I was so excited to see the vintage footage of tattoo culture from the 1930s and 50s via Broken's super-awesome YouTube page, and thought I'd share with y'all a few faves before we head into the weekend. The videos are from film found in the British Pathe' archives, which is worth checking out beyond those of tattoo history. [Keep in mind that if you do a search for "tattoo" most will be of the military parade kind]:
The first video below is of Jessie Knight, one of the UK's first female tattoo artists whose career spanned from the early 20s to 1963. You can read more about her here.
This one that follows shows legendary tattooist George Burchett, whose Memoirs of a Tattooist published in 1958 detailed his experiences tattooing (especially on royalty) from the late 1800s. As the book is out of print, I had to search hard for a copy but you can find used ones online (most for $200+). Here is George tattooing permanent make-up as well as a decorative tattoo on a "society lady."
Finally, check this footage from the old Bristol Tattoo Club [which we've written about here]:
With the new Russian mob doc, Thieves By Law, causing some buzz at the Tribeca Film festival, criminal tattoos are back on the A List. Inspired by their symbolism, The Daily Tribeca came up with their own tattoo interpretations for the "Hollywood Gulag" with a little help from NYC tattooist Daniel Albrigo. It made me giggle.
Check Gawker for the larger version of this illustrated guide.
In what can only be described as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, tribal/blackwork tattoo specialist Daniel DiMattia of Calypso Tattoo is adding more color to his tattoos!!!
[Not enough exclamation points exist to express this shocking news.]
I just saw the half-sleeve above on Tattoo Now's Tattoo of the Day -- a feature I check religiously -- and thought, "Wow, interesting use of color in dotwork shading amongst blackwork. I wonder who the artist is..." Wait, that's my tattoo artist (and yes, the dude I was once married to for all y'all gossip mongers)!
Considering Dan is tattooing my foot next month when he's in for the NYC Tattoo Convention (May 14-16), I figured I'd head to the Calypso Tattoo website and see what other new things Dan's been doing to mix up his portfolio. Alas, I didn't find anything crazy like a biomechanical portrait tattoo of Beyonce surrounded by Koi fish (I wish!), but there were new artistic influences like this modern art tattoo and this Egyptian-inspired piece; however, it seems he is staying true to what he is renowned for: a powerful blend of tribal-inspired art like these works and more feminine henna-inspired tattoos.
While Dan is booked for his New York trip, the best way to get work from him is to head to his studio in Liege, Belgium for a tattoo holiday. [Hit him up via his contact page.]
Once it's healed, I'll be sure to post pix of my new foot tattoo, which will complement the other one prettied by Jacqueline Spoerle (wrote about healing that one here).
If you haven't seen Dan's tattoo work on me, check 'em here.
Ok, let's just put aside that Inked Mag's quarterly cheese
You've come a long way from being a self-taught tattooist and biker in Austria to an international tattoo entrepreneur. What's the key factor that brought you here?
Since I began, I've always tried to educate myself and explore something new. Where other people would start feeling comfortable and say, "I can do this all day long for the next 15 years," every day I look to do something different to add to my repertoire. Tattooing has been very good to me, and I try to be good to the industry--to be a part of a bigger pie. Being a slice is more important than being the pie itself.
You have a pretty big slice with so many projects going on at once. For example, you have a new Vegas studio opening up.
Yes, on April 10th, we're opening King Ink at the Mirage Hotel, which is our newest endeavor. It'll be the first lifestyle store of tattooing. It embraces what tattooing has come to. It has a Baroque setting because I'm Austrian, and it looks like a palace with frescoes showing my work over the past 25 years. I see it as a way for the general public to get an inside view of what we do every single day. It tries to educate people who walk in; there are computers where people can do research on tattooing. It's also a lounge, so you can come in and bring your laptop. There's also a bar in it.
A bar? Do you want a bunch of drunken people getting tattooed?
I've always believed in working hard, playing hard and partying hard. People have said that you should never put a bar where there's tattooing. That's bullshit. You know how tattooists are. We tattoo, we go out, and we party. That's the hardcore tattoo scene. And that's what we embrace at King Ink, so anyone who comes in better be ready to get a great tattoo or get fucked up. But the tattoo artists cannot tattoo anyone who is under the influence of alcohol and they cannot tattoo under the influence. That's just basic.
How do you address the argument that tattooing is becoming over-commercialized and has lost some of its mystique?
I don't think tattooing has lost its mystique at all. Every person who gets a tattoo has to make a decision to mark himself for the rest of his life. It has gained a lot of popularity and gave us more people to explore new avenues in tattooing, and look how the art has risen. If it didn't gain popularity, we wouldn't have a Mike Devries, Nikko, Mike Demasi or Jose Lopez--people who blow our minds every day with work. I see artists just working two years and I look at their work and want to bang my head against the wall, it's so good. This is a huge pay off.
