For almost a year now, tattoo and fine artist Jason Tyler Grace has been on the road with the goal of tattooing on every continent and experiencing the freedom and adventure that go with selling off your possessions and winging it around the world. He began his journey last January in Costa Rica and has traveled to Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Bolivia. And he's got stories to tell. And they are good.
Jason is back in the States for a bit, and last night over Jameson and Guinness, he told me about crooked cops and cocaine tours; tripping through Macchu Picchu; working tiny conventions and doing guest spots at some great studios like Nazareno Tubaro's place and Well Done Tattoos in Argentina; and also getting tattooed himself. We talked till 2am and I still didn't hear half of his adventures, but thankfully he's been keeping a journal and has begun sharing his travel diary in Tattoo Artist Magazine. Read part of his first installment on the TAM blog. Here's a taste:
He also has a travel blog, which he updates on occasion. A seriously compelling read.
Jason is in Brooklyn now tattooing at Three Kings Tattoo, and then will be in San Francisco, back at his old haunt Idle Hand Tattoo January 3-15th. In February, you'll find him in Melbourne, Australia at Dynamic Tattoo; from there, he says he plans to go around South East Asia, and who knows what will be next. He'll be somewhere near you soon, so hit him up for top tattoo work and a good story.
Bravo to SoTattooed.com for this hilarious video, which asks the existential question:
Who would you be if you weren't a tattoo artist? The answer from Phillip Spearman: a child entertainer. We're hoping Phillip keeps his day job and continues to do great tattoo work.
Also check SoTattooed's other quick flicks, including artist interviews, on their video map.
Tattooer, designer, and fine artist Scott Campbell -- who owns Saved Tattoo with Chris O'Donnell in Brooklyn -- designed a ready-to-wear capsule collection and leather bag line for Louis Vuitton, Spring/Summer 2011. This isn't the first time Campbell has worked with the luxe brand; he's the tattoo artist and good friend of Vuitton Creative Director Marc Jacobs. It is, however, a first working with LV Men's studio director Paul Helbers on a collection with a distinct tattoo aesthetic. He tells NY Mag in an interview about the collaboration:
Now when people hear tattoo prints, a lot of them think bad Ed Hardy T-shirts.To promote the collection, Vuitton has created a "video diptyque" that "invites you to follow Scott Campbell in his New York creative universe before leaving to a mysterious destination to be revealed very soon..." The first video, shown above, shows Scott running around NYC, designing in his studio, more running around and then, zooom, he's off with passport in hand and fancy LV bag to the airport. In the second video, he arrives in Paris [no mystery there], jumps in a limo and is driven to the LV magic kingdom, where they eventually put him to work.
See the end result of that work, including the bag below, on High Snobiety as well as other design & fashion blogs.
Thanks to the fabulous Badur of Punk Medics for the video links.
Part of my weekly To Do list is checking out tattoo artist blogs to see new work, and today I came across a year-in-review post by Jason Butcher: "10 from 2010," which I loved. Jason writes: "This is a list of 10 of my favourite tattoos from 2010. I've been lucky enough to do some really cool work this year so it's hard to choose, but here they are."
I'm a long time fan of Jason's work and featured him in my Black & Grey Tattoo tome. You can find Jason at Immortal Ink in Essex, UK and at tattoo conventions worldwide.
Men's lifestyle magazine Complex put out this list of "50 Tattoo Artists you Need to Know," which is an interesting compilation that includes the usual big names, like Paul Booth, but also some exciting new comers. [I was glad to see my own artist Daniel DiMattia of Calypso Tattoo featured at No.11.]
The list was advised by tattoo historian and journalist Nick Schonberger who is also behind the wonderful Curatedmag.com and Selectism.com. There are a few mistakes, like misidentification in the photos of a couple artists, and I would have liked to see more biomech and organic work repped, but overall, I'd recommend checking it out and perhaps discovering new talent through the picks as I did.
We survived yet another holiday, rather unscathed albeit with lighter wallets. Sucked into the consumer industrial complex, we have fulfilled our shopping list for friends and family. Now it's time to treat ourselves. Our Holiday Gift Guide has been filled with goodness from largely indie designers and artisans, and for this last Guide posting, we want to give a shout out to these tradespeople who help keep Needles+Sins running.
