December 2013 Archives

05:40 PM
Stan Lee tattoo.jpg
One of our favorite artists, David Corden of Ritual Art Tattoo, created this ode to "the goodwill ambassador for comics" Stan Lee, who turned 91-years old today. David truly captured the essence of the man who described himself to the Washington Post as "still a big kid."  As the co-creator of Marvel heroes such as Spider-Man, Hulk, Iron Man and the Fantastic Four, Lee has inspired generations of comic fans, and so tattoo tributes to him, especially of this caliber, seem fitting.

For more on David's work, check his site, Facebook page and Instagram.

[Many thanks to Colin Dale for posting David's portrait tattoo in the N+S Facebook group.]
07:13 AM
preserve tattoo skin.jpg
"Everybody with tattoos has that idea. It's not a new idea, we just found a way to actually do it."

Quoted in the Reuters article "Dutch entrepreneur to preserve tattoos of the dead," these words above, by tattooer Peter van der Helm, has caused quite a buzz among collectors and artists who, indeed, have for a long time thought about preserving tattooed skin;  however, even with international media picking up on the Reuters story, it's still not crystal clear how post-mortem bequeathing of tattooed skin plays out in The Netherlands, and beyond.

The actual preserving of skin is clearer. According to Reuters:

Hirschfeld and about 30 other clients of the "Walls and Skin" tattoo parlor, which is tucked away in a canal house in the Dutch capital, have donated their skin to the company in a will and each paid a few hundred euros.

When they die a Dutch pathologist will remove the tattoo and freeze or package it in formaldehyde, ideally within 48 hours. It will then be sent to a laboratory outside the Netherlands, where a 12-week procedure extracts water and replaces it with silicone, leaving a rubbery substance.

What's interesting to me is the way the laws of each country will treat how these remains can be passed along -- as well as be bought and sold. Will it just be like the treatment of cremation ashes (which have been incorporated in tattoo memorials) or fall under some other legal structure -- or not addressed at all, leaving it for entrepreneurs like Peter van der Helm to fulfill the tattooed's final wishes?
UPDATE: I spoke with Peter van der Helm and here's what he said of the process:

"You are actually donating your body to us and we make agreements upfront on how the tattoo should be handled. Legal wise, the remains become a product after the process we use is finished (by law). So it's not classified as human remains anymore."
For more on preserved tattoo skin, see our previous posts:
11:15 AM
tattoo tee.jpgTwas the night before Christmas
And at my parents' house
Hidden in gift bag, a special kind of blouse.

As a "stocking stuffer" present,
Chosen online with care,
Was a fitted ladies t-shirt
With tattoos one could wear.

When gifts were exchanged,
My sister shouted with glee:
"Finally a chance to be Kat Von D!"

"Not another tattooed child!"
Mom & dad cried out in fright,
I had to reassure them
That she'll be "back to normal" that night.

No longer tattoo-less
She pranced before the tree,
A successful gift, I thought
This cheezy tattoo tee.

And so to spread the joy,
I took some extra time,
To share the shopping link
In this horrid holiday rhyme...

So yeah, I bought the tattooed t-shirt on Amazon.
Merry Christmas, y'all.     
08:59 AM

MattEllis_homeless portrait1.jpgCelebrity portraits are common tattoo odes that pay tribute (whether seriously or ironically) to someone whom the wearer may not have met, but feels a connection to. What if the person being memorialized on one's body is not on the A-List, but instead, has been marginalized and often ignored by society? Tattooist Matt C. Ellis uses his particular skills in tattoo realism and offers clients a chance to make a connection with those who are forgotten, shedding light on the issues of poverty and homeless.

Matthew, who has been tattooing for 12 years, is working on a project that involves tattooing portraits of New York City homeless individuals on clients for free, and any money a client gives is donated to a homeless charity. I asked him about his project, which he graciously answered in this Q & A below:

What sparked this project and what keeps driving it? Is it a political statement or just a humanist act?

