February 2010 Archives

08:05 AM
horiyoshi III backpiece.jpgJohn Mack is back with another story about getting tattooed by Horiyoshi III over the course of nine years. Check out his previous posts:  Part I Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, and Part VI.

During the first years of my visits to Horiyoshi III, all manner of tattoo devotees were constantly present: foreign and domestic apprentices, Horiyoshi's clients, Horitomo and his clients, journalists, even graduate students researching their masters thesis or doctoral dissertation.

Quite a few of the apprentices and clients I recognized from photographs in the various books about Horiyoshi's work. This photo of was taken by Mr. Handa, who appeared in Takahiro Kitamura's book Bushido: Legacies of Japanese Tattoo. This book influenced my tattoo choices, and here was one of the characters from the book taking pictures of my tattoos! What a role reversal. [See a larger image of the above on Flickr.]

Everyone took advantage of the opportunity to brandish their tattoos. Japanese of many occupations change clothes for work, which allowed the apprentices to show more skin, and of course we clients had to expose our tattoos. Outside the studio, tattoos could be displayed only at public baths and once a year at festivals, so this was a welcome respite from the disapproval lurking out there in the real Japan.

Everyone was polite, yet quite interested to see each others tattoos in progress. When I undressed, those present would take the opportunity to scrutinize me. Privacy was not a part of this experience. Nonetheless, I became accustomed to it, and I too was able to observe many superb tattoos.

johnmack07_tattoomaster.jpgAround 2007, the scene changed. The hangers-on were gone, and Horiyoshi and I were regularly alone during my appointments. Journalists, sensing the the opportunity to record the end of an era, descended on the studios, where Horiyoshi welcomed them. I found it interesting to listen in on the interviews and even got the opportunity to comment myself.

Once in 2008, I arrived at the tiny Isecho studio to find it jammed with photographic equipment, a columnist for Tattoo Master magazine, an interpreter and a photographer. They took this fine cover photo for the Spring 2009 issue right there in that tiny room.

The mix of clients has changed over the years as well. In the early years of my experience, most appeared to be construction tradesmen, followed by non-Japanese, then Yakuza.

In 2009, I mentioned these changes in clientele to Horiyoshi and asked about the current mix. He gave the following estimate by profession:

  • * 60% Craftsmen and tradesmen. I found that many of these clients were themselves tattooists.

  • * 10% Yakuza.; Horiyoshi added that there are other tattoo artists whose clientele is almost entirely Yakuza.

  • * 30% Other.  "You're in this category, John-san," he told me with a grin.

As for nationality, 30-50% are non-Japanese. "In fact, today all appointments are with foreigners," Horiyoshi commented one Saturday in 2009.

Rather than the mark of the Yakuza, these days a traditional Japanese bodysuit just might be the mark of a "foreigner."

Horiyoshi's practice is now limited to finishing existing clients' tattoos. As I have repeatedly witnessed, all new clients are politely referred elsewhere.
05:57 PM
Just got to downtown Detroit's Marriott at the Renaissance Center for the 15th Annual mega  Motor City Tattoo Expo, which begins tomorrow and rocks through the weekend. Will have my usual bad photos and redux at the end, but in the meantime, check my tweets (yeah, I'm embarrassed saying it too). Here's the latest feed below. To read it all, go to my Twitter account.

  • * Photos & redux of the Detroit Tattoo Expo are up. And at 3am, so am I. http://bit.ly/cWKumU 
  • * @KristelOreto That Hello Kitty butt tattoo is Fantastic! And your client had a great sense of humor modeling it to tattoo paparazzi
  • * The Detroit Tattoo Expo has come to a close. You don't have to go home but you can't stay here. [Will join the masses at the bar soon.]
  • * Abey & Jose Lopez of Lowrider tattoo have swept almost every black & gray award all weekend. Their work is like butter, sooo smoooth
  • * Tattoo expos aren't just for tattoos: you can pick up jewelry, prints, tees and of course rubber ducky sex toys. http://yfrog.com/3l9o2dj
  • * Nice! RT @DanHenk Last piece I completed yesterday-customer's girlfriend with a sort of "day of the dead" mask http://twitpic.com/15vc1n
  • * Great portrait done at the Detroit Tattoo convention RT@AlissaBrunelli All done! Thanks again nikko! http://twitpic.com/15rovx
  • * Tattoo competition winners being announced. It's like American Idol for those with high pain threshholds. Amazing work without crazy Paula.
  • * Ok, my last tweet was too much "you-kids-get-off-my-lawn." I'm just jealous of their Gwen Stefani and Lil Wayne portraits.
  •  * @sambot your hand tattoos are the cause of our nation's financial collapse!
  • * 20-yr-olds here covered in work (necks&knux) & at 37 i'm worrying about doing my hands & employability. I'll still wait till I'm an adult.
  •  * The "tribal" category used to be the redheaded stepchild (ahem) of the tattoo competition world but it's getting better with more diversity.
  • * Tattoo mag photogs are shooting girls with large breasts & complaining about bra marks in the photos. Can't roll my eyes enuf.
  • * @NikkoHurtado is doing his signature portrait perfection on @AlissaBrunelli (a redhead now. Yeah!) Can't wait to see the result.
  • * Nothing sadder than poor facial work. And there's lots of it at this convention. [Of course there are some wonderful exceptions but rare.]
  •  * Check tattooists working the Detroit Tattoo Expo: @NikkoHurtado @biggusink @DurbMorrison @DivisionTattoo and @KristelOreto.
  • * Uploaded just a few Detroit tattoo convention pics from Day 1. More to come: http://www.flickr.com/photos/needled/sets/72157623392321195/
  • * I do so love conventions where you can go up to tattooed strangers, ask them to take down their pants, and they do so without question.
  • * Detroit convention filling up despite snow. Booths buzzing with amazing work -- from Robert Hernandez B&G to Dan Plumley color portraits.
  • * Oh and these great legends of tattoo like Brian Everett & Jack Rudy are so open & friendly. No rock star attitude, even tho I'm star struck.
  • * Just gave Jack Rudy a copy of my Black Tattoo Art book and he's down to be in my Black & Grey book. Woohoo!
  • * "Conventions are places where you can get the worst work from the best artists." After last night's 3am pre-party, well...we'll have to see.
  • * Hangin with the West Coast boys and realizing how uncool I am when they see I have only one knuckle tattooed.
11:40 AM
lenin tattoo.jpg
I beat the NY snow and made it to Detroit for the 15th Annual Motor City Tattoo Expo, so while I run around and stalk legends like Jack Rudy, Brian Everett and Tom Renshaw -- among so many other great artists -- I'm handing over the blogging reigns to readers for the rest of the week and have them tell ya about their tattoos.