An advertiser who has been getting a lot of media attention is MIR Russian Criminal Tattoo Apparel, not just for their sexy clothing but for the info they offer on all the tattoo designs featured on their shirts, dresses, jackets and accessories. Check out their newest ShtrafBat military line.
Offering an extensive selection of plugs and ear stretching jewelry at a low cost is Ear Gauges, run by a group of people who are a part of our community looking to promote safe and beautiful body adornment. [I'm wearing their organic spotted wood plugs right now.] Also check their forums on healing and aftercare.
And of course we love our trouble makers Father Panik Industries, who have been kicked out and banned from a number of indie markets for their blasphemy, particularly in the form of their brass knuckle rosaries. Their latest rosary piece is the hand-carved, sterling silver tattoo machine charm on semi-precious stones shown above.
So hit them up and show some self-love for making it through another Festivus.
Tattoo anthropologist Lars Krutak, of Discovery's Tattoo Hunter series, has authored a gorgeous 424-page, 8-pound hardcover on indigenous tattooing in the Philippines:
Kalinga Tattoo: Ancient and Modern Expressions of the Tribal
The book is the first to explore the vanishing tattoo practices of the Kalinga people (whose ancestors also practiced headhunting). It also looks at today's revival of the art, particularly by the Tatak Ng Apat Na Alon Tribe, who are a growing organization of Filipino-Americans dedicated to studying and sharing these tattoo traditions. [I've been a long-time fan of the Tribe and encourage you to read more on their work here & check their YouTube page.]
Here's more on what's inside the book:
KALINGA TATTOO: ANCIENT AND MODERN EXPRESSIONS OF THE TRIBAL is a photographic masterwork that explores the vanishing art of Kalinga tribal tattooing in the remote mountains of the northern Philippines. Combining the visionary talents of numerous international photographers and the words and stories of nearly fifty Kalinga elders, Kalinga Tattoo is the first book to tell the story of this incredibly rich tradition of indigenous body art that is believed to be 1,000 years old.
Read more here.
Kalinga Tattoo is published by Edition Reuss, the same publishers of my Black Tattoo Art and Black & Grey Tattoo books, and so the crafting of this large-format tome is of the exceptional quality Edition Reuss is known for.
For North American orders, signed copies, and other special offers contact Lars Krutak directly. The books are also available on Amazon.com and LastGasp.com.
The Needles & Sins Inbox is usually flooded with press releases for pin-up contests, hot inked girl calendars and assorted tattooed vixen ephemera, so I was a surprised to see that the universe heeded my call for Tattooed Boys Gone Wild. Unfortunately, it came in the form of a naked Phil Varone, Playgirl's Mr. December Centerfold [obviously not work safe].
Here's what the release says:
Playgirl Magazine chooses rocker Phil Varone to spice things up this holiday season. Varone, who claims to have slept with over 3,000 women, is ecstatic about his Playgirl debut. Tattooed, raw and real, this 21st century man is an actor, standup comedian, author, swinger, rock drummer and can now add Playgirl's first rocker centerfold to his many credits. Varone adds his irreverent edge and fierce sex appeal to the legendary magazine's image, taking the publication to the next level and baring himself completely, down to his swinging lifestyle. He's breaking ground not only as the first rocker to achieve Playgirl centerfold status, but also in bringing rock photographer Todd Kancar to the spread. The magazine will remain on newsstands through February 2011.
I guess Tommy Lee was unavailable.
I haven't picked up the issue, and not sure if I'm ready to go into my local press shop where I get enough looks picking up those dirty, dirty tattoo magazines. Maybe one of my gay boyfriends will do it for me; after all, isn't that the real target market? The bigger question is whether I even want to see 16 pages of the Sex Rehab alum nude. The even bigger question is why there aren't popular sexy magazines and sites that cater to the desires of straight women and gay men with a preference for "alternative" attractiveness that doesn't have ridiculous covers shouting "Hung" or "Cock Test."
Perhaps suicide boys are just hard to find. When I put out that cheeky call for hot inked guys, only one man responded (other than me forcing Brian to be our pin-up boy). And yet thousands of young tattooed women vie to be the hot tattooed chick of the day. It raises some interesting issues on gender, tattooing, and self-esteem. And it's driving me crazy that our comment forums haven't been fixed yet because I'd love to hear more from you on the topic. If you want to share your thoughts, hit me up at marisa at needlesandsins.com.
Maybe something good could come from Phil Varone's drumstuck.