A lot of controversy surrounding you in particular came from the Inc. Magazine profile on you in 2007 where you were quoted as saying that you wanted to create the "Starbucks of the Tattoo World." People heard the word "Starbucks" and freaked out a bit. What's your response to that?
People didn't understand that reference. I like the concept of Starbucks because someone took something so simple and made it so chic. I've been drinking coffee since I was ten years old, and I never thought it chic to do so. But I don't want a chain like Starbucks. I own five studios. There are people who own ten or fifteen, some in the same city, and those are the people who claim that I want to be the Starbucks of tattooing! The message I wanted to get across is that my interest is to elevate tattooing to a new level, to a new standard. I've seen too many people throughout my career who, when asked what they do for a living, kept their head down and said [mumbling], "I'm a tattooist." Keep your head up, man! We deserve to be successful and recognized.
Read more in the May issue of Inked Mag.
Baltimore Magazine did a nice job featuring the Baltimore Tattoo Museum in their "101 Things to Eat & Do Before You Die" series. The museum has been around for ten years, offering custom tattoos as well as antique flash sheets to choose from. No need to get needled, however, just walk in for a taste of tattoo history. Check it.
I dredged the tattoo news headlines over the past week and uncovered everything from hard rocks to gems. Let's get to the good stuff first...
It was a gag-inducing piece on a Dallas TV station called Women Getting Tattoos to Feel Sexier (with an animated tattoo machine spelling out the words "tramp stamp" at the start) that led me to the video above (also found here) of 67-year-old Dixie Hammond and her tattoos. Dixie began getting tattooed in her fifties and continues to collect work for her extensive body suit.
When asked why she is so heavily tattooed, she says: "The tattoos are a completion of my feelings...I collect memories on my skin." Dixie is shown as a smart, elegant tattooed woman -- a sharp contrast to the station's "Tramp Stamp Slideshow." Now, when I'm asked by strangers (repeatedly) what I think I'll look like when I get older with all my tattoos, I will channel Dixie's dignified manner and not punch them in the face.
From seasoned tattoo collectors to budding artists, tons of press featured three-year-old Ruby who is set to become the World's Youngest Tattoo Artist once she completes her first tattoo, a spider on her father's leg.
Ruby's father is Welsh tattooist Blane Dickinson, owner of Inkaholics Anonymous in Conwy, who has been teaching her to tattoo when she comes home from nursery school. [He's gotten her a special tattoo machine designed for her tiny hands.] The current record holder is Emilie Darrigade of Canada who tattooed part of a butterfly on her father when she was five.
When asked whether he's pressuring his toddler to tattoo, Blane says this:
"I'm not a pushy parent, but she's been in a tattooing environment since she was born and it's a part of her life. She comes up to the studio and she gives my customers advice. She tells them not to pick their scabs and she repeats the stuff I tell them.[...]This will set her off on a fantastic career, and a tattoo machine is a lot cheaper than university fees."
Yikes. Attending college and learning to tattoo are not mutually exclusive, Blane.
[I hope we don't start having a "stage parents" in the tattoo world.] Nevertheless, we could be looking at a tattoo prodigy here. Or just an adorable little girl with a tattoo machine.
A number of tattoo artists were in the news this week...
The NY Times profiled Scott Cambell, the Louisiana-born tattooist who now works with a celebrity clientelle in Brooklyn, NYC. The focus of the article is Scott's first solo show of his fine art in Miami. You can find Sean Risley's post on that show here.
The Seattle Pi offers a reader's account of his experience getting tattooed at Under the Needle with some nice photos of the shop.
Fright magazine Fangoria talked to John Devilman of Zombie Tattoo in West Hollywood who explains the popularity of horror tattoos: "I know many horror fans who've used tattoos to help express their affinity for such films. It speaks more clearly and more faithfully than any Pinhead shirt or a trowel signed by Kyra Schon might."
While the tattooists above are featured for their artistry, two are in the news for behaving badly. Very badly...
Edmonton tattooist Eric "Zipp" Anderson has to pay $12,880 for ten violations of the health code, including using dirty needles and tubes (his sterilization equipment was over 30-years old). He was shut down in 2007 but opened another studio last year, which was fined as well. The judged who ordered the fines said that Anderson's disregard for the health of his clients was "shocking."
Jeffrey Dekmar of Roxbury, MA was indicted for sexually assaulting two female clients while tattooing them--both on the same day. Details in the article. I'd feel dirty just typing them.
I've posted these links as a warning that, no matter how far the industry has come artistically and professionally, scratchers and predators still lurk; the stories are a reminder to stay vigilant when choosing an artist.
Ok, let's cleanse our palettes of that nastiness with these links:
(but you can feel free to write your own...)
I'll leave you for the weekend with these tattoo TV parodies of LA Ink. They made me giggle.
The one above is by KCS Cougar Productions, masters at pop culture mocking. Check more of their work here. And below is a brilliant ad for DJ Minor and Jen's Reno Tattoo Company.
[Via the awesome Tattoo Snob.]