I started this project because I find the subject of homeless culture very intriguing. To have such a large percentage of our populace so overlooked; these persons are right outside our door but we continue to ignore the homeless. When I tattoo these portraits, I am trying to raise awareness for their plight and our culture's disregard and dehumanization of homeless individuals in our society. I tattoo these portraits for free, and 100% of any money that the client decides to give me is directly donated to a local NYC homeless charity.

When I was living in Miami, I developed friendships with many homeless persons, most of whom were war veterans. I became close to these people and developed a certain connection with them. One of the persons I particularly became close with was a local artist in the area, and through this friendship, I continued to make more friends that happened to be living homeless.

The experiences that I have had with some of these individuals is what I am trying to capture in my works of art. I am trying to portray a glimpse into the raw interaction between myself and these persons. Some of these personalities can be so beautiful and are overlooked in our culture, and I'm trying to look at this concept in a broader sense. This project is not just about homeless individuals, but how our culture lives -- the way that we take many of our comforts for granted. We place so much value on the material. We cherish material beauty and what we see on magazine covers and television. I find these homeless individuals to have more of a raw and powerful quality to themselves that is extremely intriguing.

MattEllis_homeless portrait2.jpgWho are these people whose portraits you are tattooing?

The faces that I create these portraits from vary from homeless people that I have a close friendship with, to homeless persons that I have randomly encountered and approached. Each of these persons I converse with and take photos of, which I use as reference and inspiration for my artwork. When I approach an individual, I will walk up to the person and straightforwardly ask if I can take a few photos of them. Some of these individuals are taken aback and are cautious of my intent. I try to explain to them more about my project and what I am trying to accomplish. I go on to tell them my views about how I see an unfiltered beauty within them that cannot be found on the cover of a fashion magazine. About half of the people don't agree with me but appreciate my ideas. Many of the people I speak to outright deny my claims and cannot see the beauty within themselves.

Once the person I am speaking to becomes more comfortable with the idea of my project, I begin to take photos randomly. I do not ask the person to pose and I do not look through the viewfinder. I hold the camera at different angles and push the shutter button randomly, attempting to capture a glimpse of that moment experienced between us. I do not interview these persons, but rather "hang out" with them and try to capture an unfiltered, raw experience with this other human being.

MattEllis_homeless portrait3.jpg

For those who wear these portraits, what are their thoughts about immortalizing people whom they may not have a personal connection with?

People will get tattoo portraits of celebrities who they do not know personally and will not think twice about it. They may do this because they find the imagery beautiful or they admire the person. When a client is interested in getting one of my homeless portrait tattoos, they are usually drawn to the idea of the project, and they like the fact that there is a strong meaning behind the tattoo. It is a piece of art with a purpose and is also raising awareness. My clients like that they have something more than just an image on their skin. Art is about ideas and making people think. I am trying to help push my tattooing into a direction that is more fine art rather than solely illustration.

For more on Matt and his work, check his website and follow him on Instagram.

MattEllis_homeless portrait4.jpg
08:06 AM
Elephant tattoo.jpg
The work of Slovakian tattooist Ivana Belakova of Ivana Tattoo Art is hard to forget. Her style blends street and graphic art, infusing it with what she calls "funky color," to an effect that is unique and exciting. The self-taught artist did her first tattoo about 12 years ago, and since that time, has earned a reputation worldwide, not only for her tattoos but fine art as well. Currently, Ivana lives and works in Los Angeles, but is constantly traveling, so I was thrilled that she took the time to answer some questions for Needles and Sins. 

If you met someone who was not familiar with your artwork and asked you about it, what would you tell her?

I would say I do funky color. It's probably the closest how can I describe my style. I do enjoy doing "modern" funky looking designs: a mix of street art and graphic art...a bit of realism at the same time. Yet, I am open minded to try new things that are very different from my particular style.

At the moment, I am doing more "street art" looking tattoos. I was a bit tired of doing realistic looking designs and I'm getting back to my "roots" now, I totally enjoy graffiti style artwork. I just want to have more fun and freedom in my work!

I look at the tattoos I did yesterday, and I would change them today. My style is constantly evolving, but there's similarity in my work when it comes to colors. With every tattoo I do, I'm learning something new and the level I'm at right now is not defined and never will be.  My mind is constantly changing; so for me, it's a very natural process of evolving as an artist and as a person. I do what I feel at that particular moment. Every person is so different and every one of them gives me a different vibe.