The guys from Miami Ink are doing some heavy marketing for their Ruthless & Toothless kiddie line of apparel, skate decks, sketch pads and other gift items for the holidays. In conjunction with video promos and free tattoo contests on their YouTube channel, they have posted a number of drawing and painting tutorials by Chris Garver including the one above. It's an interesting look into the design process and worth checking out. There's also an adorable video of a four-year-old girl teaching Garver how to draw "Princess Pinky Purple Blue" -- using a WACOM Tablet and Photoshop no less.
So the artsy cuteness of it all did in fact bring me to the Ruthless & Toothless online shop [the power of marketing!], but when I got there, most of the merch was out of stock and wouldn't be available for six weeks [the fail of production!]. I'll still take the free lessons.
We have another fun calendar pick -- one where proceeds go to support tattooed students:
"The Tattooed Librarian Students of the Pacific Northwest" Calendar.
The students enrolled in Emporia State's Master of Library and Information Science program were informed that, because of budget woes, they will have to pay for their graduation ceremony themselves come August. So to relieve a bit of that burden, they put together this calendar as a fundraiser. One of the Master's candidates,Turner Masland, says: "Let's face it, your traditional Granny-Librarian is going by the wayside as hair-buns and cardigans are making way for tattoos and piercings!"
[Indeed, we saw that last year with the "Tattooed Ladies of the Texas Library Association" calendar.]
Photographer Lisa DiVenti took most of the playful photos in Pacific Northwest College of Art Library. Turner says that majority of the tattoos featured were done by local Portland artists (with a few obtained in California and New Hampshire).
I'm thinking that if the students can spend less on their graduation, then they can spend more on tattoos. Support them and let's keep it all in our community.
Buy the calendar here for $25.
The motto of tattoo journalist Travellin' Mick is "Wherever I lay my head is home," and over the years, "home" has often been remote villages where Mick has stayed with indigenous people documenting their culture and body modification practices. While he has written extensively about his experiences for many tattoo magazines, the images and essays have never been collected into one comprehensive volume. He's now setting out to do so.
The first step in his publishing projects is a calendar and traveling exhibit called "In Your Face: The Beauty of Traditional Tattooing." The engaging wall calendar can be ordered via Trust Bodymodification's online store for 20 Euros or by contacting Mick through his website. The US price is $30 and the UK's is 20 BP.
Mick recently showed "In Your Face" in Singapore, and his next exhibition will be at Melbourne's Rites of Passage Festival, January 28th to 30th. He plans to bring the series to cities across Europe throughout 2011.
Describing the motivation behind "In Your Face," Mick says:
Over the last ten years of traveling, I accumulated a vast archive of photographs of traditional tattoos on people from around the world. Even though they were originally taken for documentary purposes, over time I realized that many of the portraits I did have an undeniable aesthetic quality: They tell stories of those people, show their pride and beauty. Often they are the very last ones of their kind, maybe 100 years old, and in their faces and eyes you can clearly see the history of their people.
Here are just a couple of images from the calendar and the stories behind them:
"March: I was looking for traditional tattoos in Gujarat province of India near the Pakistan border. I came to an old weaver's house, who was maybe in his 50s. He said: 'Oh, I don't have any tattoos, but my grandmother has!' She was 96 when I took those photos, and she was very alert and funny."
"April is a crazy one: This boy is a refugee kid from Myanmar. There is a monastery on the Thailand side of the border, where those kids are taken in, given an education, learn how take responsibilities by training horses and practicing martial arts. They get marked by the head monk, with a bee, because it is a social animal, one that labours for the well-being of the whole society, not just himself."
I'm looking forward to seeing the next stage in this project, a large-format book filled with his photographs with detailed descriptions of the images along with travel stories, his personal philosophy, and more.
Here's another lit pick for our gift guide:
The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos from Bookworms Worldwide, by Eva Talmadge and Justin Taylor, is a beautiful compilation of literary tattoos, whether they be favorite lines from Shakespeare, Shel Silverstein illustrations, a Kafka portrait, or the truly hardcore--a full backpiece of Theodor Adorno's essay "For Marcel Proust."
The Word Made Flesh comprises 150 photos of these tattoo tributes accompanied a statement from the wearer about the work. Some offer a few paragraphs on the significance behind their tattoos while others just have a few words like the Brooklyn College professor with the Adorno backpiece who simply said: "I'm always shocked at how few people make themselves into a lifelong monument to their favorite prose or verse."
