May 2012 Archives

04:43 PM
Memoir-cover-600w-rgb1.jpgPainter, tattooist and artistic mentor to many, Shawn Barber, has a tattoo that reads "GSD" -- Get Shit Done. That he does. At his Memoir Tattoo studio in LA, which he co-owns with partner Kim Saigh, Shawn divides his time expanding his explosive tattoo portfolio, hosting art workshops, and painting portraits that largely document the tattoo world.

Shawn began his tattoo portrait series in 2004, coming to the art as a collector then tattooist himself. He already has published two books on this series, "Tattooed Portraits" (2006) and "Forever and Ever" (2008), and now has a third book and solo show of all new works coming up.

"Memoir: The Tattooed Portrait Series", a 256-page, 10x12 hardcover, will be released by Last Gasp in July. It features 110 full color paintings, 30 color photos and essays. The wonderful Margaret Cho wrote the foreword and introductions are by Kim Saigh, C.W. Eldridge and myself. I am honored to have contributed in a small way and also be a subject of one of his paintings -- being in the company of Don Ed Hardy, Bob Roberts, Grime, Paul Booth, Marcus Pacheco, Jack Rudy, Thomas Woodruff, Aaron Cain, Mike Giant, Adrian Lee, as well as Kim and Margaret, among many others.

In conjunction with the book is Shawn's second solo show at the Joshua Liner Gallery, located in New York City's Chelsea Arts district. The "Memoir: The Tattooed Portraits Series" exhibit opens June 28th through July 28th. The opening reception on June 28th is from 6-9 PM.

The gallery says of the show:

Memoir, the exhibition, will include over twenty oil-on-canvas paintings by Barber that have been reproduced in Memoir (the book) in rich, full-color plates. Many of these subjects are tattoo artists, such as the celebrated Shige of Yokohama, Japan. A stunning 9-x-6-foot triptych, Barber's Portrait of the artist Shige (2010-12) is a panorama with nine full-length views of the artist, rendered in the nude to reveal the splendor of his own corporeal canvas.
Other works, like James Spencer Briggs at Work (with Aaron Wahlman) (2011-12) and Freddy Corbin's Temple (2011- 2012), evoke the milieu, processes, and protocols of the tattoo parlor, with its paraphernalia and intense concentration. Barber further captures this intensity with a taxonomist's precision in a group of small still lifes that isolate the distinctive hardware of specific tattoo artists, such as Daily Driver, Micky Sharpz Liner Machine, Single Needle Shader (2012). Still other works, like Abstracted Self Portrait (2010-12), group multiple views of arms and other body parts as free-floating examples of contemporary tattoo--they are inextricable from their fleshy surfaces and innert without them, for artist and viewer.
Read more on the exhibit and see a preview of works here. Looking forward to the show and hope to see you there!

shige-spread1-page.jpgPortrait of the artist Shige, 9 views, Triptych, 2010-2012 (oil on canvas)

spencer-atwork-wip22-lgweb.jpgJames Spencer Briggs at Work, (with Aaron Wahlman), 2011-2012 (oil on canvas)

fcorbin-temple-wip18-lgweb.jpgFreddy Corbin's Temple, 2011-2012, (oil on canvas)
05:32 PM
khan tattoo.jpg
The big highlight for me at the NYC Tattoo Convention has always been getting to watch excellent tattooers from around the world do their thing in person and up close. One artist whose work I really enjoyed checking as it came to life was Khan Tattoo, who has been on the road rocking color realism works, which he describes as "Neo-Fantasy."

Tattooing since 2001, the South Korean-born Khan wanted to follow in Guadi's footsteps and create architectural wonders. After meeting a beautifully tattooed Yakuza, however, his path changed and he set out to create art on the body -- a decision, he says, that he has never regretted.

Tattoo's path has taken him around the world, tirelessly working conventions and guest spots in different cities for long stretches of time away from his home in Japan. Right now he's in Massachusetts at ZaZa Ink, where he'll be working through June 9th. In July, Khan will be at Reinkarnation in Cologne, then 2nd Skin Tattoo in Zurich (July 24- Aug. 15t) and then the London Tattoo Convention in September ... check his full guest spot/convention schedule here.

