Results tagged “guest blog”

05:45 PM
Paris Tattoo_Amy Mymouse.JPGAmy Mymouse tattooing at the Mondial du Tatouage in Paris.

Mondial du Tatouage 2.JPGBorneo Head Hunters booth.

Mondial du Tatouage3.JPGGreg Orie tattoo collectors.

My social media feeds were buzzing all weekend with photos and updates from the Mondial du Tatouage, which attracted tattoo artists and fans across the globe to the Grande Halle de la Villette in Paris. Our friend Serinde attended the convention and is graciously sharing her photos and experience in this guest blog. See more of Serinde's photos on the N+S Flickr Paris Tattoo set.


I'm here again to bring you a few pics and impressions from the Mondial du Tatouage. Organised by Tin-Tin, the event is, once again, HUGE. Over 350 international artists and over 32,000 estimated visitors, and countless disposable gloves, needles, ink bottles...

This year, I decided to visit the convention on a Sunday, naively thinking that it would not be too crowded. I was wrong. When I arrived just when it opened, there was a huge waiting line, even for those who had pre-purchased their tickets. One of the biggest events that drew people to the convention on Sunday was the Best Back/Overall competition. But there are many reasons why so many waited to be a part of it. This Paris show is special in its own way. The rock-n-roll, yet relaxed atmosphere. The prestigious artists selected to work the show (with many artists around the world wanting to be a part of it). And maybe some secret ingredient.

Mondial du Tatouage.JPGWalking around on this third and last day of the convention was quite interesting, as I could see artists working on large pieces that were being done over the three days of the convention; however, there were also many artists doing smaller designs and flash. Although most of appointments were quickly booked right at the beginning of the day (and of course, pre-booked before the show), I saw some visitors looking for available artists for a quick tattoo "walk-up" and likely very appreciative of being able to grab a spot. Bottom line: If you wanted to get tattooed at the show, you had to bring your ass over there early!

A quick note on the organization itself: the venue has been arranged slightly differently this year, which made is easier to walk around, especially at the mezzanine level (I don't think the bridges were here last year and it was an improvement). Food trucks and tables to eat outside were also a great idea. So things keep improving each year, making it better and better.

It's also interesting to note that there were some more visibly tattooed people in attendance - those with face, neck and hand tattoos. Not many necessarily, but enough to make it noticeable. I watched one man with the side of his head tattooed get ready to be tattooed on the other side. It's likely we'll see more heavily tattooed collectors at future Paris shows.

contest winners.JPG Now, on to the contest: Best Back/overall. The jury was comprised of the same esteemed artists as last year -- Bill Salmon, Luke Atkinson, Filip Leu - with the addition of American tattoo pioneer Kari Barba. Impressive! There were 27 contestants with backpieces or full body suits, with a majority being Japanese-inspired tattooing. A great aspect of the contest was that Tin-Tin was on stage commenting on each tattoo's style and influences; for example, he explained how a Japanese tattoo is composed overall and commented on the distinctions between Japanese and Chinese style tattooing. It was like a live masterclass on the tattoo aesthetics! Seriously fascinating.

[Shown above] The artist Horihui took over the contests, with another 1st prize. [I visited his booth earlier, and he had already won two awards since Friday, not to mention those he won last year.] Ching received 2nd place, and Guy le Tattooer 3rd place. The contests were a definitely a highlight but there was plenty to do and see, which naturally caught to attention of TONS of press. Coverage of the convention could be found on many mainstream TV channels, and many magazines & newspapers are talking about it. For good reason.


Thank you, Serinde, for your take on the show. More of Serinde's photos here. Also check more on Mondial du Tatouage on the convention's Instagram and Facebook.

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07:36 AM
aussie prison tattoo.jpg
Jail tattoos hold a fascination for me -- the techniques, the symbolism, and the risks.  I love reading the stories that surround them. And so I had to share this Tattooing in Prison piece by writer Fareed Kaviani. Fareed photographed and interviewed Johnny "Halves" (named for selling half caps of heroin at full price), who talks about how, in 1991, while jacked up on amphetamines, he and his friends stole a car and robbed a bank in Perth, only to be caught soon after. In Australian prisons, Johnny got by tattooing fellow inmates and getting tattooed himself. Those tattoo tales make for a compelling interview.

Originally published in the wonderful Things & Ink magazine, Fareed's article is excerpted below. You can read the full article here on his blog.

By Fareed Kaviani:

Johnny would tattoo people for extra smokes as well as draw up designs for everyone just to pass the time. All of his prison tattoos distinguish moments during his incarceration, he tells me. Often, these moments are quite macabre.

'Like I did that one in J division,' he said while pointing to a tattoo of prison bars, 'I ended up in the psychiatric division. You know, having drugs every day for four years and then all of a sudden no drugs, I was gone; I was hearing ants fart.'