This book, however, proves that there's a significant group of people who do. And it seems most live in my Brooklyn backyard. [Our humble borough is home to many writers and has more "coffices" per capita than anywhere in the world (maybe), and considering it's also ground zero for NYC's top tattoo work, the connection seems natural to fill a book.] The authors are also Brooklyn residents. They explained in an interview with GalleyCat that the project was inspired by seeing literary tattoos on the streets and even on their roommates. Justin said, "We decided to see if this was a coincidence or an actual trend, and put a call for submissions up on HTMLGiant.com. Pictures started pouring in immediately and we were off to the races."
View more tattoo submissions on their site TattooLit.com.
Tattoo by Thor at Yonge Street Tattoos in Toronto
I was also happy to see Shelley Jackson's Skin project featured in the book. Skin is "a 2095-word story published exclusively in tattoos, one word at a time, on the skin of volunteers." Read more about it (and how you can participate) here.
My one big issue is that the tattoo artist credits are at the back of the book in list format, which is hard to follow. I think the artists who render the words on skin should have equal billing with the authors on the very page the work is shown. That said, I recommend it as an interesting (and affordable) softcover for tattoo word nerds on your holiday list. Amazon sells it for $10.19.
Eva's next project will be a collection of music tattoos. She's looking for song lyrics, band logos, record labels, musician portraits, and the like. Check this post for more info on that book and how to submit your own photos.
For more on literary tattoos, also hit the Contrariwise blog.
Tattoo by Uncle Allan
When Americans think of Denmark, images of Vikings and Brigitte Nielsen come to mind; a mythic country that has exported Legos, Lars Von Trier, and Lars Ulrich. Actually, it's more likely that most Americans think Denmark is that place on the corner where you can get milk for under two bucks and a cheap but decent ham. When I think of this Scandinavian kingdom, it's all about some royal tattoo work that is being done across the country.
One of my favorite studios there is Conspiracy Inc. in Copenhagen, home to tattooists Uncle Allan, Electric Pick, and Eckel. Co-owner Amalie, aka Princess Inferno, keeps everything running smoothly, all the while making her fabulous hats and accessories.
I had a chance to meet Allan and Amalie at this last London Tattoo Convention, and they were a blast. It's always cool when artists whose work you really dig end up being just as awesome (despite their love for watching "How I met your Mother" on DVD). Allan has been tattooing his stellar Americana work since 1999. Here's just a taste. Check more on his blog.
Tattoo by Uncle Allan
Also, rockin the traditional and neo-traditional tattoo work is German-born Eckle, who joined the Conspiracy crew in the summer of 2009. When not at the shop, Eckel can be found on the road at conventions and guest spots. [From Jan. 24-28, he'll be at London's Frith Street Tattoo.]
Tattoo by Eckle
For trippy animated art, there's Electric Pick whose work I'll be featuring in my upcoming monster tattoo book called "Color Bomb" [to be released in September, following the series of encyclopedic volumes published by Edition Reuss]. Pick's is a sexy illustrative style of kick-ass characters. His blog offers a look into his design process. As you can see from the photos stolen from his site below, he shows how the work is sketched out on the body and then posts the finished tattoo. There are some fun stories behind the works plus his musings on culture and politics. Also check his original art, prints and shirts, available for purchase online here.
With all these artists in one place, I'm thinking of Copenhagen for my next tattoo vacation.
Tattoo above ( and freehand sketch below) by Electric Pick
Drawing by Electric Pick
For my fellow toy collectors, gadget geeks & nerdists, behold Mimobot's tattooed flash drive, "Yakuza" designed by Scott Lee. While the new Star Wars series has everyone's light sabers in a bunch, this Horimono homeboy remains my fave functional toy and has accompanied me to many a convention to help collect and store tattoo photos from artists.
A capacity of 4GB will cost about $35. You can also get 8GB for $55 & 16GB for $80.
For more wonderful and weird flash drives, check Hongkiat's (oldie but goodie) Top 50 list. [I also own the Humping Dog thanks to Brian Grosz.]
Atlanta's Corey Davis wears a lot of labels: tattoo artist, painter, designer, marketing maven, musician, and more recently, filmmaker.