You can view more of Khan's work on Facebook & Twitter as well.

portrait tattoo Khan.jpgdali tattoo Khan.jpg
05:02 PM
dragon backpiece.jpg
In our home there are two large tattoo works in progress, which means it's fully stocked with creams, painkillers, vodka, chocolate, and "tattoo sheets" (not the 1,500 thread count kind). Yesterday, I talked about adding to my tattoo collection with more rib work.

Today, Brian writes about his 11th tattoo sitting on his Bodysuit to Fit blog. Brian's got 38 hours already racked up with Mike Rubendall of Kings Avenue Tattoo. Check his post on how the backpiece is evolving ... and what it's like to score appointments with one of the most sought-after tattoo artists.
02:46 PM
floral tattoo ribs.jpg
This past Saturday I added to my tattoo collection by getting both sides of my ribs done, courtesy of Daniel DiMattia of Calypso Tattoo. Here's how it went down:

I woke up to the smell of steak and eggs (sorry, vegans), which Brian was preparing especially for my appointment. While this may seem like a frivolous detail -- akin to me seeing photos of everything my friends eat posted on Facebook -- my point in mentioning it is the importance of a fueling up before a session because, really, getting needled takes a toll on your body and you need to feed it to keep going. [Keep in mind that I'm Greek, and we eat like we're getting tattooed every day.]

After breakfast comes outfit choice. Something loose fitting and slung low on the hips so as not to rub against and irritate the fresh tattoo. When I got my hips done last time, I wore breakaway pants -- the kind sports figures and male strippers tear off (woohoo!) -- so I can undo the snaps along the sides to expose just the skin being tattooed and not flash everyone at the shop. I highly recommend them. But they weren't necessary this time as we decided to extend the tattoo from the existing flowers and snakes on my hip bones and not lower down. Yoga pants did the trick.

Fed and dressed, I headed to Tattoo Culture in Williamsburg, Brooklyn where Dan was guesting, along with fabulous abstract artists Noon & Loic Lavenu aka Xoil. There were a lot of jokes in French throughout the day but they largely centered around genitals than Jerry Lewis. I was entertained.

rib tattoo.jpg

Pay attention: Ok, here we go about the actual tattooing part in case I lost you at the food and fashion. Days before the session, Dan took my measurements and we decided how we wanted to shape the tattoos on the ribs to bring a more cohesive look with my existing stomach and hip work. I chose to keep to floral and mehndi-inspired motifs, which flowed inward along the shape of my waist. It's slimming and way better than lipo. While Dan is brilliant at freehand designs directly on the body, he drew the design in advance for better symmetry and because we didn't have time to spend hours coming up with something on the spot. He was leaving for Belgium the next day.

Stencil on. Mirror check. Great. Let's do this.

Ouch. No really, ouch.

Tattoos hurt, yes. Some people feel them in certain spots more than others, and the ribs were my unhappy place. Couple that with a large Belgian bearing down on me (see above) and the inability to move because it's all line work, with some dot shading. Not much room for error if I twitched.

Not much room for sympathy either. Most of my big work (back, sleeves, etc) is by Dan. Dan and I were once married. There's no need for polite client relations. This pain was payback for the times I didn't do the dishes. He is quick to mention, however, that he enjoys tattooing me because it's the only time I shut up. He's right.

There were some short breaks here and there. Dan's lovely fiance Devanei shared great stories about her experiences on this NY trip. Brian showed up with the most important tattoo provision ever: a Snickers bar. Chocolate and peanuts. It satisfied.

Within five hours, including breaks, both sides were done. Dan works fast, and you want fast on the ribs.

Three days later, the healing has been super-quick as well. I've been doing my usual LITFA method: Leave It the F*ck Alone, with just a thin layer of A&D ointment here and there. I'll switch to moisturizer soon.

The tattoos are perfect. The work harmonizes with the existing designs and also lends itself to further additions as we continue my bodysuit, slowly. I love the way I look in them.
That's why I get tattooed.

rib tattoo 2.jpg
10:37 AM
swallows and daggers.jpgPhoto by Joshua Gordon.

On my list of favorite tattoo blogs, for a long time, has been Swallows&Daggers. It's my go-to source for everything about traditional and neo-traditional tattooing, with artist profiles, galleries, and articles on the history behind iconic tattoo imagery.