Tattoos like this Russian revolutionary piece on Justin Frey by Richie Vomit of Siouxicide City Tattoos in Iowa. What I find particularly interesting about this tattoo is that it's a tribute to his wife. Instead of, say, getting her name tattooed on his neck, he decided to go the artful route and have a piece created to honor her birthplace.

I should just let Justin tell the story. Here's what he said:

"I decided to go with a Russian theme because my wife is a Russian. She grew up in Ulyanovsk, which is Lenin's birthplace. When she went home last year to finish up her final university term, I decided to surprise her with somewhat of a tribute to her people. I brought a couple of drawings to Richie Vomit and told him some of my ideas. I was very vague -- which I know tends to make life difficult for artists -- but Richie really took the project and ran with it, and the end result turned out to be amazing.

I had seen Richie's work while reffing for the roller derby team in Sioux City -- many of the women had work done by him and the art was just gorgeous. You could tell he put a lot of thought and effort into the tattoos, and I figured I really had to get some work done by this guy. 

During the design process he was very communicative and open with me about what elements he was thinking about drawing up and why. Then we made the appointment for me to come in and get the line work done. About a week after the appointment was made, I received a very good job offer in another state and was worried that I wouldn't be able to make it back to Iowa for a long time to get the work finished. Rich totally came through for me, cleared his whole schedule, and hammered the tattoo out in a 9-hour sitting. We were both in pain by the time he was finished, and I was incredibly happy with the end product.

My favorite part of it would be the eyes that are superimposed over the star. Those are my wife's eyes, drawn from one of her pictures. 

I'm really looking forward to heading back to Iowa to get more work done by him."
01:06 PM
tattoos by Bill Canales.jpgLast month, I put out a call for skull and heart tattoos for a spread in my next tattoo book, and here's just a taste of what I received:  These Tibetan skulls above tattooed by Bill Canales of Full Circle Tattoo in Ocean Beach, Ca.

I know. Amazing, right?!!

See full size images of the tattoos on Flickr here and here. As an added bonus, the backpiece was documented by Michael Flores, director and cinematographer for Mad Media. Check his video montage below or watch it on Vimeo here. [The Kings of Leon song is an inside joke.]

Naturally, I had to find out more about these two pieces created on Bill's clients David and Denny. The images were submitted by Full Circle shop manager and Bill's apprentice James Tran -- who has a kick-ass blog -- so I asked James to tell me more about the tattoos. Here's what he said:

"Both David and Denny are good friends of mine, and after these tattoos, they became close with Bill. The pieces had started in late March of 2009, and both guys wanted to get their pieces done as soon as possible. Because we had planned this venture out a few months ago, Bill was able to schedule David and Denny to be tattooed two weeks between each session with a few sessions only a week a part. David originally wanted a Tibetan skull, while Denny requested a dragon back piece. Yet they also wanted a different element to be included in their work. After some thought and consideration, they had decided to get both a dragon and a Tibetan skull -- of course done differently.

Everyone in this project understood this was going to be a grueling venture. David was already heavily tattooed with his back and arms finished, while Denny only had his first tattoo on his lower leg by Bill, not even an entire year earlier. I was there for every session for both guys. There were no easy days; every session was a test for both David and Denny, and Bill as well.

David's tattoo was finished earlier than Denny's -- his entire chest and stomach took only 25 painful hours to complete -- while Denny's back lasted 35 hours. Interestingly enough, Denny had almost every session professionally recorded by our talented friend Mike Flores, for what was originally a small side project that is becoming a short documentary about the entire tattoo process.

Denny's back tattoo was actually finished at the Ink-N-Iron Long Beach Convention in June of 2009, a little over 2 months after the tattoo started. This is also where both gentlemen won their first tattoo convention awards:  Denny took home the Best Back Piece award and David claimed the Best Japanese Tattoo award.

For me, the best part about this story was that my close friends became close friends with each other. After so many hours of pain and laughter, blood and ink, a bond is often formed between tattooer and client. And this is true for both David and Denny, who are now great friends bonded by ink with my friend and mentor, Bill Canales. Things like this become a life long endeavor, and to me, the amazing people I meet through tattooing is what makes it all matter."

I'm grateful to James, Bill, David and Denny for sharing this work with us. More artist profiles from reader submissions to come.
02:09 PM
J. R. Celski.jpg
Tattoos on beautiful Olympic bodies were the biggest buzz this past week. The hottest one: USA speed skater J.R. Selski's chest piece (above) -- screen-capped around the world -- revealed as he took his shirt off after being disqualified in the men's 1000-meter short track speed skating on Sunday (he won the Bronze in the men's 1500-meter last week). Speculation over the meaning of the tattoo sped over Olympic blogs. Celski is of Filipino and Polish heritage and so talk of the tattoo being a blend of those countries' flags seems to hit the mark. [Thanks to Regin Schwaen for the link!]