Following the monster success of her first book BODY TYPE: Intimate Messages Etched in Flesh, Ina Saltz is back with another beautiful hardcover devoted entirely to typographic tattoos and those who wear them:
BODY TYPE 2: More Typographic Tattoos features 200 tattoos and the stories behind them, including these gems: a memorial tattoo of a father's signature on his daughter's wrist; an ode to Helvetica typeface (as seen here); beautifully designed ambigram tattoos; Lou Reed lyrics; a Mr. T tribute; and my fave, tattooist Joy Rumore's knuckle tattoos by Eric Merrill sporting her moniker "The Milkmaid" (in "Santa's Big Secret" font).
See more photos from the book on the Body Type website here.
Ina Saltz is a photographer, art director, design critic with a specialty in typography and editorial design, and while she doesn't have any tattoos, she pays respect to the art by, not only presenting the works in en elegant way, but also making sure the tattooists are credited in the back of the book. Sadly, this is rare in many tattoo books put out by big publishers. My only wish for the book is that the artists' websites were also included so that readers can easily connect with the tattooers when inspired. She does, however, include contact information for the wonderful Stephanie Tamez of NY/Brooklyn Adorned, whom she gives a special shout-out to for contributing many of the tattoos shown, adding "Her skill and passion for typographic form is unparalleled..." [Indeed, Stephanie rocks.]
If you're in NYC Thursday, May 6th, Ina will be doing a presentation and book signing at 7:30PM in the Barnes & Noble on Broadway and 66th Street. More events listed here.
Body Type 2 retails for about $20 but you can buy it on Amazon.com for $13.23.
This video contains footage of extreme body modification & some nudity. It would fall under the "Not Safe For Work" category, unless you're at Goldman Sachs where you can get away with anything.
This week, a film exploring various body modification has been released in the UK on DVD:
Tattoo's: A Scarred History is a documentary that claims to take a "sociological look at tattoos and tries to answer the question of why tattoos have become such a large part of today's society."
The why question of tattoos, to me, is just as fascinating as the art. When constantly asked about why I have become heavily tattooed, I often simply say. "Because I like it," but naturally there are deeper layers to it, some I may not even be conscious of. In tackling this question, the documentary talks with a variety of experts as well as collectors:
"With help from sociologists, psychotherapists, MP's and Bishops, we delve into the minds of people to discover their emotional and personal reasons for getting a tattoo, including Meg Gaffney's powerful story as she seeks a tattoo artist to replicate her nipples after battling breast cancer."
This promo text from the film got me excited that we'll finally see a film on modern tattooing that takes a serious look at the art and psychology of body modification. Unfortunately, the video above seems to tell another story -- the usual freakshow you see on most tattoo-related films including, but not limited to, the green-scaled tattooed penis. It also discusses other body art like tongue splitting and scarification but with the presenter wincing while saying, "Personally, I'd never have this done [looks off into the distance and sighs]." Sigh, indeed.
Keep in mind that I'm only responding to what is presented in the trailer. As it has only just been released in the UK, I've yet to see the full film and thus this post is not meant as a review. In fact, it has gotten praise from trusted tattoo source Skin Deep Magazine. So I may be unnecessarily harsh here and the trailer may simply have the shock elements up front to attract those beyond the tattoo community.
I reserve full-on snobiety when it becomes available for purchase in the US. For those in the UK, you can now buy the film on Amazon.UK for about eight pounds.
Claire Reid is a nomad. She travels across continents painting and tattooing eager collectors. Her style speaks of a quixotic existence, a jumbling of colors and shapes that betray stylistic definition. Her forms are fluid and organic. Personally, her look is bohemian, hippie, drum circle chic with the most elaborate body markings. She is her own chief.
I met her quite by accident or at least by the divine design of one who wants us to believe in accidents. Researching another article for this site, I was looking at pictures of full chest pieces. Twice, on different days, I came across Claire's work. It is unusual that I would notice a name or any text while staring at a beautiful piece of art. But I did. Then I looked further, reviewing her online portfolio, and found images of tattoos given around the world. I wanted a piece. More so, I wanted to be part of this motion around and forward. I wanted to be on that globe. I forgot the other article. I wrote to Claire.
This was the first time that I was searching for work simply for the sake of having the artist do it. If there are rites of passage in tattooing, this was one.
She wrote back. It was more than a month later. She was in New York, somewhat secretly, and would have time to work on a piece. The timing was terrible. I have no money. Nomads don't need to pay rent, but I do. Nevertheless, I found a way. I made the choice of spiritual and artistic creation over immediate, more corporal needs. So, I stepped deeply into the murk.
I meet Claire at Tribulation Tattoo in the East Village, NYC. The warlocks and gremlins that hang the upside down crucifix in its window (right across from a church, no less) mock her hippie style.
The tattoo we chose (and I say we because Claire was an active and helpful partner in the design and conception process) was of two tarot cards: The Magician and The Fool.