You've been interviewed for so many different magazines, and many features on tattooists, in general, tend to focus on the same questions. Is there anything you'd like to say about your work that I haven't before?

Perhaps how I see and how I feel about my tattoos...I consider my tattoos like a form of contemporary art. My tattoos are not probably masterpieces like whole body suits or they are not coming from an old tradition; yet, they are important to be here.  I consider tattoos as a serious art form; it is so raw and unique especially when it's made the  right way on a professional level.

When it comes to me, the most important tattoos are when I feel I pushed boundaries within myself. When I come up with something new, when I create something different. When I felt I have moved a bit forward. Those are definitely the most important and meaningful tattoos for me.

Fox tattoo.jpg
07:28 AM
mummy tattoos.jpg
Whenever someone tells me that tattoos are a "trend," I tell them that it's probably the longest trend known to mankind. Generally, people who spout dumb tattoo cliches are not the type of people who subscribe to the Smithsonian. [If they did, they probably would have come across the many articles by anthropologist Lars Krutak on tattoos in antiquity.]

Ancient tattoos are the focus of this interesting piece published last weekend: The Tattooed Priestess of Hathor. Author Margaret Moose begins by discussing Hathor, whom she describes as "one of the most important gods in early Egypt," and the role women once held as priestesses. She then links the priestesses to the female mummies discovered in the late 19th century, who wore the tattoos only previously found in images on pottery, figurines and other arts.

What's particularly interesting is how she explores the way the tattoos were first interpreted upon discovery. She writes:

When the tattooed women were discovered most academics dismissed them as women of low status, probably prostitutes, 'dancing girls' or maybe royal concubines because the area where the bodies were found, Deir el-Bahari, was the site of royal and high status burials. The most famous of these tattooed mummies is Amunet, Priestess of the Goddess Hathor. The mummy of Amunet was discovered in 1891 by the French Egyptologist Eugène Grébaut and from all accounts the tattoos were seen as quite sensual, of course at this time curved table legs were also considered sensual so one must view their reaction in context to their Victorian mores. [...]
Amunet's tattoos were located on her superior pubic region covering the lower part of her abdomen, on her mid frontal torso and directly inferior to her right breast. She also has tattoos superior to her elbow joint and on her left shoulder as well as on her thighs. Most of these tattoos are in the form of dashes, and dots and some form concentric circles on her abdomen.
Moose then goes on to ask questions about the medicinal value of these tattoos, such as for acupressure and pain management. 

They're interesting questions, and ones that have been explored by Lars Krutak as noted earlier. For further reading, check this Smithsonian blog post featuring Lar's work, which asked the very question, "Can tattoos be medicinal?"

Whether artful or medical, the power of tattoos span millenia. So when you hear about "tattoo trends," throw some knowledge down about these priestesses.

[Thanks to Miss Mikki of Fortune Tattoo for the link!] 
12:36 PM
russian prison tattoos.jpg
Screen shot from The History Channel's "Marked."

Over at Tattoo Artist Magazine, Nicki recently posted this video (embedded below) of an episode from The History Channel's "Marked", which focuses on Russian prison tattoos -- the heavy symbolism, gritty technique, and complex underworld structure associated with them. It's an interesting 45-minute close-up at this segment of tattoo culture. However, I have to note that my favorite film on the subject remains Alix Lambert's "The Mark of Cain," which is available for purchase online.

The "Marked" series, and its look at the seedier side of tattoos, are geared for a wider audience, driven by TV storytelling than in-depth research, and yet, the episodes offer more than just pure entertainment and are worth the watch. If you're looking for a holiday gift, the Season 1 box set of "Marked" could be a good bet.

But if you're looking for inspiration for your next tattoo, I say skip the mob markings, and look to more artful -- and safer -- designs.

07:12 AM
dotwork face and head tattoo.jpg
This weekend, I received a succession of excellent text messages:  they began with a video of an Argentinian tattooer dancing in his underwear...followed by photos of that same tattooer creating a dotwork masterpiece on another talented artist and friend. These are the very reasons smart phones were created.