Then there is Britain's ice dancing minx, Sinead Kerr, whose New Jersey license plate lower back tattoo was (ironically?) revealed during her performance to Johnny Cash's "I've Been Everywhere." In 2005, she explained why she got the tattoo: "JP (the pair's longtime ballroom instructor, John Paul Deloose) said I should get one to remind me of my back so I would shake it more. He felt I wasn't sexy enough last season." And nothing says "sexy" like bad tribal.

The mini-Olympic rings tattoo on hockey player Julie Chu's foot stars in this NBC video --  a sweet story on how her whole family got matching tattoos in honor of her making the Olympic team. More on that tattoo here.

Chu's not the only tattooed hockey player on the US team. The identical Lamoureux sisters sport a family crest -- inked at their kitchen table by a local tattooer -- but on different body parts, which helps tell them apart.

And Bronze-medal winning snowboarder Scotty Lago shows off his tattoos (including faded lip work) and talks about more to come in this video.

Whether kitchen scratched, tramp-stamped or lip inked, the tattoos still mark bodies of those who can kick my butt as I type this sitting on my own big Greek one, so respect.

Ok, let's hit headlines in my own ring: the tattoo law links...

There's more news on South Carolina lowering the tattoo age requirement from 21 to 18 years of age. As I noted in a previous news review, much of the push to change the law comes from the inequity of allowing 18-year-olds to go to war but prohibiting them from marking their experience on skin when they return. That and of course money leaving the state as those under 21 go to Georgia or North Carolina to get tattooed. The Governor will decide whether the new bill changing tattoo requirements will be put into law. Keep in mind that the art was completely banned in the state until 2004, but it wasn't until March 2006 when regulations were in force for legal tattooing. [Oklahoma was the last state to lift their tattoo ban in May 2006.]

New York City's tattoo ban was lifted in 1997. Of course, many -- myself included -- were getting work pre-legalization, but once the signs were allowed to flash "Tattoo" neon in shop windows, the amount of tattooed bodies in the city made it like a Hieronymus Bosch painting, a garden of epidermal delights. Also delighting in the tattoo tidal wave has been law enforcement, melding old school skin art with technology to identify suspects -- as this popular NY Times article pointed out last week. We've talked about databases of criminal tattoos before but the article shows just how detailed -- and some argue invasive -- the Real Time Crime Center can be.

As this Orlando Sentinel article points out, the popularity of tattoos dilutes criminal tattoo identification because so many are getting inked with designs that once solely marked gang members.

And simply, so many are getting tattooed with flash designs. Will everyone with "Mom" on their bicep be a suspect because one idiot with that tattoo committed a crime? I'll be keeping a watch on the legality of these tattoo databases and whether they begin to truly impinge on civil liberties. 

In pop culture and on its fringes, here are the tattoo headlines ...

Now there is someone in this world with an Ashton Kutcher tattoo. [right]

No.1 tattoo rule: Spell Check.

Nicole Richie regrets her dumbass tattoos.

With Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland release next month, we'll be seeing more of these Lewis Carroll tattoo stories.

Still diggin USA Today's Tattoo Tuesday blog but wish they'd credit all the tattooists whose work is featured.

Executive Chef of Sysco Food Services, Randy King, says Uncover those tattoos to restaurant workers.

And ending on a tear-jerking story...

Tattoo tributes to Renee Benson, a 29-year-old Orange County native who died of several forms of cancer, marked over 50 of her friends and family last week during a fundraiser at HB Tattoo in her honor. [More than $2,500 was raised for Benson's family to help cover medical costs.] Warning: the photos will hit you.

12:00 AM
musink fest.jpg
Photo by Armando Brown from the OC Register

This past weekend, rock stars of the tattoo and music variety, worked the Musink Festival in Costa Mesa, Ca. drawing massive crowds -- and press. Legends like the Buzzcocks, The Cult and Lemmy shared top billing with tattoo's own long time stars like Jack Rudy & The GTC crew, Bill and Juni's Diamond Club, Clay Decker, Greg James, Mark Mahoney, among many others.

For reviews and photos, check here:

Outside of the media's loving embrace of the show, it has been criticized for placing the musicians before the tattooists and creating a more difficult atmosphere to tattoo in. Some artists have even blogged that they would not attend any more conventions that were not put on by tattooists themselves. But other artists working this year's show touted the event live on Twitter. Without attending myself, I'll leave it there and just say ... Lemmy!!!
08:07 AM
Here's John Mack with another story about getting tattooed by Horiyoshi III over the course of nine years. Check out his previous posts:  Part IPart II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V.

The client before me inspected his freshly colored skin in the mirror while gingerly dabbing it with a tissue. He and Horiyoshi III were discussing the motivation for getting tattooed as I listened with interest. I understood the main idea, but I knew there was more. So the next chance I got, I asked him for clarification. Here is what he said:

We get tattooed for our own self satisfaction, but just like any social animal, people crave having an impact on others.  When your tattoos are recognized by other people, you see their reaction, which in turn makes you feel good.  If you lived alone on a deserted island where nobody else could see your tattoos, then they would be much less interesting.

It's just like anything else in life.  We do things like work primarily to support ourselves, but we also live in a society, where we like to see our career success recognized by others.

This opportunity to ask a master at the top of his craft anything I want has been one of the supreme pleasures of my life.

Horiyoshi's practice is now limited to finishing existing clients' tattoos.  As I have repeatedly witnessed, all new clients are politely referred elsewhere.
05:12 PM

To be filed under "Would You Stop Making Tattooed People Look Like Idiots": In the video above, Biker Mike pitches an idea to scrounge money off tattooing and gets shot down in the Dragon's Den, a BBC program that "sees entrepreneurs pitching for investment from some of Britain's Canada's top business brains." Mike asked for $150,000 and offered a 30% interest in the company.