The Fool, always pictured walking off a cliff, is the risk-taker--his next step always across some great divide. Alone, he is nothing more than his namesake. But when paired with the powerful and potent Magician--the giver of spells, sorcery and sanctity--The Fool is transformed. His risks are rewarded, his dares desirable.
That is the point where I find myself. I am leaping and believe that there is a force to plant a field beneath my feet when I return to ground. We begin an 8-hour-plus session on my leg. She tattoos and listens. She understands The Fool.
After The Fool, she starts working on The Magician, but after these past eight hours, she must leave soon. We've gotten the face of The Magician down, transformed by her alchemy into a Rembrandt painting and The Fool card, altered so that he is walking out of the card, constantly in motion.
We start making plans for its completion and further expansion. When I see Claire next year, we will add a stained glass window on the back of the leg and then begin working below the knee. The design will go down to the feet--down to the apex of movement, down where The Fool--and this tattoo nomad--push the globe forward again.
Claire still has available appointments during her guest stay at Tribulation Tattoo until this Saturday, April 24th. You can contact the studio at 212-539-1953.
'In what will be his first solo presentation of his works in New York City, Scott Campbell will showcase his unique aesthetic via sculptures, paintings and drawings. Campbell has taken the blue collar grit and lore of tattoo culture and extracted a visual language and wit that are supremely refined and deliberate. His uncanny ability to tell a story with any medium, flesh or otherwise, will be on display for his upcoming exhibition, If You Don't Belong, Don't Be Long, which will feature all new work.'
Arrive early and be sure to check out the exhibit in about 2 weeks at OHWOW (109 Crosby Street). Opening reception Thursday, April 29th, 2010 from 6 PM - 8 PM- on view until May 30th.
Yet another tattoo-themed museum exhibition just opened in Boston: The Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) presents Dr. Lakra, the first solo show of Mexican tattooist and painter Jerónimo López Ramírez, aka Dr. Lakra.
Dr. Lakra gained popularity as a tattooist in the 1990s but this popularity led to his frustration with the business of tattooing (although he still tattoos on occasion) and toward a different canvas. He tells the Boston Globe:
"People tattooing in Mexico were doing it with homemade machines. I went and got the stuff and built myself a machine, and then I didn't know exactly how to use it. It was totally different. I had to learn how to draw again with this machine.
His paintings, however, manifest his love of tattoo imagery, as seen in the works exhibited at ICA. The show's introduction makes a particular note of this: "Referencing diverse body art traditions from Chicano, Maori, Thai, and Philippine cultures, Dr. Lakra layers spiders, skulls, crosses, serpents, and devils over these existing images." The existing images they refer to are vintage prints of pin-up girls, luchadores,1940s Mexican businessmen, and Japanese sumo wrestlers. The predominant themes throughout the work: sex and death.
In describing the exhibit's commissioned wall mural, the Globe says it is "the raunchiest imagery...from which parents may wish to shield young children." They add:
"[the mural] oozes impish devils, drawings of brains, and other internal organs, vampires, piles of dung, tribal totems, and ugly-looking deep sea creatures. It makes absolutely no sense, and it's rather wonderful.
To which I say, yeah oozing imps and phalluses!
Dr. Lakra is on view at ICA until September 6th. Check the online preview of the show; you can also listen to audio commentary on the works here. The show is sponsored by Converse, which made this video below on the artist's inspirations and process [via Highsnobiety.com]
The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has an exciting new exhibit on view until January: Under the Skin: Tattoos in Japanese Prints. Here's a bit about the show:
"Tattooing became an important feature of Japanese urban popular culture in the early 19th century, influenced strongly by the success of a series of woodblock prints featuring Chinese martial arts heroes with spectacular tattoos, vividly imagined by the artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi. Tattoo artists copied designs from the prints and invented new designs that were, in turn, depicted in later prints.
Under the Skin: Tattoos in Japanese Prints explores the social background, iconography, and visual splendor of Japanese tattoos through the prints that helped carry the art from the streets of 19th-century Japan to 21st-century tattoo shops all over the world."
The Hudson Sun applauds the show and offers further background (and highlights) on the prints, photos, manuscripts and other artifacts. One particularly interesting piece of info is this:
In doing so, the exhibit goes beyond presenting beautiful works of art over the centuries but offers context and history for the viewers.
if you can't make it to Boston, MFA offers on online tour of Under the Skin here. A must see.
And for those in NYC, the Japan Society also has an exhibit on Japanese prints:
Graphic Heroes, Magic Monsters: Japanese Prints by Utagawa Kuniyoshi.
[Thanks, David, for the link!]
Painter, tattoo artist, and overall mensch Shawn Barber will be showing new paintings in his wonderful tattoo series at the Joshua Liner Gallery in Manhattan from April 24th to May 22nd.
Entitled Tattooed Portraits: Chronicle, the exhibit is Shawn's first solo show in NYC and comprises twenty paintings and eight works on paper.