Nazareno Tubaro of Buenos Aires, in his signature stippling style, adorned the face of his Brazilian blackwork brethren, Garcia Leonam. The tattoos meld with existing work on the top of Garcia's head, then flow in beautiful symmetry down along his face and scalp. You can get a glimpse of the painstaking technique of building a bold composition out of small dots by this close-up below (before Naza tattooed the second line along the ear).

Naza and Garcia created a short video from their session, which you can find on Naza's Instagram. You can find Garcia on Instagram as well. You won't, however, find the half-naked dancing video online. Not yet.

ear tattoo.jpg
12:56 PM

In The Guardian today is feature called "Painted Ladies: Why women get tattoos." Normally, I find these types of articles banal, or even cringe worthy, for perpetuating cliches or not offering a broad spectrum of experience from our community. And so I was happily surprised to find many different voices of tattooed women in this article.

While there need not be any great miraculous reason to get tattooed, tattoos do come with a story, from an impulse to get a quick piece of historic flash to a full body project. I found the profiles of these women to be really interesting, and they made me think on the commonaIities and differences of our experiences with tattoos.

I particularly loved reading about Juanita Carberry, a merchant navy steward, who died in July at age 88. Here's a bit from her story:

The daughter of a renegade Irish peer, Carberry lived an extraordinarily full life. Her childhood in Kenya was difficult: her mother, a well-known aviator, died when she was three, and Carberry was often beaten by her governess. As a teenager, she was a key witness in a celebrated murder case, the 1941 shooting of the 22nd Earl of Erroll, and at 17 she joined the first aid nursing yeomanry in the Women's Territorials during the second world war. In 1946, Carberry became one of a handful of women to join the merchant navy, remaining for 17 years. It was during this period, says photographer Christina Theisen, that she started acquiring tattoos. Her first was a small spider on the sole of her foot; it didn't hurt, Theisen recalls Carberry saying, because the skin on her feet was so tough from walking barefoot as a child.

Read more here.

It is the work of Christina Theisen and Eleni Stefanou that really makes this piece so engaging. Theisen and Stefanou are behind, a photo and film endeavor that pays respect to all tattooed women. They offer this on their work: "Our project seeks to capture the personal and the individual, embracing each woman and her tattoos as one, rather than isolating or magnifying the inked parts of her body. At the same time, by using natural environments and the context of urban Western culture, we intentionally move away from the sexualised glamour model aesthetic that dominates tattoo magazines and popular culture."

Two words: Hell. Yeah. 

My regret is that I wasn't aware of the project when it first rolled out. I will continue to follow Theisen and Stefanou's work, and I hope that more media outlets also follow their lead in telling compelling stories without the usual pop culture hype and flash so prevalent today.

09:00 AM
antennae of inspiration.jpg
A beautifully curated and styled collection of entomology-based artwork from around the world, Antennae of Inspiration: The Insect Art Project is yet another wonderful accomplishment of Jinxi Boo Caddel and her Out of Step Books. The cover artwork alone, by Jeff Gogue, is a perfect example of the stunning works on the pages inside.  In addition to images of tattoos, paintings, drawings, photography and other mediums, there are also engaging stories behind many of the works.

Antennae of Inspiration is part of Out of Step's
Inspiration Art Project Series: beautiful hardcover publications designed to do exactly what the name says -- inspire exciting interpretations of particular themes by presenting an ensemble of art in different mediums focused on those themes. This volume is all about bug art. Here's more about it from Jinxi:

With a multitude of mediums included, our insect, snail, and arachnid friends are colorfully interpreted in over 1,650 different ways by 848 unique and talented artisans. This collective project brings together an artistic treasure trove of inspirational work to celebrate the wondrous world of compound eyes, aerodynamic wings, and versatile antennae. Antennae of Inspiration is a full color, hardback, coffee-table style, 480-page beauty of a book.
You can purchase the book online for $79.95. Such a compilation is worth so much more. Gorgeous examples of what you'll find in the book are below.