The renaissance man has created a series called Corey Davis Was Here: Somewhere Over the Pond, which are intimate video vignettes that follow Corey and the City of Ink crew as they travel to Europe and experience its art and culture. Part 1 (video above) takes off with a sleep-deprived landing in London and then it's off to the tattoo convention at Tobacco Docks. Not every episode is tattoo-centric, however; rather, they are travelogues as seen through the lens of tattooists.
Check the rest of the episodes on Creative Control TV. I'm diggin the CC media platform that houses programs on everything from gospel, to skateboarding, to tattoo culture -- all with unique perspectives from storytellers who do in fact keep creative control over all content and production. For real.
For more on Corey, read his news page or follow his magazine Greedmont Park.
For more on City of Ink's Miya Bailey, read Miguel's interview with Miya from last summer where they discuss art, race, and putting vibrant color tattoos on black skin.
I'm having a perfect Sunday with a few of my favorite things: brunch, Bloody Marys, and bluegrass. While no one is taking my food and drink from me, I will share the music.
I'm loving this song Femme Fatale by Birmingham's The Toy Hearts, released on their third album also titled Femme Fatale, which is a blend of bluegrass swing and "gypsy jazz." This gorgeous video for the song was shot at Dawnii Fantana's Painted Lady Tattoo Parlour in Birmingham. If you're not familiar with Dawnii's stellar tattoo work, check it here. The video features my friend Clare Goldilox, who does her hand-poked dotwork magic at Painted Lady, and at times, on the low in the seedy underbelly of society. [She'll deny the latter.]
Clare sent me the video because my Black Tattoo Art book makes a brief cameo (see below). I was stoked but even more so to find a new band to brighten my weekend.
PS: I'm thinking of making "Music Sunday" a regular or semi-regular feature, so if you have a particular song and video you want to share, especially with a tattoo theme, send me links to marisa at needlesandsins.com.
In 2006, Adrian Lee and the NSKolectiv unveiled Full Coverage, a project in which their Suits Made to Fit "homework assignment," documenting the creation of full bodysuit tattoo designs on paper, was now put on living bodies -- thirty-three bodies transformed by eight artists: Adrian Lee, Horitaka, Paco Excel, Matt Shamah, Ron Earhart, Nate Banuelos, Jason Kundell, and Phil Holt. [See this trailer on how the project developed.]
The Full Coverage two-volume hardcover, with photographs by Max Dolberg and NSK illuminating the process from concept to creation, was released as a limited edition. It begins with an essay by Horiyoshi III followed by Adrian Lee's introductory text. The book sold out within one month. A second edition was released. Sold out. Used copies on eBay. Sold.
Now a revised third edition has been released that is 240 pages (11x14") of tattoo masterworks in a beautiful hardcover slipcase. It can be purchased for $80 on Last Gasp.
For purists, a rare copy of the first edition Japanese version of the book is being sold on the Analog Tattoo online store for $250. Other books available are Bloodwork Sleeves (350-page hardcover of 67 sleeves by 30 tattooers), Action Reaction & Suits Made to Fit. All gorgeous additions to your tattoo library.
Well, we didn't attract the ire of Operation Payback but we did get hit with a SpamBot attack, which is why we have to take the comments forums offline for a bit. I'm bummed about that because I love to read all your thoughts, experiences, links and general awesomeness.
We're working on moving N+S to a new content management system, which will cost a couple grand in programmer fees, so if you'd like to give us a holiday gift, consider donating via the PayPal button below. Any amount is appreciated.
While we manage the attack--and our day jobs--we'll still be back to blogging soon.
Since last April, we've been talking about Dr. Beverly Yuen Thompson's "Covered": a much needed and appreciated documentary focused on women tattoo artists and collectors.
Now the film is available on DVD and can be purchased for just $25 here. This is one of my favorite picks for the holiday gift guide. For a look into the film, see the trailer above and other clips here on YouTube.
Public screenings of Covered have also been taking place across the US. The next one will be this Saturday, December 11th, from 7-9pm at Emma Griffith's Porcupine Tattoo studio in Brooklyn, NY. The screening is in conjunction with the Ladies, Ladies Art show at Tattoo Culture, which opens the night before. For more screenings, check the film's site.
In the first post on "Covered," we quoted Thompson on what inspired her to do the film. It's an important commentary on how women have been and still are generally treated in the tattoo community and bears reposting:
"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."
Hope to see y'all Friday and Saturday!