When he arrived in J division, an inmate approached and asked if he would kill him for a pack of White Ox tobacco.

'That was his way of finding out if I wanted to hurt him or not. Another guy was so messed up he chopped his own dick off. The medical staff sewed it back on so he thought, I'll show you, and chopped it off again and flushed it down the toilet!'

knuckle tattoo.jpg

Owing to a dearth of academic studies, acquiring conclusive quantitative data on the frequency of tattooing in Australian prisons is beyond the bounds of possibility, especially given that tattooing in Australian prisons is illegal. If inmates are discovered giving or receiving tattoos, internal disciplinary processes are adopted.

Such disciplinary processes were enforced against Johnny.

'It was to my understanding that tattooing was considered defacing government property. So when the prison officers caught me, I was sentenced to serve seven more days.  But that didn't stop me. I used to love tattooing in jail. Loved it. Especially when I got away with it. The prison staff can't control it; it's a culture thing.'

Although prisoners were often caught in the act and stripped of all tattooing contraband, the prison officers were regularly outsmarted.

'Just to smuggle ink in, people would put it up their arse. If there wasn't ink, we'd burn rubber from a shoe, burn it to a crisp, put some water in it, sometimes I'd even spit in it, mix it up: and you've got your ink. Or you could use charcoal. The machine was made from cassette player motors, a toothbrush, a button, a biro case, and a sewing needle. That needle would be used on up to twenty people.'

This extremely unhygienic method exposed prisoners to noxious infections.

'It's all about getting the ink in, and keeping it in. If it gets infected, you can't seek medical attention because you're not allowed to get tattoos.'

'When I got out of prison, I had these grand plans of opening a tattoo studio, but I ended up with my own lawn-mowing company. Now that I'm out, I do tattoos at my house as a hobby. I love it. I get excited. I've got guys who used to be in prison would come over to get the ones they got done inside covered up. Just because they're different people now, they want it covered.'

'I just do them for fifty bucks an hour, but sometimes, if I see me mates, I tell them to stay clean for six months and I'll do them one for nuthin.'

Read more by Fareed Kaviani on

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07:53 AM
tattoo_montreal.jpgPhoto above from the Montreal Art Tattoo Show. Photos below by Demetra Molina.

We have another wonderful guest blog from Demetra Molina of The Hand of Fate Tattoo Parlor in Ithaca, NY. Instead of talking wine, she shares the highlights of the Montreal Art Tattoo Show, which took place last weekend.


Montreal is a magical city. It's beautiful, cultured, and the ideal place to hold an exceptional tattoo convention. This past weekend, September 6-8, was the 11th annual Montreal Art Tattoo Show, presented by Mr. and Mrs. Pierre and Valerie Emond of Studio Tattoo Mania in Montreal. Once again, there was magic in the air, and the weekend was truly like no other. The level of artistry is top notch, as you can easily see from the roster of renowned tattooers. The setting, the performances, the fine art exhibitions -- all quality, year after year.

For the very first time, my husband Eddie Molina and I did not work the actual show. Things at our shop worked out a certain way, and we saw an escape for a quick weekend road trip. Art, tattoos, good friends, and Montreal smoked meat with poutine? Yes, and yes, please. 

The entrance line was down the street when we arrived at the convention site, Gare Windsor Station, a stunning historic venue. Glass ceilings in the old train station allow the artists to work with natural sunlight, a rare luxury at any venue. Tattoo machines  were already humming away, as collectors excitedly looked at artist portfolios. We slowly made our way around the main aisle, saying hello and wandering, and noticed several other artists had also had the same idea -- a weekend away networking and enjoying Montreal. One of the main reasons? The Leu family had travelled from Switzerland to be part of the show.

The Leu Family Iron booth was an experience unto itself. Crowds lined up to watch Swiss tattoo artist Filip Leu work in collaboration with artist Kurt Wiscombe on one-sitting backpiece projects each day. Absolutely an amazing opportunity, and several tattooists had "art nerd moments" rarely witnessed in public. The entire Leu family was very gracious, talking with everyone and posing for endless photos. I even had a chance to interview artist Loretta Leu, matriarch of the family (photographed below). She was a delight to talk to, answering my questions with smiles, colorful stories of living an amazing life, and of course Frank Zappa lyrics.

Montreal Tattoo Art Show 2013 was a convention weekend completely out of the ordinary. The level of talent, artwork, and enjoyable company is something every tattoo lover should experience.  I had no time for wine touring this trip, too much for us to do at the show...rare on all accounts...and I didn't miss the booze.

For more photos of the convention, photographer John Whelan captured some great moments and posted them to Facebook here.