This month, the Swallows&Daggers crew (who are based in the UK) have created a streetwear brand that is inspired by these traditional tattoo motifs as well as hardcore and hip hop cultures.

Check for their debut line, which features artwork by Clark Orr, Zach Shuta, and Matt Skiff that is clean and bold, just like a good traditional tattoo. The tees and hoodies can be purchased online and in select retail partners in the US & UK.

If you want to watch cute and really young tattooed boys play around in the shirts, see the video below. Also hit their lookbook on Flickr and Facebook

02:07 PM

While there have been some great (and not so great) videos on top tattooists, there aren't many on the experiences of apprentices. Filling this void is the first episode of Ink Stories, a documentary short by Lima Charlie on an artist learning the craft, his approach and also sacrifices for tattooing.

Ink Stories 1 features Daniel "Ronnie" Ronson of The Circle tattoo studio in London. In the film, Ronnie explains how he quit art school and took a series of odd jobs to pursue tattooing. He began by hanging around Jayne Doe Tattoo and sponging any info he could. In appreciation, he created a painting for the studio, which they posted online. Matth of The Circle saw it and soon offered to teach Ronnie. You can see from his portfolio that he's learning quickly. I also recommend checking out all the portfolios at The Circle, which range from traditional to modern abstract styles.

More Ink Stories videos to come.

traditional tattoo .jpg
11:32 AM
The iPad can be a fantastic tool for tattoo artists, from sketching ideas and creating tattoo designs, to using it as a slim and portable portfolio showcase. And the gadget itself can be customized to be more artful as well.

Offering more options than Apple's standard wallpapers is, a site that allows you to download higher resolution retina artwork by top designers for free. I was excited to see some of my favorite paintings there from tattooist Lea Vendetta, including "Big Kahuna" above and "La Clef De Mon Coeur."

While Lea is garnering attention lately for her Ink Masters performance and fashion spreads in magazines like Maxim and Inked, she's also a highly accomplished painter whose work weaves tattoo culture with Parisian underground imagery (among other subjects).

Check more of her paintings here and her tattoo work here.
12:53 PM
nyc tattoo convention.jpgIt was a wild, wonderful weekend at the NYC Tattoo Convention, and we are still recovering. Instead of trying to formulate sentences, I'll let our photos from the show speak those thousand words.

See them all on our Flickr Set.

More convention coverage on The NY Daily News, DNAInfo, and Times Union. Oh, and also hit the The Village Voice for shots by Nate "Igor" Smith of the "Ladies Ladies Art Show."

David_Sena_Tattoo_low.jpgTattoo by David Sena.

pierced.jpgThis photo cost $5. Worth every penny!

Heather_Sinn_tattoo_low.jpgHeather Sinn tattoo on TattoosDay's Bill Cohen

tattoo by dan dimattia.jpgTattoo by Daniel DiMattia.

damien echols tattoo.jpgDamien Echols next to the tattoo he did on Sacred Gallery's Kevin Wilson. More info on how to get a tattoo from Damien coming soon.

10:53 AM
This past weekend's Baltimore Tattoo Convention got plenty of press, including slideshows and video.

The Baltimore Sun offers this photo gallery view from the floor of the convention and also an interesting article on the convergence of tattoos and tech at the show.
Reporter Steve Kilar makes note of all those gaming, as well as texting and Facebooking their experiences in the midst of getting tattooed
. He also mentioned that a number of artists were using their iPads to sketch out designs, and smartphones to take credit card payments. Personally, I like the chatting and connection with the artist while getting tattooed, but if Angry Birds better distracts from the pain, launch those wingless suckers.

TV cameras from ABC News to Fox were also there to capture the scene, and yeah, plenty of tattoo cliches abound, but still a peak into the event for those of us who couldn't make it.

My favorite coverage is often found on Flickr, where members post their own personal photos from these shows. I particularly like these portrait and performance photos.
Check 'em.

06:47 PM
After many years of conventions, reading, and having the Lizardman wiggle his bifurcated tongue at us, news items on "extreme body modification" don't really register with me, especially as they tend to have the same "Look at the freaks" format. But when over a hundred news outlets pick up the same story, it warrants attention.

