a pleasant and interesting event.


More photos on Flickr.

Miguel Bohigues low.JPGMiguel Bohigues tattooing.

Josh Payne low.JPGJosh Payne tattooing. [Love the Leia tattoo too!]
08:40 AM
Vintage Tattoo Flash.jpgVINTAGE_TATTOO_FLASH.jpgFlash above: Indio Tatto Studio, San Juan, Puerto Rico ca. 1940s.VINTAGE_TATTOO_FLASH_mermaid.jpgFlash above: Ed Smith, Bowery, New York City ca. 1900-20s.

In the 1980s NYC, I'd cut class and head to the then-gritty East Village following around tattooed skater boys, like a nerd-girl puppy. Tattooing was still illegal but you could get work done in the city, just in largely unmarked studios. Then, in the early 1990s -- still years before the tattoo ban was lifted in 1997 -- I remember a passing by a storefront with a brazen sign advertising the tattoo services inside. I thought it was badass and a little crazy for its open disregard of the law. I later learned that this essentially exemplified its owner,
Jonathan Shaw.

In his Fun City Tattoo, Shaw tattooed punks and celebrities (most famously Johnny Depp and Iggy Pop). Fun City was also a guest home to top artists around the world, like Filip Leu. Shaw later sold the shop to Michelle Myles and Brad Fink (who later sold it Steve Pendone), and he moved to
Rio de Janeiro to focus on his writing.

Through the years -- as tattooer, author, and artist -- Shaw amassed
one of the largest collections of vintage tattoo flash in the world. Now, he has gathered these treasures into a hardcover art book, published by Powerhouse Books, to be released next month.

Vintage Tattoo Flash: 100 Years of Traditional Tattoos From the Collection of Jonathan Shaw is 256 pages of flash that "spans the first roughly 75 years of American tattooing from the 1900s Bowery to 50s Texas, and from the Pike in the 60s to the development of the first black and grey, single-needle tattooing in LA in the 70s," reproducing "unpublished sheets of original flash from the likes of Bob Shaw, Zeke Owen, Tex Rowe, Ted Inman, Ace Harlyn, Ed Smith, Paul Rogers, the Moskowitz brothers, and many, many others relatively known and unknown."

In his interview with Crave, Shaw says of his collection:

Tattooing is a popular art form that reflects the times and culture in which it is produced. The designs of the 1930s and '40s became irrelevant in the '60s and '70s as new styles emerged. But I always had this love for them; I didn't want to see them completely destroyed. People were literally throwing away sheets in some places. I began collecting them. I remember asking, 'Hey Bob? What are you doing with these old designs?' Bob said, 'You want 'em? Take 'em.' This scenario repeated itself as I became more well known.
Mens Journal described Vintage Tattoo Flash as
"not so much a design catalog as it is a record of a time and place in the history of this very vibrant, very important folk art." For more on what's inside, LA Weekly has a slideshow from the book.

You can pre-order the book
for $60 at the Powerhouse online store

If you're in LA next week, you can pick up a copy in person,
May 3 & 4, 6 to 9 p.m., at the famed La Luz de Jesus Gallery, which is hosting a book-signing party, as well as  a classic tattoo flash art exhibition.

Vintage Tattoo Flash is far from Shaw's first published work. In 2015, Harper Collins published the first trade edition of his novel Narcisa: Our Lady of Ashes about the relationship between a nomadic outlaw poet and crack-smoking philosopher prostitute. I read the book eagerly, although I recommend not doing so on the subway during rush hours when people can read over your shoulder the non-stop and highlighted sex scenes. Shaw's next publishing venture, which is scheduled for later this year, is a collection of his memoirs, entitled Scab Vendor. I'll be sure to pick that up as well.
07:25 AM
tattoo video.png If you didn't see it on our Needles & Sins Facebook group, Paul posted the "Invasion of the Flesh Eaters" video (embedded below), which has been on YouTube for a while, but it's the first time it crossed my radar and definitely worth a look.