Here's what Biker Mike proposed: 

A website where people can do the following: (1) upload a photo of the body part they want tattooed; (2) choose from a variety of popular 80s/early 90s flash (like the neo-tribal dragon) and place it on that body part via "breakthrough" software; (3) print out the image and take it to a tattoo shop for actual inking. This is all free. The money to be made outta this? Naturally banner ads on a "viral tattoo community"(!), plus referral fees paid by tattoo artists to attract clients who want that neo-tribal dragon.

What did the top business brains think?

In their own words: "It sucks." They said the technology was simple and gimmicky ("my son could create this in our garage") and most importantly, it will never make money. But we say there's more suckage to it...

What do the fried brains of Needles & Sins think?

1. Two dimensional designs on a two dimensional photo of a body part does not make for a "tattoo preview" because ... wait for it ... we are three dimensional beings. [I hear your collective gasp.]

2. The wonderful French artist Loic Zimmerman actually created a 3D CGI Tattoo Program in 2007 to preview how his own tattoo would look. [Details can no longer be found on Needled.com, but check Gizmodo for a quick review.] Essentially, he created artwork for a sleeve, scanned his body, and placed the design on his 3D doppleganger. He gave that design to tattoo artist Arnaud of Reimes, and while much of the design wound up in the finished tattoo, it still had to be changed because the body is not an easy canvas. One of the main changes was to the tight spacing in the computer design because it didn't properly account for the way lines may bleed out on skin, particularly the spreading as we age.  [Loic sent me photos of the finished tattoo, which are posted on our Flickr page.]

3. Bad flash is bad flash. Beautiful flash is beautiful flash. From what Biker Mike proposed to place on an investor's head, his business uses the former.

4. Saying you'll make money through banner ads is like saying you'll become rich from a lemonade stand. Banner ads barely buy the lemon peel in your martini.

5. And enough with "viral tattoo communities"! Us tattoo nerds loved our Rec.Arts.Bodyart boards (yes, I'm that old), then BMEzine (which remains the largest bod mod community), then along came InkedNation, InkedInc, neve rmind the multitudes of Facebook, MySpace and Twitter tattoo pages. The need to whine to others over how expensive tattooing has become and pontificate over the best healing method has been filled.

4. As for the presentation itself, if you start your pitch saying that "tattoos are mainstream and no longer for bikers," don't show up looking like a biker (and end your presentation saying that you could've been ruder, bringing out the biker in you).

Granted, I've brought out the Brooklyn girl in me with my own brand of rude, so I'll end here with just one plea to those wishing to make a quick buck: Leave the art we love alone. 

Direct YouTube link to the video. And mucho thanks to the amazing Matt Lodder for that link
12:45 AM
Artist Wafaa Bilal, an Iraqi-American whose brother was killed by a missile at a checkpoint during "Operation Iraqi Freedom," is using tattoos in his latest performance art piece entitled "... And Counting."

Bilal will have his back tattooed with one dot for each Iraqi and American casualty. The dots will be placed on a borderless map of Iraq -- already tattooed with the names of cities -- in close proximity to where the those men and women were killed.  See this video of that initial tattooing. [Kyle McDonald designed the map visualization above left.]

The dots will be tattooed in NY's Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts over a 24-hour period, from 8pm March 8th to 8pm March 9th. The press release offers more on the show:

"Bilal feels the pain of both American and Iraqi families who've lost loved ones in the war, but the deaths of Iraqis like his brother are largely invisible to the American public.
The 5,000 dead American soldiers are represented by red dots (permanent visible ink), and the 100,000 Iraqi casualties are represented by dots of green UV ink, seemingly invisible unless under black light. During the performance people from all walks of life read off the names of the dead.

Also, Bilal is asking each visitor to donate $1 which will go to the group Rally for Iraq, to fund scholarships for Americans and Iraqis who lost parents in the war. Based on official numbers of casualties, one dollar for each would mean $105,000 in scholarship money."

The entire performance will be streamed online. For detailed information, visit Wafaabilal.com.

[Via Information Aesthetics with special thanks to Evan from Cool Hunting for the heads up.]
12:26 AM
There have been a number of great stories in the news about tattoo studios raising money for Haiti relief efforts, and Zulu Tattoo's benefit at Boardner's in LA was one such success, bringing in over $1,500 for National Nurses United.

I just came across LA Weekly's wonderful slideshow of images, like the one above taken by Curious Josh Photography, and they include gorgeous shots of tattooed performers, musicians, and beautiful belly dancers (my latest practice and obsession). Enjoy the eye-candy for a cause.
02:37 PM
washington tattoo.jpg For a real President's Day tattoo tribute, check out this George Washington piece by Nick Colella of the Chicago Tattoo and Piercing Co.

If you have a presidential tattoo of your own, send it my way to marisa at needlesandsins.com.
12:26 PM

lincoln tattoo.jpg
Today is President's Day in the US, a day to honor Washington and Lincoln's birthdays, and most of us do so by spending bills emblazoned with their portraits in the big sales going on. And then there are those like DeShawn Stevenson of the NBA's Wizards who just take it a little too far. [I'd prefer the Benjamins.]

But despite the large image I stole above, today's news review ain't about bad baller tattoos. It's largely about insanity like tattooing babies, magic Buddhist ink, augmented reality tattoos and more. Let's get to it...

The most horrific is the news about an Ohio man who tattooed a one-year-old baby. Yes, a baby. The mother was visiting his home, and in some inexplicable moment, he tattooed a dime-sized letter "A" on the baby's buttocks.  

We've all heard of shops getting shut down for tattooing minors, most recently in South Dakota, and facing fines like new regs proposed in Maryland -- but never something as mind-blowing as this.

I have no more words here on this -- I can't even wrap my head around it -- so let's cleanse that image with more positive headlines...