Creating all the buzz is Dave Hurban, a tattooer and piercer at Dynasty Tattoo in New Jersey, who implanted magnetic micro-dermal anchors to attach an iPod nano to his wrist. In an interview with Digital Trends, he explained the procedure and impetus behind it. Here's a bit from that article:

Hurban wasn't making a grand statement about the human reliance on technology in modern society, about how we are all on our phones and Mp3 players so often that they might as well be embedded in us. He also wasn't trying to sell us something using the jaded cynicism of a viral publicity stunt. According to Hurban, 'the ultimate reasoning was that I just thought it would be cool'.
Is it wrong that I think it's pretty cool too?

Of course, my big issue with it all was not with the implant but with the fickle and fleeting Apple product cycles -- an issue that Digital Trends also brought up, particularly as the magnets were positioned specifically for this device. Dave's response:  "I did it because I'm living in the now. I did it because it's cool now. Even if they do come out with a new iPod, the fact that I did this when this iPod was out, that's what matters." Carpe diem, my friend.

To see the whole procedure, up close and bloody, check the video below.
02:00 PM
Photos by Clayton Patterson

In the Villager, artist, activist and documentarian Clayton Patterson offers some history on the NYC Tattoo Convention, which runs this Friday through Sunday at the Roseland Ballroom. He also notes in the article what you can expect from this weekend's show, including traditional tatau by Brent McCown. There will also be other artists doing hand tattooing in addition to buzzing machine work from stellar artists from around the world.

I'll be there Saturday and Sunday. Hope to see y'all there!
11:06 AM
tattoo over burn.jpgWhile we don't usually cover cosmetic tattooing, I wanted to share this particular article in the news this week because it's a compelling story of one victim turning to tattooing to make her self more beautiful and to help others as well.

CBC News profiles Basma Hammed, a medical cosmetic tattooist in Toronto who first came to the profession by personal necessity when she couldn't find help elsewhere. As CBC reports, when Basma was a two-year-old girl in Iraq, a pan of hot oil accidentally fell on the left side of her face requiring multiple plastic surgeries -- a total of 100 procedures -- but none with success in covering the large red scar tissue or with creating the look of a natural eyebrow. She began by getting a tattoo machine and creating the eyebrow permanently herself. It was then that she realized she could tattoo her face matching the skin color of the healthy tissue. So she went to aesthetician school and soon began working on herself -- with much success as you can see above.

Today, she runs her Basma Hameed Clinic, where she helps other burn victims as well as breast cancer patients with areola reconstruction and others wishing to cover surgical scars (among other procedures).

Watch her tell her story and discuss medical tattooing below.

06:23 PM

The Hold Fast video series of tattooist interviews are so good we don't need to make up a drinking game to watch 'em -- despite it being produced by Sailor Jerry Rum.

I particularly like the video above with renowned Japanese tattoo specialist Chris Trevino aka Horimana, who studied under master Horiyoshi III for five years and now works his craft at Perfection Tattoo in Austin, TX (which was founded by Bob Moreau in the late 70s).

Also check the videos with Deluxe Tattoo's Ben Wahhh, Think Tanks' Adam Rosenthal and Julie Becker, among others.  

The Sailor Jerry peeps have been traveling around in their infamous Airstream interviewing tattooists across the country, and a number of those artists have even offered Sailor Jerry tattoos right inside. They've also organized pop-up tattoo shops at numerous venues.

This Saturday, May 12th, the Airstream will be on NY's Lower East Side outside of the PKNY Tiki Bar, and inside, in the back-room pop-up shop, will be Alex McWatt from Three Kings Tattoo offering a limited number of iconic classic flash. You can watch Alex's Hold Fast video here. The fun runs from 10:00pm to 4:00am.

And try not to have too much rum before the tattoo please.
03:56 PM
tattooed skin2.jpgPhoto by Gemma Angel

There's a great interview in HuffPo UK -- entitled "Unlocking The Mysteries Of The Tattoos Of The Dead" -- with Gemma Angel, a tattooist and PhD student who studies the preserved tattoo skins of the Wellcome Collection, a London museum that houses an array of medial artifacts. [We wrote about Wellcome before here.]