Between Groucho Marx's "Lydia the Tattooed Lady" footage, the 8 1/2 minute video features scenes from the Third World Tattoo Convention in St. Louis in 1978 and interviews with collectors, such as Elizabeth Weinzirl and artists including Spider Webb. Spider, as usual, has some fantastic soundbites. At one point he says, "Anyone can tattoo somebody but, being an artist ... who's holding the crayon? [...] If you gave Picasso a tattoo machine, maybe people would think different."

A fun fact from the film:  In anticipation of that convention, the Minnesota governor declared January 20th "Tattoo Art Appreciation Day."

Paul also posted the video link for the film "Zebra Man" on the Great Omi. Also an interesting watch. Thanks, Paul!

07:38 AM
marisa kakoulas.png My portrait above by James Hole.

bugs tattooo.png
Portrait of tattoo artist Bugs.

AliceSnape.pngPortrait of Alice Snape, editor of Things & Ink magazine.

One of my favorite tattoo gatherings that I attended last year was the Brighton Tattoo Convention, right on the beautiful English seaside. It had this real communal vibe, set up for top tattooing but also for hanging with old friends and new. It really stood in sharp contrast to the ever-increasing sterility of corporate-sponsored tattoo conventions.

While I was there, I had the absolute pleasure of being photographed by James Hole (as shown by the top photo above).  I felt like I was being shot for Vanity Fair, with a real editorial sophistication but also laid back approach. James got me to relax and giggle through it, but I also understood that this was serious work and not once did I throw devil horns or try to make funny faces, like usual. He also beautifully captured my friends like Bugs & Alice, above.

The wonderful Brighton Tattoo Convention Blog has more of Jame's portraits from last year's show. A must see.

This year's convention is coming up, April 30th to May 1st at the Brighton Centre, and it promises to be even better, with stellar artists from the world, and some wonderful events such as the Tattoo Identity exhibit on women in the history of tattooing, a film screening of "The Point of No Return" - A Journey into the Ancient Past of Tribal Tattooing in Borneo, the custom car and barber expo, the infamous after-parties, and more.

Check more on the convention here and also see more of James Hole's work here.

Kelly_Violet.pngPortrait of Kelly Violet.
07:39 AM
Last week, right-wingnut Fox News host Bill O'Reilly interviewed Donald Trump, who discussed unemployment among African-Americans. O'Reilly then astonishingly asks Trump:

How are you going to get jobs for them?" O'Reilly asked. "Many of them are ill-educated and have tattoos on their foreheads, and I hate to be generalized about it but it's true.
Yup. He believes that the innumerable forehead tattoos on black people are stopping American from being great again. Thankfully, Larry Wilmore called out this vitriol on his Nightly Show segment: "#ForeheadSolidarity - Bill O'Reilly's Racist Tattoo Fantasy." 

Wilmore then asked his viewers (of all races) to create their own (fake) forehead tattoos and send a message to O'Reilly using the hashtag #ForeheadSolidarity. Rawstory featured some fun ones from Instagram and Twitter.

So many of us have experienced bias because of our tattoos, but this demonizing racist rhetoric goes far beyond that.

In response to the hatefulness of this year's election campaigning, one Florida man got a portrait of Trump (and "his micropenis") as a protest tattoo. According to Vice's Motherboard, Spooks Joya, owner of Pride N Envy Tattoos, was inspired by artist Illma Gore's "Make America Great Again," which portrays a naked open mouthed Trump with tiny genitals. [The Trump team has allegedly threatened her with a law suit.]

And so Joya offered to tattoo Gore's artwork for free on anyone willing to get it. Hector Santos was willing and quickly responded. Santos said:

"One of the main reasons why I got the tattoo is it reminds me to be a better person everyday. To never be as closed-minded and arrogant as Donald Trump."[...]