This Thursday, December 9th, is the opening of an exciting solo show of new fine art works by David Sena, NY tattooist and co-owner of North Star Tattoo. Entitled "Inevitable Futures," the exhibition highlights David's work with a medium just as challenging as needles on skin: fire on canvas. Read more about the show here.
CoolHunting.com's feature on David's fire drawings offers an inside look into his process with an extensive photo gallery, including the one below.
Opening reception from 6 to 9pm
Live music by Drumone, Lenny Posso.
276 Greenpoint Avenue, Building 8 ground floor, Brooklyn, NYC
After Party Sponsored by Ketel One Vodka to be followed by RSVP only to firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Inevitable Futures" will be on view by appointment December 10-29, 2010. To schedule an appointment or for more information please contact David Sena: email@example.com or 1-917-445-4299.
Considering my convention photo albums all have somebody throwing up a Horns High salute, I felt these ski gloves by Drop are a good fit for our gift guide. With silicone printing on Durasuede for the palm, stretch fabric for the main shell, and microfleece lining, the gloves keep moisture away while bringing the rock on.
Granted, they don't show the same kind of commitment as this ultimate metal tattoo, but they still have more cred than, say, a Metallica shopping day.
You can buy the gloves for $35 online here.
Almost a year ago, I wrote about using tattoos as evidence in criminal trials, citing the case of Neo-Nazi John Ditullio who is accused of stabbing a teenager to death and wounding another. While in jail awaiting trial, Ditullio acquired a Nazi swastika among other hateful tattoos but then asked the court in his first trial for permission to cover them up so he won't be prejudiced before the jury. Even more controversial, he asked the court to pay for it because he couldn't.
The judge granted that request, and the media went crazy over tax payers footing the $125/day bill for a cosmetologist to clean-up the accused murderer. Read more in that post for the law surrounding indigent defendants and what is considered a "fair trial" under US law.
Now Ditullio faces his second trial for murder, and again, a cosmetologist is being brought in to cover up the tattoos. Cue more media frenzy. Out of the many articles, I found yesterday's NY Times coverage of the trial most interesting because they don't just discuss the law but look at the extensive process of concealing prominent facial and neck tattoos. Here's some of that discussion:
Chele, the owner of the company performing the work, said the process takes about 45 minutes.Indeed, many cosmetologists contacted to do the work refused. But Chele later adds that she viewed this work as a matter of justice. That's really a main issue: Can this defendant get a fair trial without the cover-up?
What do you think?
[Thanks to Vince Hemingson for the link.]
Prolific tattoo artist Paul Timman, who works at LA's famed Sunset Strip Tattoo, teamed up with San Diego housewares company Ink Dish to create tattoo-inspired tableware.
Paul has designed four different sets: Irezumi (shown above), Cherry Ink, Tattoo Lotus, and Tribal Lines. [The Irezumi line was featured in Metropolitan Home's Design 100 last year.] All are made of microwave and dishwasher safe 'A' quality porcelain.
You can buy the pieces as a set or individually online and at retailers including Fred Segal, the Walker Art Center, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, among many others. Price compare via Google Shopping.
For graffiti lovers, there's New York Delft and London Delft porcelain dinnerware collections by design team Lovegrove & Repucci shown below. They're having a sale now, so the five-piece set, complete with their carry case "FidoBag," runs you $100.
The use of numbing creams and sprays has been a hot tattoo topic (recently discussed here in our Robert Atkinson profile and my new tattoo post). In this guest blog, John Mack is back to share his experience using anesthetic while getting tattooed by Horiyoshi III.
** This post has been updated with further information since its publication **
During my first appointment with Horiyoshi III, I asked what he thought of trying Lidocaine. He replied, "Sure, it's better if it doesn't hurt." Well, all right then. I'll give it a try.
I already had Lidocaine 5% cream (from another procedure) but the taboo against
topical anesthetic for tattooing dissuaded me from trying it, that is, until I spoke with Horiyoshi. Before I went to Japan for my tattoo sessions (combined with a business trip) I researched Japanese law as transporting drugs across borders is a dicey business. According to the Koseirodosho-iyakushokuhinkyoku, bringing your own duly prescribed medical drugs into Japan is permitted.