Tattmandu Tattoo Studios in Colorado has raised over $5,000 in their "Ink for Haiti" charity as clients lined up around the block yesterday for the studio's heart tattoo special.

Finally, a positive spin on tattoos in the workplace:  The Portland Tribune reports that tattoos are becoming more acceptable at work, even in corporate offices. The article goes on to say that Portland maybe be ousting San Francisco as the nation's tattoo mecca. Here are the stats:

"A city-by-city survey of tattoo shop listings bears out Portland's standing. San Francisco has a population of about 808,000 and 70 tattoo shops listed in its Yellow Pages. Portland's population is 580,000 and it has 73 shops. Seattle has only 40 shops and Phoenix 36. Los Angeles lists 167 shops, but its population of 9.8 million is more than 10 times that of Portland. On a per-capita basis, Portland has far and away more tattoo shops than any major city in the country."  

Even USA Today is getting in on the art's popularity with their new Tattoo Tuesday column where readers share their tattoo stories.

That's not to say that visible tattoo bans at work will all go away any time soon. We've talked at length about dress codes and tattoos for military, police, firemen, and other public workers in the US but it's an issue discussed around the world. Recently, in Denmark, prison guards were told that "visible 'biker gang type' tattoos on the hands, arms, neck and head are in this way not desirable." The problem is that officials have not defined what exactly is a "biker tattoo" and how new tattoo guidelines would be implemented.

And in Australia, Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard decried the country's "raunch culture," saying that many heavily tattooed women were "making a mistake." She added: "I worry for them. How they're going to feel about it in the future." Well, Gillard should worry about her own political future in underestimating tattooed women as active voters. In many countries, politicians feel they can get away with such statements because they assume our anarchic lifestyles and rampant drug use keep us from the polls. We'll continue to prove them wrong.

In the magical and "augmented reality" front of tattooing ...

Buddhist tattoos are gaining popularity in Singapore, not just for their beauty, but for what some believe are their mystical powers. At least that's what a sales rep from a company specializing in Sak Yant tattooing says. Speaking to the press at the Singapore Tattoo Convention, he added: "Sak yant is now widely embraced by the general population because of people's need for a form of spiritual support, aided by the social acceptance of tattoos."

Finally, the magic of having animated characters come to life on your skin has been created by Think an App in Buenos Aires. Geeky Gadgets explains: "The software technology recognizes AR bar codes on curved surfaces, the tattoo looks like a very simple and boring square until viewed through a camera." Here's video of it below:

And with that I'll leave you to enjoy your own wild reality.
08:21 AM
horiyoshi backpiece.jpgJohn Mack is back with another story about his experience getting tattooed by Horiyoshi III over the course of nine years. The image above was taken after one of his earlier sessions. Check out his previous posts:  Part IPart II, Part III, and Part IV.

As I mention at the end of every post, Horiyoshi III's practice is now limited to finishing existing tattoos. Once it became apparent that the master will be retiring, his clients have come out of the woodwork.

Every time I go to Japan, one or two people show up and display an incomplete tattoo, asking to get on the schedule to have it finished. Most stopped at completion of sujibori, the outline.  I have never seen any of them refused, as long as they make their appointments three to four months in advance.

"They just keep on coming," said Horiyoshi when I asked about it.  "I've tattooed about 7000 people, and there would have not been time to start so many had everyone completed their tattoos." There are lots of unfinished Horiyoshi III tattoos out there.

I nervously asked whether I would be able to finish. "You're fine, John-san,"  he reassured me.  He and I both know what finished means, and I'm going for it.

Horiyoshi's practice is now limited to finishing existing clients' tattoos.  As I have repeatedly witnessed, all new clients are politely referred elsewhere.
03:45 PM
nazi tattoo.jpg
As previously discussed in my Superior Race? post, Nazi Skinhead tattooing is a popular albeit confused subsection of our culture. "Not our culture!" you exclaim. In fact, I am certain that we would all rather it -- and the inherent concerns about racism, bigotry and mid-western in-breeding that it evokes -- ride back into hell and take with it gang ink, prison scratching and regrettable celebrity tattoos.

But it will not. Anecdotal evidence -- the amount of criminals arrested with ridiculous white power tattoos and the amount of dedicated sites to this phenom among them -- suggests that Nazi skinhead tattooing is quite prominent and ever increasing around the world. Just check the many hate tattoo video montages posted on YouTube like this one below from the UK (turn off sound unless you want to hear hate anthems) :

A review of message boards find older, wiser racists counseling their younger cohorts to avoid the allure of multiple, elaborate and prominent tattoos for fear of arrest or detection. Nowhere was the practice derided for aesthetic or cultural taboos. But it seems the new Hitler youth isn't listening.

And so, with a built-in belief system that you can do no wrong and lax cultural mores against the practice, hate tattooing can continue to grow apace. While it moves onward, consider that Supremacist tattoos have a long reach into the history of the art form. While we hope that the meaning of spider-web tattoos might devolve into nothingness as more under-informed young adults get them, there is no mistaking the many German flags, swastikas and SS's that adorn a large portion of America's prison population. These are signifiers 50 years old. Certainly, no other iconography in the tattoo lexicon maintains such an uncorrupted understanding for so long.

[For more information on these symbols, the ADL has put together a visual database of hate emblems that are often tattooed on Nazi dregs.]

What troubles me is not that individuals seek these tattoos. More so, I am bothered by the supposed professionals that ink them. Surely, there are racists, criminals and degenerates within our lauded profession.

Curtis Allgier pictured above and interviewed in the video below is one such tattoo artist:

Upon further review of online Nazi skinhead tattoo discussion forums, I realized there are whole shops (like in Pennsylvania) dedicated to such ink: They are self-identified "white only" parlors that must find business strong enough to be able to be so selective about their clientele.