"I also see him as a satire on politics because it's like he's running a joke that has gone too far. He doesn't represent any qualities as president or have any knowledge of policy. Basically he's running a circus and it's kind of getting out of control. And besides it's also a great piece of art, don't you think?"

See the full tattoo, including progress shots, here.

trump tattoo.jpg
07:35 AM
tattoo inks.jpgPhoto by Edgar Hoill.

The most interesting recent tattoo headlines centered around the law, and you know how much I love this stuff  -- from victories over dumb legislation, wrongful death suits, and protecting artists' rights in their work. Here are the headlines:

The best news was that the fight over NY's ridiculous tattoo rules led to a victory for tattoo artists who worked so hard to change it. Last year, NY Governor Cuomo signed Bill S1421-2015, which required tattoo studios and body piercing studios "to use single-use needles and inks, to obtain consent forms from customers and to maintain customer consent forms for a period of not less than seven years." As I wrote in the earlier post, the definition of single-use ink in the bill is "a sealed and pre-filled package of ink that is only intended for a single use," and based on this definition, tattoo artists would be limited to expensive pre-packaged "ink shot" products with limited color palettes, and arguably lesser quality, rather than maintaining the industry standard of using disposable ink caps, in which bottled inks of any brand are poured into small containers and thrown away after the tattoo is done.

Tattoo artists mobilized to change the law -- those like
Michael O'Herien, who held meetings with artists and legislators at his Revolution Tattoo Co. to seek a better drafting of the law, and Bridget Punsalang,whose petition entitled "Change NYS Bill S1421-2015 to allow the use of disposable ink caps in tattooing," circulated across the globe and received the media attention to get lawmakers' attention. Last month, a legal compromise was reached and the law was revised and signed into law. Under the amended law, the single-use ink packets were scrapped and tattooists can continue to pour ink into disposable ink caps. The other mandates, such as single-use sterile needles, essentially put into law what professional studios already practice. Congrats to all those who fought the law and won.

More good news: Virginia Beach loosens its grip on tattoo parlors. According to the The Virginian-Pilot, "In January, the City Council got rid of the rule that tattoo parlors have to be at least 600 feet from a residential district, apartment district or school. But they still must be 600 feet apart from each other and apply for a conditional use permit in the B-2 community business district." The article continues,
"Staff initially recommended getting rid of both restrictions - on where they are allowed to be and how close they can be to each other. But planning commissioners had concerns about 'the potential for a proliferation of tattoo parlors/body piercing establishments in any single location.'" Of course, this makes it tougher for those already operating because of increased competition, but generally, getting rid of arbitrary provisions that restrict businesses is a good thing. 

Looking at a wrongful death law suit, the sister of an inmate at Georgia State Prison sued Georgia Correctional Health, a contractor that provides health care at the prison, for failing to treat the inmate who died from a severely infected tattoo. Randall Davidson died in February 2015 after he went into severe septic shock and multi-system organ failure due to a tattoo he received from a fellow inmate. The lawsuit states that Davidson sought medical help but was given only anti-inflammatory drugs, not antibiotics needed to treat the infection. The suit also states that, while that Georgia state prisons prohibit inmates from tattooing each other, they commonly tattoo each other in unsterile conditions with improvised needles and ink, leading to high risks of infection. Sadly, it's this type of tragedy and the financial penalties that often follow, that lead to reform. Prison tattooing is common practice around the world. Rather than ignore it, steps could be taken to ensure safer tattooing. Perhaps we can look to models, like this one in Canada, that have tattoo facilities in the prison itself. 