I'm particularly excited about this exhibit because, well, I'm in it! [I'm particularly restraining myself from adding more exclamation marks.] In December, Shawn and Kim Saigh came over to our Brooklyn hood and photographed me in my naked tattooed glory for a portrait evoking the Hindu goddess Durga. Kim, a yogini, inspired the idea of representing Durga's ten arms with symbolic hand gestures (and wild curly hair) framing my backpiece. [See below] I loved the idea because Durga's a warrior badass with a sense of humor -- something I aspire to should I ever leave my computer. But enough about me ...
For more on the show and Shawn, check recent interviews in ChinaShop Mag and Arrested Motion. The Q&A in Arrested Motion is a great read covering everything from Shawn's first tattoo to his new studio with Kim, Memoir Tattoo, to the tattoo portraits series. Here's a taste:
My favorite painting has to be the James and Tim Kern piece, also a fave of ChinaShop Mag and highlighted in their article. ChinaShop also previews other works and offers a look into Shawn & Kim's Memoir Tattoo in LA. [For a closer look, check the Fecal Face videos.]
I've had Boyz 2 Men in my head all week. Why, you ask? Because it's so hard to say goodbye to
The odds of a 20-year reunion tour kicking off at Budokan are pretty slim, so it's safe to say that tomorrow night's show at Public Assembly in Willisamburg, Brooklyn, will be our final show. Come on out and say "hello" to Marisa and myself at the bar (or, if it's after the show, I'll be outside, slumped against the building, trying not to vomit from exhaustion).
Wednesday, April 14th - $8 cover
Shaire Gorgiiss Presents
Hipsterwrectomy at Public Assembly
70 N 6th St - Williamsburg, BKLYN
8pm - (doors)
9pm - Dogs of Winter
10pm - Wolves of Flatbush
11pm - Sealed with a Kiss
12am - Born of Scars
Tell the doorman that you're there to see "Dogs of Winter" - you'll be happy you did.
Yes, yes I know. It's been a while since I've done a review, but really I've been shielding your eyes from the ugliness of the tattoo headlines, a veritable ten-car pileup.
Rubberneckers may slow down for wrecks like reality show juice-heads bawling over tattoo pain, clown-face criminals, tributes to OD'd celebs (ala Corey and DJ AM) alongside tributes to booze, and of course, the incessant coverage of "Nazi tattoo models." Ok, the Tina Fey bit on Michelle McGee was really funny.
But not all news items have necessitated air bags. Here are my less painful picks:
First up, Dallas Observer photographers, Patrick Michels and Kevin Todora, offer an extensive slideshow of photos (like the one above) from the MusInk Festival this past weekend. It's a sweet mix of rockstars, Miss Tattoo contestants, and views from the convention floor.
The Down East Tattoo Show in Maine, a smaller convention this past weekend, had an interesting twist on its tattoo competition: the judges were art scholars from the University of Maine (and not one had a tattoo). Organizers of the show say that the professors are unbiased and decide strictly on the art (and not if their buddy tattooed it), but they also are aware of good technique like strong line work and smooth shading. As one judge said, "A well-designed but badly executed tattoo just doesn't cut it." [Also check the video interview of one collector from the show.]
On the tattoo law front (my fave!):
South Carolina, the last US state that required parental permission to get tattooed for those under 21 years of age, has now lowered the age requirement to 18. Considering you don't need parental consent to go to war at 18, this seems more logical.
And while the military has certain tattoo prohibitions itself, the number of heavily tattooed soldiers continues to grow.
Connecticut marshals fought a ban on visible tattoos and won. The tattoo policy said that "visible tattoos could pose a threat to safety and security" of the marshals. Huh? Happy that the Connecticut judiciary had the same reaction and nixed it.
And Canadian tattooists with poor spelling can relax now: a small claims court in Nova Scotia ruled that a woman who sued a studio for a misspelled tattoo was the "author of her own misfortune" as she had a chance to view the stencil before it was tattooed on her. She also didn't give the artist time to correct the work before suing. The misspelled word? "Beautiful" in the phrase "You're so beautiful." I know, it's a toughie.
Even dumber: Chicago law makers spending time and money crafting a ban on eyeball tattooing. I'll say this again: just because a couple of inmates and bod mod artists do it, does not mean tattooing your eyeball has become a trend. *primal scream*
Quick & Dirty Links:
John Mack offers his final story in this 13-part series on getting tattooed by Japanese master Horiyoshi III over the course of nine years.
I arrived for my appointment to find a woman discussing the tattoo she would be getting. She was there with her boyfriend, whom I had recognized both as a client and from photos in books about Horiyoshi's work. She was undecided about the design and asked Horiyoshi III, "Is there anything that you have always wanted to tattoo onto a woman?"
When I later commented on this artistic latitude, Horiyoshi told me that, in fact, he dislikes this kind of freedom. When he got such requests in the past, he would draw up a design, but then the client would not like something about it. He needs the client to specify the basic theme.