For my next session, an hour before my appointment, I applied the cream and covered it with Saran Wrap. Even though I washed my hands immediately, my fingertips became a little numb. This stuff really works. And then I went to get tattooed. The project was koi fish on the insides of my thighs, a very painful place to be tattooed. But with local anesthetic, it was completely tolerable. Horiyoshi's son Kazu was observing the session, and commented to me, "Wow, you're really strong." I sheepishly told him the real reason I was taking it so well.
I missed some places with the cream, and I tell you, that was some serious pain. An even more distressing problem with this area was the nerve reflexes that made me move involuntarily. The anesthetic reduced this effect at its source.
When I asked Horiyoshi III for his opinion, he said that Japanese law prevents him from making a recommendation without a license to practice medicine. He did say that personally, he would prefer to not cause suffering, and if the client had a way to avoid it, then there was no reason not to. If the client seeks the therapeutic effect of becoming stronger through the painful ordeal, then that too is fine. He added that there was no particular unfairness in how some people endure the pain of tattooing while others can choose to escape it.
But wait. Isn't pain an integral part of tattooing? Is it really okay to remove just this part of the experience? It certainly removes the macho "I can take anything" element of being tattooed. I'm cheating, and cheaters like me will never make yakuza boss.
Next, I would like to share the technical details of my experience with this controversial approach to tattooing. It is important to note that I have no training in tattooing nor medicine. I can only offer anecdotal evidence to help those who do have qualifications make their decisions.
The anesthetic reduced but did not completely eliminate the nerve reflexes that made my thigh twitch involuntarily as it was being tattooed. Getting tattooed on the floor helped -- Horiyoshi could further arrest my movement by sitting on my calf as he worked (thankfully, he's not very heavy). He also had a sand bag close at hand that he plopped onto my leg to hold it down.
The next area to tattoo was my arms. The result I want for this public area demands that I be an absolutely still canvas. I used the Lidocaine for the outline, and was able to completely relax. During the tattooing of both arms, I did not even come close to tensing my muscles or twitching.
A particularly delightful part of my tattoo experience is my conversations with Horiyoshi. Discussing wide ranging topics in a foreign language over the din of a tattoo machine while not facing the speaker is hard enough. The anesthetic allows me to better concentrate on the conversation.
Nonetheless, a few sessions after the critical outlining was done, I eventually stopped using the Lidocaine on my arms. Being tattooed there is not particularly painful, and not using anesthetic is undeniably more authentic. But I will definitely use it again for my underarms.
If there is a problem with using Lidocaine cream for tattooing, I think it is the physical form of the cream. A potentially inexperienced client must properly apply it before coming under the supervision of the tattooist. It is a bit messy, and is best applied in private where soap and water are available. It must be applied according to schedule, potentially when you are in an inconvenient location. I once had to apply it in the restroom at the Dai Ichi Hotel Tokyo while wearing a business suit. After application, the cream must be covered with Saran Wrap for maximum effectiveness. Why would anyone bring Saran Wrap to a business meeting?
It is essential to remove the cream before beginning to tattoo. I wash it off with soap and water immediately before starting. [The tattooist can also wipe it off.] If you leave the cream on, paper stencils stick to it and disintegrate upon removal. During tattooing, it is difficult to wipe away excess ink. Injecting the cream into the skin during tattooing causes inflammation, pain afterward, and retards healing, but there was no permanent damage the one time this happened to me.
The half life of Lidocaine is 1.5 to 2 hours. This is more than enough for my one hour sessions with Horiyoshi, but probably insufficient for a session of even two hours. A continuous process might work whereby the client applies anesthetic to a new area as the artist tattoos toward it. Kind of like a steel mill.
The spray form of Lidocaine, and the new product, Vasocaine are presumably easier to apply, less sticky, and more foolproof. Lidocaine 5% cream often requires a prescription. This is inconvenient, but I am more comfortable knowing that we are all within Japanese law. If I try Vasocaine, I will just declare it to Japanese customs, and if it is illegal they can confiscate it.
On the trunk of my body, I never really noticed any inflammation after getting tattooed, but on my forearms the swelling is quite pronounced. The vascular constrictor in Vasocaine looks useful for preventing swelling.
If you're not getting tattooed for the pain, the ultimate objective of all this is a quality finished tattoo. On my skin, Lidocaine 5% cream gives the benefits of pain relief and motion arrest without adverse effect on the finished tattoo. In fact I think improves the result by keeping me still and allowing me to extend my bodysuit into areas that would otherwise be intolerably painful.