On the copyright front, famed tattooer Norm (
Eric Rosenbaum) filed a federal lawsuit against McDonald's, stating in the suit that McDonald's "sought to capitalize, and did capitalize, on Norm's artwork and celebrity without his consent or permission, and consciously decided to paper the walls of its restaurants around the world with Norm's name, artwork, signature, trade name, trademark and persona." As a result, the suit claims that "the unlicensed use of that work has cost him several lucrative contracts with other companies and estimates the value of McDonald's unlicensed use and the lost contracts at more than $10 million." My guess is that this case will settle, although I would love to see how the court would handle the appropriation of graffiti and tattoo art. In any case, it's a reminder to companies that its best to work with artists and legally license works than think those artists won't won't assert their rights when companies don't.  

Speaking about appropriation among tattoo artists. Colin Dale of Skin & Bone has an interesting essay entitled, "Copycats, Fanboys and Identity Theft: part 1" in which he brings to light his experience of having his work copied -- but by an artist who is more adept at social media than creating original works -- so much so that "it starts to look like he has the original while [Colin is] a fanboy with a copy." I found myself nodding in agreement when reading further on his reaction to the theft:

It is sort of cool when people start thinking that my work is traditional...but it is also personal. When people start posting it as their own or promoting themselves with it that things get messy. The problem is that many people just use google and search "Viking or Polynesian Tattoos" instead of searching "Viking or Polynesian Art" to find the original sources. So their inspiration is already from another contemporary artists work rather than historical sources.

The problem in some cases is that the Asian tradition of teaching comes from the repetition of copying ones master until one can recreate it perfectly and then take the masters work farther by creating your own pieces. However nowadays people don't take the time to be taught, they would rather "Do" than "Learn"... one continues to copy the masters, but it is often not ones own master. In the Western world this is also often seen... not because of tradition, but usually just laziness.
The most annoying phrase I hear about this laziness is "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." That statement itself is lazy. All art is derivative, but the full appropriation and the social media grab for "Likes" of work that is not your own is sad and also actionable. While it doesn't seem that Colin will be filing a lawsuit, I think it's great that he used his platform to bring these issues to light.
08:06 AM

I'm a longtime fan of blackwork artist Jun Matsui, particularly for his play on indigenous tattooing with a neo twist. [Jun is featured in my Black Tattoo Art 2 book.] His portfolio stands out with the fluidity of his lines anchored by thick solid black, expertly executed.

This week, Jun has been on social media's tattoo radar with the full release of the short film on his life and work by Brazilian director Andre Ferezini.

It's a gorgeously produced film -- with stunning shots of Natividade de Serra as well as Sao Paulo -- which not only showcases Jun's work through video portraiture of his clients, but also his philosophy and approach to his work through in-depth interviewing. The video above has English subtitles, but it is also available with a Japanese translation of the Portuguese conversation.   

The documentary, which was filmed between 2010-2014, moves from heartwarming early childhood memories of his first drawing to his misery working at a Toyota factory in Japan to how he came to tattooing, what he describes as rather innocently.

Jun also makes some statements that can be interpreted as controversial when he discusses tattooing as a "male oriented practice," and states that its origins were once the sole province of men (which we know is untrue considering, in numerous indigenous cultures, tattooing was the craft of women).

Then you see the more personal side to him with his family, holding his beautiful baby, and that intimate look seems to offer greater context to the statements made throughout the film.   

I highly recommend taking 18 minutes to enjoy the film.

See more of Jun's work on his site and Instagram. And check more on the film on Facebook.
09:01 AM
april fool.png
Last month, I wrote on a new clinical study on whether tattoos can "toughen up" our immune systems. The conclusion was that the body becomes accustomed to the "tattooing stressor," and it's possible that people with healthy immune systems heal faster, making them get more tattoos.

Following the research, a new study was conducted and found that tattoos can lead to a higher risk of pregnancy. Like most tattoo studies from renowned institutions of learning, researchers surveyed 20 people from their local bowling alley, and learned that those with more tattoos were more likely to do it - what scientists call "the sexiness factor." They also had higher bowling scores. This stands in sharp contrast to the tattoo-less, who had very nice jobs, but still lived at home with their mothers, thereby, drastically impacting their chances at procreation.