For myself, I wanted the beauty of a Japanese tattoo more than any specific image. As with all matters related to Japan, I also desire authenticity. The intricate relationship between the images in a Japanese tattoo are beyond me--this was a job for an expert. I would make my preferences known, but ultimately, Horiyoshi III would be my guide.
I already told you that for my back, I specified a dragon with black scales, red belly and yellow dorsal fins, full size. It turned out that these would be the most detailed instructions I'd ever give Horiyoshi. Later, when it was time to fill in the dorsal fins, Horiyoshi recommended orange because "it looks cooler that way."
When it came to the front of my torso, I wanted a mixture of designs, but choosing the right combination was a job for a Japanese master. I wrote Horiyoshi a long fax that specified mainly what I didn't want: macabre, violent or religious scenes, nor humans or human creations like weapons or buildings. I asked him to help me choose a combination of images from the natural world: plants or flowers, plus real or mythical creatures with scales or feathers.
It wasn't until the day that he was to start that we discussed the design in earnest. He suggested a munewari format with chrysanthemums and two dragons. "We'll have the two dragons facing each other, the one on the right facing down, the one on the left facing up," he said, sketching on his copy of my fax. "You're tall, so for you we'll make the empty stripe down the middle wider."
He once again rummaged around in his drawer marked "Dragons," found a suitable image for the upper dragon's face, and began tattooing. The next day, he repeated with the lower dragon. Why dragons tattooed all over my body? I like how they look when rendered as tattoos. Simply, that's the real reason.
After we finished my munewari, we began discussing the design for the insides of my thighs. Horiyoshi initially suggested images with Edo period erotic innuendo: mushrooms on one side to represent male and a wolf on the other to represent female. I'd thus far stuck to wholesome images, but I became intrigued with the idea of branching out and acquiring something more lurid, and this was the perfect location. But meanwhile, Horiyoshi seemed to become less enthusiastic about such images for me. I pressed him, and he said he had some sketches at the other studio, where my next appointment was scheduled.
Once again, the day to start the tattoo arrived without a concrete plan. Horiyoshi III produced a file folder and laid out several sketches of couples engaged in various mischief. He had already tattooed over half the surface of my skin, yet this was the first time he presented me with a choice of flash where I would select an image, and say, "I want that tattoo."
Without seriously examining any them, I told him, "This isn't right for me. My tattoo collection does not include humans." With some sense of relief, he immediately suggested koi (carp), and I agreed. The erotic sketches disappeared, but were not replaced with a selection of koi sketches for me to chose from. Instead, we returned to our usual arrangement: with no further input from me, he rummaged around in his koi drawer, selected sketches that he felt were appropriate, and tattooed them onto me. I didn't even know what color they would be until I saw them in my skin.
Next up were my sleeves. We both knew that this was an extremely big deal, as I, like many Japanese tattooed people, usually conceal my tattoos. This was my first tattoo that would not be hidden by a T-shirt and short pants. We were to start the following day, and as usual I was still undecided on the design. He flashed his mischievous grin. "John-san, it's tomorrow, you know," he chuckled, raising his voice slightly for emphasis.
For my arms, I initially considered hanafuda, Japanese playing cards. Hanafuda would make a great tattoo (as seen here) for a professional poker player, but for me, it wasn't the right theme as I really don't care for games at all. Horiyoshi did suggest an interesting approach to a hanafuda tattoo: use the symbols on the cards in a valuable hand, but render them in the tattooist's usual style, skipping the card format.
What I initially wanted for my arms was koi. No, Horiyoshi said, all the koi on your body must be contiguous. [It would've been nice to know that earlier this week when I got them on my legs!] Another phoenix? No, I already have the maximum of one. Tigers? Tigers have fur, not scales. Even more dragons? Horiyoshi was unenthusiastic.
He suggested chrysanthemums and peonies. He explained that since peonies bloom in Spring and chrysanthemums in Fall, together they represent the whole year. Further, flowers can be added one by one, so I can stop at any point. He noted that flowers already appear throughout my existing tattoos.
This sounded good. I like gardening, so flowers are meaningful to me. And as these tattoos would be seen on occasion, I wanted neutral images that broadcast no particular message. Well, no message beyond "heavily tattooed."
So we settled on this motif. Before starting, Horiyoshi checked with me one more time, "A combination of chrysanthemums and peonies on each arm, right?" He had never been so careful. I confirmed, repeating his words as if we were launching a torpedo.
Pushing the artwork down to my elbows, I once again crossed that line.
Horiyoshi's practice is now limited to finishing existing clients' tattoos, and we all keep him really busy. As I have repeatedly witnessed, all new clients are politely referred elsewhere.
I'm grateful to Horiyoshi III for showing me the deeper, truer Japan that without him I never would have known.
Thank you, Marisa, for being my editor and to all of you for reading. I chose to publish on this site because this is where I could reach the most discriminating, erudite tattoo enthusiasts.
This is my final regularly scheduled guest blog. I'll reload with more stories next time I go to Japan and have more tattoo adventures. Meanwhile, feel free to friend me on Facebook.