What is also particularly excellent is that a percentage of the proceeds of all book sales through Jinxi's Out of Step Books goes to in an effort to keep arts education alive and thriving.
There are also art prints for purchase, and all the proceeds from those sales go to

Check more of the titles and art available on Out of Step Books and Like them on Facebook.  You can also find Jinxi on Instagram.

Andrey Barkov Gimmy tattoo.jpg
by Damien Voss Friesz .jpgAndrey Barkov Gimmy tattoo. Painting by Damien Voss Friesz.
09:03 AM
tattoos in Iran.jpg
Image above, via @pedestrian, of Iranian photographer Mehran Mafi Bordar documenting tattoos in Iran.

In an article for Al-Monitor, Tattooed in Iran, Mehrnaz Samimi writes about contemporary tattoo culture in a country that bans the art form, and yet, its popularity continues to rise within the underground.

What I found particularly interesting is what Samimi writes of the role of women in tattooing:

Tattoo artist Pari works in four different salons in Tehran. She told Al-Monitor that she travels to Babol, in the north, once every two months to do tattoos. Babol is her hometown, so she knows plenty of people there who find customers for her. She says she makes a decent income and gets by just fine as a tattoo artist.

Giving and getting tattoos are illegal in Iran. Apparently, what upsets the authorities perhaps even more than the notion of getting a tattoo is that female tattoo artists outnumber men, and not all of their customers are women.
Also interesting, the increase in popularity of tattoos has lead to greater crackdowns, according to Samimi:

Many Iranian "thugs" have tattooed bodies, a negative aspect that the government takes advantage of to discourage it. That tattooing has become part of their subculture lends it negative connotations. The police force has in recent years paraded these alleged thugs before the public, mostly in southern Tehran, to belittle them and send a message to onlookers -- "Let this be a lesson to you." Many of them have committed petty crimes or have intimidated their neighbors. In some cases, their tattoos have been pinpointed as part of this "lesson."

Despite such government efforts at public shaming, tattooing has not fallen out of favor. Raha, a student of electrical engineering in Yazd, revealed to Al-Monitor that she got all three of her tattoos during trips to Tehran to visit her relatives. She says her family has no idea that she has them, adding, "My brothers would kill me if they find out."
The article also briefly notes popular designs and tattoo tidbits like average costs of a tattoo ($100 for a small piece; $3,000 for medium-sized man's full body). The cost is higher if you want "American ink."

"Tattooed in Iran" is a quick look at one writer's view of tattooing in her culture and what people are willing to do for the art. Read more here.   
12:36 PM
Nelson Mandela Tattoo by Ruy Pinhero.jpgNelson Mandela Tattoo by Ruy Pinhero.

While we mourn the loss of Nelson Mandela, I'm also heartened by the many tattoos honoring such an inspiring man. A Google image search on Mandela tattoos reveals a multitude of tributes. Here are just a few links to some images and video that I found most interesting:

Nelson Mandela Portrait - Tattoo

Photo by Byron Rode. Tattoo by Robert Turner of Freestylers Tattoo Lounge.
09:03 AM
Loretta Leu.jpgInfluencing and inspiring the international tattoo community for generations, The Leu Family transformed tattooing, pushing it further into the realm of a fine art -- and they've done so with openness and kindness, spearheaded by their wonderful matriarch Loretta Leu aka Y Maria.

Our friend (and wine expert) Demetra Molina of The Hand of Fate Tattoo Parlor sat down with Loretta at the Montreal Art Tattoo Show in September and spoke about a myriad of topics, from Loretta's travels, early days tattooing, her adorable dog, and the freedom of getting older. Here's a taste from their talk:

Demetra: I asked about all of the travel she had done over the years with her husband Felix and their four children. Was that a difficult undertaking?