In the Q&A, Gemma discusses her favorite preserved work (a large chest piece), her efforts finding who were the people behind the skins, and also who were those collecting these skins. There's a great quote related to the latter:

I think these collectors knew they were doing something that was a bit dodgy. I've come across references to one or two scandals which came about as a result of particular doctors harvesting and preserving tattoos - you might keep a pathological specimen from a human body for a teaching aid for medical students, but can you really justify keeping a tattoo? It seems there's some aspect fetishisation involved, of the tattooed image, and the skin itself. It's complicated, and I don't know if I'll ever get to the bottom of it, but I've got some time yet.

Through the article, I found Gemma's own personal site brilliantly titled Life and Six Months, based on this Sam Steward quote: "With some grim humour I always answered the question about how long a tattoo would last by saying: 'They are guaranteed for life - and six months'."

Check her site and see more photos of the tattooed flesh in the HuffPo piece.
12:56 PM
bloodpuddinpromoavailnow.jpgThe winner of Joe Capobianco's "Blood Puddin" contest is ... Iowa's own Mark Eckman. Mark was chosen by out of all those who Tweeted at us and posted in our Facebook group page. Congrats!

Mark will be getting a signed copy of Joe's latest publication "Blood Puddin" as well as 3 mini prints, 5 full color stickers, 6 "Capo Gal" buttons, and a set of "Best Ink" temporary tattoos. You can find them all for sale at Joe's online store.

To check some of the artwork in person, this Saturday, May 12th, is the opening of "The Art of Blood Puddin" at Hope Gallery Tattoo in New Haven, CT. The exhibit will include new works by Joe as well as a host of other artists including Eric Merrill, Julio Rodriguez, Amber Carr, Carlos Rojas, Carlos Torres, Joe Linsner, David Nestler, Alisa Bruneli, Steve Prue and many more. More info on the show here.

Thanks to all who played along. Lots more contests to come!
04:22 PM
In the past decade, we've seen an explosion of fine art by tattooists in galleries and museums, and it's been quite an exciting movement in the industry; however, there seems to be a lack of progress when it comes to representing the work of women tattooists in many of these shows.

Giving a platform for these women from around the world is the Ladies, Ladies Art show at Tattoo Culture in Brooklyn, NY opening next Thursday, May 17th from 7-11PM.

This exhibit, curated by Elvia Iannaccone Gezlev (Miss Elvia), Emma Griffiths and Magie Serpica, is in its second year and promises to be just as phenomenal as the first, with the work of nearly 100 female tattoo artists featured. The first show was primarily a salute to the modern godmothers of tattoo including Madame Vyvyn Lazonga, Pat Sinatra, Debbie Lenz and Juli Moon, who were all in attendance. For this show, the focus is largely on the next generation of women artists, largely from NYC but hailing from all over the country and around the world. Check their site for the list of talent. Here's more from the curators:
We can't help but notice the growing number of amazing women who choose to pursue the art of tattooing in its finest forms, as a job and as a lifestyle -- a craft that was only reserved to men until a few decades ago. A real revolution of the arts is happening! This is a chance to celebrate the female presence and spirit in tattooing, from the masters who paved the way to the established professionals who set the trends and to the talents of tomorrow. Enjoy, support and buy a piece of original art!
For a preview of the art on display, see the Ladies, Ladies Facebook photo gallery.

Next Thursday's opening is sure to bring tons of people, especially as it's the night before the NYC Tattoo Convention and many tattooists are in town, so it's probably best to get there early. If you can't make it Thursday, the exhibit will be up for two months at Tattoo Culture.

Hope to see y'all there!

UPDATE:  Just learned that Shanghai Kate Hellenbrand will be at the opening, showing a special historic tribute to the women tattooers of the past and onward. Another reason to head over there!

art_Claudia_DeSabe.jpgArt by Claudia DeSabe

art_by_Miss_Elvia.jpgArt by Miss Elvia

by Karin Schwaiger.jpgArt by Karin Schwaiger
11:51 AM
tattoo school tattoo.jpg
Oh, you are going to be mad. I'm talking Just John Tattoo mad (see below).