The science behind tattoos and pregnancy risk is akin to the immunity study. The repeated thrusting of the tattoo needle creates higher sperm and egg production, and the beer-soaked corporate sponsored tattoo conventions every weekend offer the ideal conditions for the sperm and egg to meet.

As evidence of their hypothesis, researchers documented the experiences of their participants, like 54-year-old Crystal, who had been trying for years to get pregnant after menopause, to no avail. However, after receiving a trendy blackout tattoo, she found herself carrying twins. In honor of this tattoo miracle, she named her offspring after famed tattoo wonder-twin duo, James and Tim Kern. [She also asked Tim to be the godfather, however, he respectfully declined because of the whole god thing.]

With this new tattoo study, like all tattoo studies really, science has confirmed our worst fears. Be careful out there.
08:41 AM
An Unreliable History of Tattoos.jpgAn Unreliable History of Tattoos 2.jpgAn Unreliable History of Tattoos 3.jpgEnvisioning the lives of historic figures through the tattoos they might have worn, British cartoonist Paul Thomas has taken the satire found in his political illustrations and put it into his upcoming book, An Unreliable History Of Tattoos.

The 96-page hardcover will be released on April 19, 2016, but is available for pre-order on the Nobrow pusblishing site, as well as other online retailers like Amazon UK and Target.

AVClub.com offers a preview of the book, describing it as very silly but clever, adding, "Thomas uses tattoos as a way of revealing what's under the surface of each figure by painting it directly on their flesh."

These sample pages look like a lot of fun, so it's on my pre-order list. 

An Unreliable History of Tattoos 4.jpg
07:02 AM
first tattoo convention.pngLast week, in anticipation of the third annual Houston Tattoo Extravaganza this past weekend, the Houston Chronicle wrote on the first organized tattoo convention in the US, which took place in Houston in 1976.

[Update: In our Needles & Sins FB group, Paul Roe wrote: "The first tattoo convention in the USA was Sandusky Ohio 1956 - Al Schiefly and Les Skuse organized it. Milton Zies, Huck Spaulding and a few others were in attendance."]

Lyle Tuttle, who was one of the organizers of the first "World Convention of Tattoo Artists and Fans," was honored at this weekend's show and interviewed for the chronicle about tattooing, past and present. The article offers some photos from Tuttle's collection, as well as those of Sam Kindrick of Action Magazine. Those Kindrick shots are fantastic, capturing many famed  collectors and tattoo artists, such as Chuck Eldridge, Vyvyn Lazonga, and Elizabeth Weinzirl.

Check the 100+ image slideshow, which includes archival images from that first convention, some from Tuttle, and also shots from the 2015 Houston Tattoo Extravaganza.

Another gem of this article is the link to the coverage of the 1976 show in the Chicago Tribune by reporter Marilynn Preston. You can read the article in its entirety via the link. The Houston Chronicle also discusses the piece: 

[Marilynn Preston] painted a picture of "big, beefy killer gorilla types with their back and arms covered with skulls, panthers, and gross obscenities" mingling with fascinated housewives.

Preston spoke with a distinguished Midwestern surgeon, age 47, who began collecting tattoos of elaborate Oriental designs when he turned 40. He was on the scene to get tattoo work in discreet places since his wife didn't care for the artwork. To show off to the reporter and others, he had to pull down his pants.

A woman named The Shadow worked in a tattoo shop in a New York suburb that she said did a lot of genital tattoos on the upper crust from the city. One housewife got "Death Before Dishwashing" tattooed on her hip as an act of defiance.

I highly recommend reading the article in full here. It's fun to see how much has changed and how much has stayed the same.

first tattoo convention 2.png

connect with us

Marisa Kakoulas
Miguel Collins
Craig Dershowitz
Brian Grosz
Sean Risley
Patrick Sullivan
Needles and Sins powered by Moveable Type.

Site designed and programmed by Striplab.

NS logo designed by Viktor Koen.