Loretta Leu: I had traveled a lot already in my life with my mother, I had traveled a lot with Felix before we ever got into tattooing. We didn't start until we were thirty-five, both of us. Tattooing was really a Godsend; it saved our asses, because we always lived an alternative lifestyle, with four kids, already. So, it was always difficult finding ways of surviving. We didn't want to go work in a shop, we found things to do, we made crafts, we went and lived in Spain, cheaper places, we would find ways of being able to carry on, the way we wanted to live with our know, without working for the man kind of thing...but it was always difficult. We got a bit of help from my mother sometimes, Felix's mom when things were really tough, so when through sheer coincidence this chance came into our life, it seemed the perfect thing, you know, because you are your own boss, you don't need to sell it in the sense that they come to you because they want a tattoo. You could be on a beach in Brazil with a little tattoo case, start talking to someone in a cafe, go back to your hotel room or whatever, settle on a price, and if they want a tattoo you tattoo. It is a very direct thing. We were both already artists, started that way originally, so it seemed perfect.

Read more here.  
08:45 AM
tattoo inks.jpg
Photo by Edgar Hoill.

Last week, the French association of tattooists, Syndicat National des Artistes Tatoueurs (SNAT), appeared at the French parliament to argue against a recommendation of the French National Agency for the Safety of Health Products that the government ban 59 products used in creating colored tattoo inks -- with the arguable result that many inks would be banned themselves. The SNAT delegation sought to delay the ban. [Their earlier efforts led to a delay until January 1, 2014.]

The debate centers on whether there is enough information to push for a full out ban. The French health agency argues that its recommendation is to protect the public safety. SNAT's arguments include assertions that people will still get tattooed with the banned inks, but it will go underground and unregulated. France 24 News reports more on the debate:

SNAT argues that the measures won't stop people wanting coloured tattoos but will drive them into the arms of "clandestine" tattooists who buy coloured inks on the black market, in particular from those scary Chinese manufacturers.

Tin-Tin, the president of SNAT and the "tattooist to the stars," according to the newspaper Liberation, used the visit to parliament as an opportunity to deliver his message to the media.

"They use this precautionary principle as a stick to beat us while they continue to sell carcinogenic tobacco," said Tin-Tin, whose clients have included John Galliano and Jean-Paul Gaultier. "If this ban goes into force, professional tattooists will be in danger of having to shut their parlours to the benefit of underground tattooists who work at home with no hygienic provisions, who buy ink from China and are never bothered by the authorities."

"No link has been established between tattooing and skin cancer," he said. "These pigments they want to ban are not forbidden anywhere else in Europe."

A petition along with a video on the issue in French was circulated over the past few weeks. The ideal situation would be to hold off on a ban until more studies are done, and a plan on how to protect the public health is devised by health officials as well as the tattooers.

In the US, the FDA has been looking closely at tattoo inks, and even more so last year when a number of tattoo inks were found contaminated, leading to dangerous infections in a number of people.

Personally, I think there should be some regulation, but based on full information and with input from the industry. Many of you have already been sharing your thoughts on the issue in Needles & Sins Facebook group. Feel free to continue the debate!

For further reading,  check the European Congress on Tattoo and Pigment Research (ECTP) in Copenhagen, Denmark. All conference abstracts are available here, including one abstract by Tin Tin.
Thanks to Pat Fish for that link.
06:22 PM

There are few things that I love more than the timbre of a Glaswegian accent and the amazing production-value of RadioLab... So when they focused on James Dickson and his discovery of Otzi the "Tattooed Iceman," I was in podcast heaven.

While they don't spend a lot of time focusing on his extensive tattooing, it's a fascinating piece about forensic archeology (and a reminder that tattoos aren't just for "sailors and bikers").

I would encourage you to stream the podcast here and also read their accompanying blog-post here.

09:18 AM
Black Tattoo Art II.jpg
In an effort to save y'all from being stun-gunned at the mall, I've jumped in on "CyberMonday" and have put some of the books I've birthed on sale:

From today through December 23 January 1st, my new Black Tattoo Art 2 will be on sale for $140 (including free shipping in the US); the Black & Grey Tattoo box set is on sale for $300 (originally $399); and the individual books of the set are $120 each. 

 You can order via Paypal on the Needles & Sins online store or contact me at

Get a sneak peak inside the Black Tattoo Art 2 here and Black & Grey Tattoo here
black & Grey tattoo.jpg
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