Loretta Leu.jpgMontreal Tattoo Convention.jpg
07:40 AM

By Matana Roberts

The first time I saw a palm tattoo I was 16; it was on an older lady Brit punk, covered in some of the most beautiful tattoos I'd ever seen, complete with a gorgeous faded heart and dagger palm. She was intimidating to say the least, but somehow I mustered up the courage to ask about it. "Never do this love," she said with quite the experienced grin, "I only did this because I hated him." I could hear her distinctive lilt in my head, years later, as I table lay, with a favorite soft blanket, to do exactly what she told me not to...

I'd always felt a decorated palm belonged on someone who earned it; always appreciated it's gem rarity. When I started jonesing for one, talked myself out of it a trillion times partly because I felt I was not deserving and partly because it seemed like a serious dumb leap of faith. I had talked to plenty of tattooed compatriots, browsed magazines, blogs, videos; watched an actual tattooer jump off a table screaming; the latter convincing me it was most definitely a bad move, but also, I kept running into folk who said, "Well, if you do it: Thomas(!) Hooper (!)" Fast forward to a curious coincidence of rare scheduling events, mostly in thanks to Thomas's hard core, ever impressive, work,work,work (even) harder mentality, and there I was on his table...nervous as hell, I might add.

Beforehand, I again went back to asking around, reading about it, thinking about my initial vision of that lady punk, remembering a palm of one of my favorite tattooers done by another favorite tattooer, and finally, as if a message from the gods, remembering the inherent toughness of the ovary laden; as after all, if I really wanted to, I could, push a fully formed human out of a space that seemed a wee bit small for the occasion, you know? and that's what finally pushed me heart first, head last on towards my last bit of inspiration: mom memories.

Mom, 52, died of a lady's cancer. [Get your annuals awesome women of the world!] It was epic and unforgiving. Took her left arm/hand before all was said and done. True to character, she acted unshaken; spoke with bubbling excitement at learning how to do old things "new." What she didn't know: that particular hand of hers, was my favorite; had a scar on it from a midwestern tomboy childhood. When I was but a wee one, in a crowd, it was hard to crank my head all the way up to see. Being able to instantly spot that hand was like spotting the holy grail. Raised catholic, she became a radical activist, for a while espousing her upbringing, changing her name to a political moniker that translated to "rose." So though I already had a mom memorial tattoo; had staunchly decided that was enough, lest I be covered in my own grief, it seemed rather fitting, for my courage skill-set, to have this image be related in part to her. Post surgery, at home, she would often walk around with a small blanket shrouding her shoulders for warmth in order to battle phantom pain. I brought that blanket with me to Saved, along with some good tunes.

Saved is one of my favorite shops, not only because of the talented hard working artist roster, but also because of their ever impressive and eclectic music playlist! I am always hearing something there that I want to hear more of later....but I knew I'd need to channel in my own personal sound heroes for focus. So as we got started, in my ear cans were later years of John Coltrane and earlier years of Lydia Lunch.

Said blanket became handy face mask, thank god...and let me tell you, there was high comedy going on under there! Thomas was so positive which helped tremendously, and then almost like magic, we were done and I was shocked, because I had not shed a single tear, nor jumped off the table screaming bloody murder. I felt a calm sense of joy in my own "do now, ask questions later" innards, that continues to get me in sooooooooo much trouble, but yet manages to still teach me sooooooooo much...The post pain was almost unbearable: some of the healing days gnarly and suspicious, but now, it's almost, I dare say, "blooming!" (Thanks, Thomas Hooper!).

For the record, I'm not sure I really deserve a palm tattoo, but I'm beyond honored to rock one. And I can still hear the lovely lilt of that punk's voice, but now with my very own superimposed, imagining what I might say to a younger enquirer in my hopefully experienced years to come "Never do this love. I only did it because I loved her."

Postscript: The rose represents some other things I adore: a song,a cause,a film,a press. And that's just the short list....a rose: it seems to endure...all I hope for really.

Matana (mah-tah-nah) Roberts is a musician, former zine writer, and artist who lives in New York (f*cking) City. She has been getting marked and poked since the illustrious 90s from worldwide points near and far....

Pre-orders have begun for her next recording release of experimental sounds. Details here.

09:19 AM
wine tattoo 2.jpgI am THRILLED about a new segment for N+S, which combines my two loves:  tattoos & wine. The wonderful Demetra Molina, who co-owns The Hand of Fate Tattoo Parlor in Ithaca, NY, with her tattooist husband Eddie Molina, has graciously offered to share her expertise (she has a Level 1 Foundation from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust of England) -- and with a fun twist. Demetra will be reviewing wines from the areas of upcoming tattoo conventions, so when you're off to get tattooed, you can pick up a bottle of local wine as well. Considering that the Berlin Tattoo Convention kicks off today, Demetra educates us on German wines & the convention.

Check out Demetra's blog, The Boozy Life of a Tattoo Wife, as well as Eddie's tattoo work (which includes Demetra's tattoos shown here.)