Last July, a mass of professional tattooists and collectors rose up to boycott TLC's "Tattoo School" -- a show where the disillusioned are led to believe they can learn to tattoo in just two weeks. This sparked online petitions, Facebook pages, and angry YouTube videos. Oh, and death threats. But things quieted down when TLC said it was just a one-off program and not a series.

Well, "Tattoo School" is now a series.

Check a video premier of the show on Entertainment Weekly. Also the Futon Critic posted TLC's press release, which offers this explanatory gem:

Over the two-week intensive course, students will be tested on three 'real world' challenges that mimic the situations they may find themselves in as a working tattoo artist. Each challenge will test a specific skill or technique that is required to become successful in the business. From sketching to inking human VIP clients, the students will be subjected to all aspects of tattoo artistry. Upon graduation, the student with the best final, original tattoo is gifted with a golden gun, which will last for their entire career.
A golden tattoo gun!

Ya know what will last their entire career? The shame of taking the easy way out to learn a craft and get 15 minutes seconds of reality TV fame.

While I've been mellowing -- or rather given up -- a lot of my anger over tattoo TV [as I noted in my "Best Ink" post], there's something just so ... sad about it. So sad I can't even find something funny about it to properly mock.

What's particularly upsetting is that, even with a boycott of tattoo school grads by reputable studios, many will indeed get jobs because of America's particularly obscene obsession with TV celebrities. How do you explain Kim Kardashian's fame? People will want to get a tattoo, even a bad tattoo, by someone who has been on TV just to say that a "celeb" did it. We've seen it already with the competition shows where the weakest artists (but great self-promoters) are the "stars" at conventions. They also get paid to show up at nightclubs and suddenly have waiting lists for sub-stellar work.  

Maybe the best course of action is to not make them celebrities -- or bring more viewers to TLC -- by giving them publicity with blog posts like this one or angry videos. Maybe we need to pretend "Tattoo School" doesn't exist and instead promote excellence in the industry.

In that case, I apologize for writing this and will go back to artist profiles on those who deserve it.

11:31 AM
tattooed calfskin.jpg

tattooed calfskin 2.jpg Calfskin has been an artistic medium for millenia (much to the horror of the ancient vegans), and it continues to communicate fine art today. In Munich, Germany, the Chaos Crew Tattoo Studio artists have used this medium for their own art -- a tattooed poster entitled "We get history under your skin."

On Vimeo, which houses the video shown below, the artists explain the project:

We developed a poster that impressively shows the Bavarian tattoo artists' skills: just as tattoo motives tell countless stories, we interwove the most important events of 2011 into one huge tattoo. History was tattooed onto calfskin to promote the art of tattooing in its most authentic form - on real skin.
Such 2011 events include the capture of Osama Bin Laden, Occupy Wall Street, the Egyptian revolution as well as the Greek financial collapse, Amy Winehouse's death and Dirk Nowitzki's NBA win as shown in the panel above.

See more close-ups of the skin poster on DesignBoom. And definitely check this wonderfully produced video, showing the process of creation, from drawing to display.

[Links via Complex Magazine.]
01:27 PM
bloodpuddinpromoavailnow.jpgGot another contest for ya, this time it's artful swag from one of our faves, Joe Capobianco of Hope Gallery in New Haven CT.

Joe is giving you a "Taste of Blood Puddin" with this special giveaway. This package contains a signed copy of Joe's latest publication "Blood Puddin" featuring all new paintings, sketches, and tattoos. You'll also get 3 mini prints, 5 full color stickers, 6 "Capo Gal" buttons, and a set of "Best Ink" temporary tattoos. It's our sexiest contest to date!

As usual, this is how to play:  the winner will be selected randomly from those who comment (any sweet nothing will do) on this post in our Needles & Sins Syndicate Group on Facebook or Tweet at us. In one week, on May 8th at noon ET, we'll put all the names of the commenters into and the internet gods will chose.

To get an up close and personal taste of "Blood Puddin," join Joe, Eric Merrill, Julio Rodriguez, Amber Carr, Carlos Rojas, Carlos Torres, Joe Linsner, and many more for "The Art of Blood Puddin" opening reception Saturday, May 12th, at Hope Gallery.
Go to for more info.

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