With such places accessible via a quick internet search, it would seem that anyone so dedicated to a movement, regardless of how terrible and ridiculous this movement might be, would have no problem finding and traveling to one of these shops. The fool who walks into a liberal parlor seeking an embellishment to his Doc Marten ink is proof that either those of us who are not racist would never treat them as they might treat us or that their intelligence is not quite as keen as their sense of superiority would have them believe.
09:57 PM
Valentine's Day is just a few days around the corner and it is shaping up to a feel more like a Friday the 13th at tattoo studios in the New York City area.

At Hand of Glory Tattoo in Park Slope, Brooklyn- they are offering right now two sheets of flash. A $50 & $100 flash sheet special lasts until 11 PM on the 14th.

At the new Thicker Than Water studio on 181 Avenue B in Manhattan- they are offering a $14 special all day on Valentine's Day.

...and finally at Jersey City Tattoo they are also offering an all day $14 special on Valentine's Day...
11:42 AM
[Ed Note:  Brian Grosz is currently three sittings into his chest piece, a pair of Fu Dogs inked by Mike Rubendall at Kings Ave Tattoo - here are his reflections on the process so far]

Some people are of the belief that repetition breeds comfort and, without a doubt, there's a certain routine to my tattoo sessions with Mike Rubendall at Kings Ave Tattoo

I know that I will sit in traffic on the Long Island Expressway for at least two hours in deadlocked traffic up until the Queens border for no discernible reason. I will be nearly run off the road on the Southern State Parkway because I pilot an unwieldy van and seemingly the only requirement for a driver's license in Long Island is an abnormally heavy right foot. 

Blood will flow (profusely) and there will be a lot of jokes and inquiry about how much I must have drank the night before. The debate on whether the coil or the rotary machine hurts more [he uses both machines] will rage on in my head as I try to remember to breathe and I will stare at the artwork hanging on the wall of Mike's room; carefully searching for some detail or point of interest that I somehow hadn't noticed over the last three years of staring at the same damn paintings. 

The drive home will a blur of taillights and adrenaline, I will have to urinate like a Russian racehorse, and upon arriving at my local bar for a drink to steady my nerves, someone will give me an unwitting slap wherever I've taken some ink -- despite the fact that I'm visibly wrapped up in Saran Wrap like last night's leftover tuna casserole.

Ah yes: comfort incarnate.

What I really enjoy about my tattoo sittings, though...

12:21 PM
reed mcclintock.jpgHave you ever seen a show where tattoos took center stage, appeared and disappeared before your eyes, morphing and teasing all watching? If so, then you've seen The Illustrated Magician, Reed McClintock, and one of his world renowned performances that have made magic cool again. I caught up with the magician, hypnotist, world record holder, former tattooist (etc) online and we had a chat. Listen in.   

With a nod to Ray Bradbury, what stories do your tattoos tell? Is there a theme that runs through them, are they individual souvenirs of places or moments, or do you just collect for the hell of it...

A fun question because I have never really thought about it from this perspective. As I sit here now and really contemplate them, I find myself going back in time and remembering friends--the laughs, the fights and the sad times as well, their pasts injected into my skin almost as if having been connected to their lives for lessons learned the hard way. So I suppose my tattoos are like a time machine for me. I was a tattoo artist and thought that was my destiny until I got into art school. That's when magic picked me. I certainly didn't pick it. [laughs] I haven't tattooed since then.
Do the tattoos tell a story to the person looking at them? Perhaps they do. It is possible that they might not. I say this because there is no real theme per se. A series of abstract images that tell my stories in which regard, if someone inquires, I can share something of interest to them, a lesson learned or memory. I think of my tattoos as a direct telephone line with the past -- that these pieces of art on me are full of information for someone when it is right for them (if that makes sense in an esoteric way). Crazy! Art is often not describable.

Were they created by a woman from the future or are there present-day tattooists whose names you can share with us, at least your favorite pieces?

reed mcclintock2.jpg[laughs] Yes, an oracle from the future came to me in a dream. She put these on me and told me, "With these tattoos comes great power and of course with great power comes great responsibility."

No, seriously these are from people of our times who may be unaware of their future impact on a person's reality. I have some wonderful artists who've tattooed me: 

My phoenixes and deck of cards were done by Mathew Mattison at Tiger Lilly Tattoo here in Portland, OR. My magic finger tattoo was done by Aaron Goodrich at Infinity Tattoo, also in Portland.

Eli Falconette and Justin Lee did my hypnotic spiral I use to induce hypnosis and the clock of the future, a trick where you think of a time and it appears on my chest tattooed. My throat was done by Kevin from Sea Tramp Tattoo, which I also use for group hypnosis. He was the only one who would take it on. Bless his heart and he did a kick ass job on it.

My treasure map trick on my leg was done by a brilliant artist and also a magician Chuck Nesci in Baltimore MD. Other tattoos are by Ernie from Lucky Devil Tattoo in Seattle; Soup Bone; Greg Kulz at Ernos Tattoo in San Francisco; Vyvyn Lazonga in Seattle, and from there, the names have vanished from my mind, but the memories of where I was in my life still remain.

01:46 PM
black and gray tattoo horses.jpgTattoo by Gene Coffey stolen from TattooNow.com's Tattoo of the Day.

Beautiful walking works of tattoo art, like ya fine selves, are becoming a tattoo majority, and yet, those who pollute the tattoo gene pool make the big headlines. Sheesh. It wasn't a pretty week for tattoo folk in the news thanks to rabid sports fans, Nazis, and of course, Stephen Baldwin.    

Let's begin our review with the burning post-Super Bowl question: What's the ColtsSkinDeep dude feeling like this morning, and will all those autograph tattoos be covered by better memories of yesterday like Betty White/Abe Vigoda portraits or the tattooed stitched-up Sock Monkey

Even the Tongan ancestral tattoos of Colts' Fili Moala could not bring the mojo for the team.