Recently, I've been getting a bunch of press releases for mobile applications relating to tattoos -- most recycling old flash, ala the tribal dragon, and touting it as a way to "pick your next ink" [bleh]. Naturally, I hit the delete button.
But just this week, a new app hit the iTunes store that has quickly become my favorite:
Check Tattoo IQ by the Hell City crew.
Essentially, it's a trivia game where the more right answers you get, the higher you climb the tattoo social ladder, from scratcher to apprentice to tattoo guru. And getting to tattoo guru ain't easy. The questions are fun but also challenging, covering topics including the history, lingo, tech & bio, and culture surrounding the art. A clock ticks down so there isn't much time to ponder things like "Who patented the first tattoo machine?" or "How many layers does a tattoo get injected into the skin?"
Don't expect a cheat sheet either. If you need to find the right answer, you gotta keep playing (or resort to the Google gods). New questions are added every month so the game doesn't get stale.
Tattoo IQ is smart, entertaining (especially some of the wrong answers) and only 99 cents. Definitely worth the download.
Other tattoo apps reviewed here: Tattoo Shop and Tattoo Mania
This week, legendary tattooists Guy Aitchison and Michele Wortman have expanded their book publishing company, Proton Press, to include instrumental music produced within the tattoo industry.
The music label kicks off with five albums, each with their own signature electro-groove: Sunchannel by Michele Wortman; Hydrone by Brion Norwalk, a tattooist from Ohio; Divine Machine by Corey Cudney, a tattooist from Buffalo, NY; Satchi Om (self-titled), a tattoo collector from Oakland, CA; and Sursum by Peter Stauber, a tattoo collector from Las Vegas.
You can preview the music here and also purchase them as downloads or CDs.
Chris Stauber interviewed Guy & Michelle about this new venture. Here's a taste of that talk:
in the media has not yet waned since the unfortunate Michelle McGee graced tabloid covers for being tattooed and sleeping with Sandra Bullock's husband [her resume in a nutshell]. The upside, as I've mentioned before, is that heavily tattooed women are getting some sort of voice in the news to dispel stereotypes and address tattooing as an art form.
What's been largely left out of this discourse, however, are the stories of female tattooists, so when my friend Kari filled me in on a documentary on these artists, I was stoked.
The doc is called Covered, and based on the trailer (shown above), it appears to cover a range of experiences, from foremothers of modern tattoo like Vyvyn Lazonga who fought to learn the craft to new apprentices who say that haven't met with any discrimination at all. The film also goes beyond the tattooists and addresses how "heavily tattooed women must negotiate social sanctions from strangers, family, friends, and employers, in order to enjoy their love of tattoo artwork."
Director and producer Beverly Yuen Thompson, Ph.D. further explains what sparked Covered:
"Tattoo culture has now entered the mainstream with its exponential growth in popularity, reality television shows, and nationwide tattoo conventions. While Kat Von D might have made it to television stardom as a female tattooist, other women's voices from the tattoo community have been notably absent. When women are present, such as in tattoo magazines, they are often sexually objectified. Covered sets out to remedy these oversights by shedding light on the history of women in the tattoo industry and to share the voices and perspectives of heavily tattooed women in the United States."The film is recently released and will start making the film festival as well as academic circuits. Will keep you posted on screenings.
Father Panik graces us with another tale of his tattoo adventures. This time he returns from Thailand and talks temple tattoos.
See some photos of the tattooing monks in this Flickr set.
I'm looking for meaning.
I'm walking through crowded, polluted 100-degree heat of Bangkok looking for sacred tattoos: Sak Yant. Temple tattoos, sacred Buddhist tattoos.
Tattoos created by monks and infused with holy mantras.
I'm hunting those who wear them.
They are hard to find.
There was a time in Bangkok where you saw them on every corner, on the arms necks and heads of cops, taxi drivers, soldiers, anyone who had a dangerous life.
Now, not so much.
Sure you see lots of tattoos in Bangkok, just as you would in NYC or Berlin or Tokyo.
But that's the problem. They are the same tattoos you see in every major city.
Young Thais getting tattooed today want the ones they see on MTV or bootleg DVDs of LA Ink.
They don't want the tattoos worn by their fathers and grandfathers. They want to be cool.
In a city famous for it's sex industry and Olympic level drinking, I'm looking for old cab drivers. Guys wearing tattoos that will stop bullets, protect you from knives, bring you wealth and prosperity.
So far I haven't had much chok dee. And it's fucking hot.
Still, I hunt.
For centuries, westerners have been going to Asia, finding cool stuff & bringing it back.
I am part of that tradition.
Not because I'm daring and adventurous but because I don't really "fit" in our world.
Most can find their niche at home, I cannot.
My landlord really wants me to find my niche.
I gotta pay rent. I gotta make a buck.
So like a Portuguese trader traveling the Silk Road, I find myself in Bangkok looking for meaning.
I think I can find it in sacred tattoos.