While there were plenty of stories on Super Bowl tattoos (even videos), one rebel reporter wrote a feauture on those who prefer the pain of a new tattoo over the Cheetos and beer halftime heartburn. Score!

Indeed, sports tattoos are generally not credited in the evolution of fine art tattooing, but at least they don't further stigmatize the tattooed as criminals like these jackasses:

A Nazi firebombed a tattoo studio in Monterey because they refused his tattoo request: a swastika and an image of President Obama overlaid with crosshairs. He faces seven years in prison for this and another torching.

An upstate NY tattooist was arrested after being found via his social network posts; cops further punked him by leaving this note on his Facebook wall: "Just a quick thank you for giving us your current employer's name and address. Without the help from you and your friends, your arrest would not have been possible. Special thanks for the excellent photos you provided for the U.S. Marshals. Without the help of criminals such as yourself, our job would be much more difficult."

Yet another criminal, this one with a tattoo that reads "Why Try" across his head, is astounded that he was identified (and arrested) for choking a 72-year-old man in a carjacking.

Beyond the criminals, tattoo stereotypes will remain as long as people with bad taste continue to get them. You'd think a bastardized Ed Hardy design tee would be enough, but some need to take their gift of gauche to the next level.

That level being a pornographic Mario Bros tattoo.

Such mistakes can be left behind when we pass -- an upside of death! -- but not for some who wish to enshrine their decorated skin, or at least try to like this dude:

A New Zealand man requested his tattoos be preserved upon his death but because the guy who handles this stuff was on vacation, the body was cremated instead, tattooed skin and all. The family is considering suit over the lost tattoo collection, which includes a Playboy bunny, Aries and Taurus signs, and a DB Export beer logo -- tattoos fiercely mocked by someone other than myself.

And then there are ... sigh ...

Stephen. Baldwin.

Mike. Tyson.

Peter. Andre.

 ...  Tattoo. Removal.

I promise to remove such ugly thoughts by focusing on top tattoo work this week like the image above by Gene Coffey stolen from TattooNow.com's Tattoo of the Day.  
03:13 PM

The Super Bowl starts in a few hours but for these two fans, the winner has already been declared, at least on their skin. Check out the tattoo video above of Mr. No.1 Saints Fan complete with manly George Michael soundtrack, plastic cups of booze, and (we're assuming off-camera) monster truck. The "Who Dat" above the Saints' logo also scores big.

More "artsy" is the ColtsSkinDeep Dude below who not only has the Colts logo meshed with blue faux-muscle ripping out of his calves (ala 1991 Cherry Creek Flash), but also autograph tattoos of the players and coaches smattered about his bod. No iconic gay music in that vid. The father-son thing is cute although part of me thought that exposing a child to such bad tattoos at a young age could warrant a call to Child Services.

We'll see whose championship tattoo is justified and who has to make a laser appointment. But when it comes to sports fan tattoos like these, aren't they all winners? Really. Go team?

Thanks, Ginger, for the vids!

12:15 PM
On Twitter now is Father Panik, tweeting about the Baltimore Tattoo Convention taking place this weekend; however, it seems there hasn't been much to report from the convention floor, with a blizzard keeping many away.

But the show must go on as Father Panik says in 140 characters or less:

"Baltimore tattoo convention. Blood and snow. Half ass blizzard shutting down the city. Convention goes on. Carneys in charge."
12:08 PM
Here's another great tattoo anecdote by guest blogger John Mack, an American who has been getting tattooed by Horiyoshi III for nine years. Check out his previous posts:  Part IPart II,
and Part III.

Before sharing these stories here, I first related them to Horiyoshi III to make sure he felt they were accurate and appropriate for blogging. I also suggested topics that would be off limits, but he waived these restrictions and encouraged me to share all my experiences.

Horiyoshi had forgotten, or simply didn't notice, many of the events I found memorable. Telling my Horiyoshi stories to Horiyoshi himself was fun for both of us. Today's anecdote is the one that seemed to amuse him the most.

Around 2006, a foreigner was getting tattooed by Horiyoshi. In the West, it's customary for the client to receive detailed aftercare instructions, and so after his session, the foreigner looked puzzled when Horiyoshi finished without saying anything. Realizing it wasn't going to be offered, the client specifically requested instructions on how to take care of his new tattoo.

Horiyoshi replied in English, "Don't touch." 

It seems the Master (like our Editrix) subscribes to the LITFA school of tattoo aftercare.

Horiyoshi's practice is now limited to finishing existing clients' tattoos.  As I have repeatedly witnessed, all new clients are politely referred elsewhere.
08:37 PM
harper_baxter.jpgThis Saturday, February 6th at 7PM, NYC's Last Rites Gallery will present two solo exhibitions: one featuring the work of breakthrough tattoo and fine artist Nick Baxter, and the other of comic art wunderkind Fred Harper.

In these exhibits, the artists will show new paintings, works that lean towards shadowy and sinister. It is Last Rites after all. Gallery Director Andrew Michael Ford offers more:

"Harper's large, loose, darkly humorous depictions of female cyborgs and the like have a sickly sweet quality that both attack and embrace the viewer at the same time. Baxter, on the other hand, works on small surfaces in tight, intricate detail, made up of wet skin, gleaming blood and sharp metal objects throughout. Although there styles are vastly different, they share the same intense desire to show the fine art world what they can do when they're not rocking their respective industries."

The show runs February 6th through February 28th, 2010 at Last Rites Gallery, 511 W. 33rd Street, between 10th & 11th Avenues (3 blocks from Penn Station), 3rd floor, New York. Saturday's opening will be from 7 to 11PM. I'll see you there.
07:48 PM
The Ulysses Guide to the Los Angeles River, published by Grime and Horitaka's GK Editions, is a gorgeous book inspired by the Los Angeles River, once unspoiled with a thriving ecosystem but now a graffiti-decorated industrial trench.