I'm probably wrong.
Something tells me that truth is not found externally.... but I'll skip the navel gazing.
I want the tattoo.
For more on Sak Yant tattoos, see this post on the Wat Bang Phra festival.
This fun video of DareDevil Tattoo apprentice Mina had me laughing (and impressed) as she does her first tattoo on co-owner Brad Fink -- under some very extreme circumstances. Tattooing Brad is pretty rough in itself, but she came through and got his nod of approval. And earning the respect of Brad and partner Michelle Myles isn't easy. Michelle explains on Devil City Press how Mina did it:
"In the time that Mina has been at the shop, others have come and gone with the same aspirations. I get constant requests for apprenticeships. Why did we decide to teach her? Because Mina was happy to put in the time and didn't come to the shop with a sense of entitlement and just put in her time starting at the bottom. Mina earned her place by impressing everyone at the shop with her progress as an artist and by her willingness to do whatever was asked of her just for the opportunity to work in an environment where she knew she would learn whether we ever offered to teach her or not."
If you want a free starter tattoo by Mina, contact DareDevil.
John Mack continues his weekly guest blog post on his experience 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, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII, Part IX, Part X & Part XI.
Horiyoshi III answered the phone and listened intently. "Sure, come by any time!" he told the caller. He hung up and explained to those of us in the studio, "A Dutch company is doing a television program on koi (carp) and they want some material on koi tattoos." Horiyoshi returned to tattooing me, declaring with a bemused smile, "I'll do anything for irezumi."
And he does. Horiyoshi opens his studios and techniques to anyone who can promote and enhance the art of tattooing. I already told you about the frequent visits by journalists.
Once I arrived at the studio to find Horiyoshi examining a pile of aluminum stock. I inquired what he was up to. "People do not know how to make tebori equipment that can be properly autoclaved," he explained. "So I'm going to make some and sell it so people can copy them." Indeed these tebori kits are now on sale on Horiyoshi's web site, where he writes humbly:
Nothing makes me happier than seeing the tattoo world advance. Be it tools or whatever, if I find something good, I do not want to keep it to myself. It is with this feeling that I publicize and sell this kit...
Another time, a guy with a computer was industriously scanning a pile of the tracing paper sketches that Horiyoshi uses as the basis for his tattoos. [I assume the images found their way into one the books of his sketches.] I asked Horiyoshi why he publishes his core intellectual property. He answered, "I want them to serve as inspiration for other artists."
Anything for Irezumi.
Horiyoshi's practice is now limited to finishing existing clients' tattoos. As I have repeatedly witnessed, all new clients are politely referred elsewhere.
Photo credit: Martin Hladik, Tattoo Master Magazine
Finally, a scientific breakthrough for those wanting sick tats but just can't commit to getting tatted up because they don't know what hot ink they want because, ya know, tatties aren't just for sailors, bikers and criminals anymore ...
Now there's moodInq: a programmable tattoo system that lets you change your body art at will. Read more:
"The uses of a moodInq tattoo are endless. Going home to visit Mom & Dad? Run the wand over your lower back and remove that "tramp stamp" your parents forbid you to get. Need to impress a hot date? Prove you're a man with family values when you show up with your MOM tattoo. Need a green way to keep a grocery list or note to self? Tattoo it on your arm! Are you good enough, smart enough, and gosh-darn-it-people-like-you? Tattoo your favorite affirmations and get through those rough days with ease. The moodInq lets you change your tattoo to suit your mood!"
With moodInq, I can instantly go from boardroom to barroom without having to worry about employment discrimination against the modded (because I'm all about the right to bare neck and knuckle ink with abandon. FTW!!).
Order moodInq online or get the limited edition Kat Von D line of changeable tat designs at Sephora.
[Thanks for the hellasick link, Pat!]
**Please keep in mind that this post was written on April 1st. ahem.**
I was gonna do an April Fools' Day post -- although it could never compare the most awesome Tattoo Your Toddler hoax -- but really, how much more foolish can you get than yet another attempt at a tattoo reality show? Production companies keep trying nonetheless. The latest:
"Tattoo Gunfight is a TV series that pits top rival tattoo artists in a competition to create the most unique and interesting tattoo on an outspoken celebrity [ooh, edgy]. Each episode two rival artists will be working in the same style of tattoo and out of their studio. The show is hosted by tattoo culture experts Sean Litteljohn and Killer Kelly Rothschild [who?] who will quiz the artists and their celebrity canvases about what tattoos mean for them and how they effect their lives [because all tattoos must have deep meaning!!]. You will bet a fast cut glimpse into the worlds of tattooing along wilt profiles on the celebrities [typos are all theirs]."
Seriously, I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.
Essentially, it's a ripoff, cut-rate version of the wonderful Tattoo Wars series, which was ditched after one season because it was about good tattooing by masters of the craft and not D-List celebs getting "tatted up."
Arguably, it could be worse. And by worse, I mean Inkslingers. No joke.