The book explores the biology and art surrounding the River with photos, fine art and stories of its plant and animal life, to its concrete canvas that exhibits the work of graffiti artists and inspires others in different mediums; for example, the work of tattoo artists Jack Rudy and Chuey Quintanar are featured in UGLAR.

On February 14th, the Pasadena Museum of California Art (PMCA) will present an exhibition of framed works from the book as well as installation-specific murals, which "recreate the setting of the LA River along with a few imaginative embellishments." Christopher D. Brand, Evan D. Skrederstu, Steve Martinez, and Matthew Brand (co-authors and editors of the book fathered by Ulysses Zemanova) are the guest curators of the exhibit.

The show runs until May 30, 2010. You can purchase the book from GK Editions here.

02:41 PM
I spent a good chunk of the last decade bathed in the cool glow of an LCD flatpanel display, churning out new-media content - both visual and alphanumerical - for companies large and small.  So, it comes as no surprise when an art-director comes out of the woodwork to inquire as to whether or not I'm still in The Biz (answer: "no fucking way in hell") but, on occasion, a former co-worker will throw something really cool my way.

madison1.jpgPictured above is a branding image for the Madison Group Graphics Center.  And while it's pretty clear that a Photoshop Jock went to town overlaying that logotype, a closer look at the model leads me to believe that the bulk of his work is real.

And while it's a pretty sweet image in it's own right, imagine that it's the first thing you see when you walk off of the elevator... and it's HUGE.

madison2.jpgBest of all: the copy in white below the left arm which reads "ARTISTRY.  PRECISION.  COMMITMENT."


(Click either image to view full-size in a new window.  Special thanks to Reiko and Chris for providing the images and the tip!)

01:20 AM
misspelled tattoos.jpgThis edition of tattoo news review breaks the headlines down into The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. Let's start off with the latter:

The Ugly
The most popular story emailed by many of you is one of those that makes us feel just a bit better about ourselves as we point and laugh at others. Behold:
Misspelled tattoo tradgedy tragedies on Huff Po.

The only thing worse than a misspelled bad tattoo is losing a bet and having Nickelback frontman Chad Kroeger tattooed on your ass. See the butt-baring video of that here. [Click here for more Nickelback luv.]

Another lost bet: Stephen Baldwin thinking his Miley Cyrus tattoo will get him on Hannah Montana show. [Will refrain from snark on his loss in the Baldwin gene pool.]

Brilliant offense -- or offence -- with another "Sir, your tattoos are terrible" post on b-ball players' bad tattoos. See last week's ire. I'm becoming addicted to this series. Here's a taste:

"I think the worst thing you have going, though, is the lips on the neck. I understand that they're supposed to be your girlfriend's lips. That doesn't make the situation any better. Your girlfriend is Trina. That, in itself, shows questionable judgment. You've linked up with a woman who's best known for writing a song about not wearing any panties. I'm sorry man, but Betty Draper she ain't. In fact, she's not even Betty Rubble. On top of that, you're marking yourself as whipped. You might as well go ahead and tattoo 'My girl owns my ass' across your throat...."  

Then there are the worst musician tattoos.

[Look, I'm really a people person. A lover of humanity. I only link the cattiness, not meow it myself. Mostly.]

The Bad

A while back I posted about the arrest of a dirtbag who gave his 7-year-old son a gang tattoo. Now he's facing even tougher punishment for the crime: possible life in prison.

A 28-year-old man was arrested for tattooing brass knuckles on his 16-year-old girlfriend. [Yes, 16.] Even worse, the guy would stand outside a local high school and offer to tattoo kids for $40 AND reuse the needles on them. Lock. Him. Up.

A Boston child goes to get a temp tattoo from a vending machine and instead gets a hateful political message. Will this scar her against body art for life?

sean zedano.jpgThe Good

Those wishing to leave gang life -- and their tattoos -- can get free laser removal by Las Vegas doctor, Dr. Julio Garcia. There are similar offers around the country like Dr. Dave's Fresh Start program.

Chris Zedano's Staple Street photo series is a must-see and includes our own Sean Risley (shown right, cropped) as well as other tattooed and beautiful freak portraits.
[Via CoolHunting.com]

This Charlie Brown tattoo is no blockhead.

More cool geek tattoos at the Science Tattoo Emporium.

Amy Winehouse is sobering up and covering her "Blake" tattoo, once a moving tribute to her junkie ex.

The Lizardman The Enigma in the news.
[Sorry, Green One. I had to.]

And in a category all by itself
... Lady Gaga tribute tattoos.

02:47 PM
skull tattoo calypso.jpgHey y'all.

I'm working on a new tattoo book project, and in it, I'd like to show how artists interpret popular tattoo themes in their own style. That's where I could use your help.

If you have a skull, dagger or heart tattoo that you would like to share in my project (for a major American publisher), please email a high-res image (or send a link for me to download it) to marisa@needlesandsins.com along with information on the artist who tattooed you.

UPDATE: I should've clarified that tattooists can submit as well BUT the artist will need express permission from the client to use the image in the publication.

My eternal love,
Dotwork skull tattoo by Daniel DiMattia, Calypso Tattoo.

02:09 PM

Today is the 50th anniversary of the day that sparked civil right sit-ins in America as four African-American North Carolina A&T students broke the color line and sat down at a "whites only" lunch counter. [They were not served and the manager shut the restaurant down.]

To honor the "Greensboro Four," local tattoo artists at Golden Spiral Tattoo are offering free tattoos today of the logo that depicts the four men sitting around a cup of coffee on a saucer. Check this video above showing a client getting the tattoo and why.

Bravo Golden Spiral Tattoo!
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Marisa Kakoulas
Miguel Collins
Craig Dershowitz
Brian Grosz
Sean Risley
Patrick Sullivan
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