Tattoo conventions are an international affair, and tattooists travel quite extensively. Artists jump on and off of planes constantly, and the landscape is often a blur. Slowing down during intense travel often means wandering about in our new surroundings, taking in the area. In my case, wine and wine tasting helps me enjoy and remember a place, not just running through its airports with my husband and tattoo artist Eddie Molina. Looking to the next few months, there are several high profile conventions coming, all in exceptional wine areas. First up: Berlin, Germany 2013.

August 2nd-4th, Tattoo Convention Berlin 2013 will mark its 23rd festival in Berlin, Germany. International tattoo artists are drawn to this well-established show, currently located in the refurbished hotspot Station Berlin (check out the link to this beautifully renovated historic space here, especially if you enjoy architecture: STATION Berlin). Station Berlin is a former train station in the hub of Berlin, now a historic landmark with seven different halls of differing sizes. Crystal chandeliers hang amidst very minimal surroundings, elegant yet stark spaces waiting for creativity. It's the perfect place to showcase our colorful tattoo culture.

wine tattoo.jpgThe convention is known by tattooists to be well organized, have a talented list of names, and promises a large crowd of art enthusiasts as well as potential clients. I asked friend and tattooist Cory Ferguson about his past Berlin Convention recollections, and he replied with "..lots of stuff going on other than tattooing to keep the public interested...really fun, I loved it! So many other shows were just disappointing after doing that one. There is also just so much culture to take in on top of the show, that you can't go wrong doing Berlin." Suspensions, live bands, collaborative ArtFusion, tattoo contests, and a Tattoo Queen title is up for grabs. No bored wandering of the floor for hours at this show, too much to do. Culture, history, architecture, tattoo convention, wine! While Germany is mainly known for its beers and brews, there are a few wines you don't want to miss. Take a break from the beer gardens, and explore the local wines in the German Riesling scene.

Riesling is the leading grape variety grown in Germany, having originated in the Rhine region during the fifteenth century. It is an extremely flexible white grape that can be shaped into several styles of Riesling wine, from dry to sweet, and everywhere in between. The cool climate fruit is known to beautifully showcase the soil, or terroir, it is grown in. The vines do exceptionally well on the slate rock slopes of Mosel, and the slate is often a flavor dynamic of the finished wine.

Riesling is a very under rated, food friendly white wine, that is enjoying a renaissance in the culinary world. Many styles pair beautifully with seafood, poultry, and lighter pork dishes. Try a slightly off dry style Riesling with a Thai or Vietnamese meal next time; the crisp, fruity acidity and slight cooling sweetness will extinguish the heat!

We are fortunate that The Hand of Fate Tattoo Parlor is in the beautiful city of Ithaca. Located in upstate New York, and situated smack in the center of Finger Lakes wine country, it is a cooler climate viticulture area, very similar to prime German locations. The grape vines flourish in our climate, producing top-level grapes that will make world-class Riesling wines. Several of our wineries are responsible for highly rated Rieslings, in every style under the sun.

The Berlin Tattoo Convention is a fantastic opportunity to absorb a bit of tattoo culture, while enjoying wines that are created from part of the landscape. If you can't make it to the show, at least try a few of the wines from the area!

A few German Rieslings to try:

Dr. F. Weins-Prum 2010 Feinherb Riesling (Mosel)
Erben von Beulwitz 2006 Kaseler Nies'chen Riesling Spatlese (Ruwer)
Dr. Loosen 2011 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese (Mosel)
Schloss Vollrads 2011 Riesling (Rheingau)

And a few Finger Lakes Rieslings too:

Tierce Dry Riesling 2011 (Finger Lakes)
Dry Riesling Anthony Road Wine Company 2012 (Finger Lakes)
Riesling 2011 Sheldrake Point Winery (Finger Lakes)
Semi-Dry Riesling 2012 Leidenfrost Vineyards (Finger Lakes)

More guest blogs from Demetra coming soon!
09:08 AM
tattoo are not a crime.jpgEarlier this month, tattoo news headlines included a story of how an Australian politician proposed a ridiculous anti-tattoo law that seemed like the work of another conservative crackpot. However, it turns out, that it is indeed something to pay attention to and fight. Sharron Campbell, a solicitor in Queensland, who works in privacy and information rights, explains here how serious this issue is and how all of us around the world can get involved.

By Sharron Campbell

Down in Queensland--land of beers, barbies, and shrimps to throw on them--a politician has proposed that anyone who gets a tattoo should be registered with the government. He thinks this will somehow stop bikie gang money laundering.  Natural first reaction is to laugh: a law that ridiculous could never happen, right?


Australia has limited rights to free speech, there's no Bill of Rights, there's no general right to privacy. And in New South Wales, the State just south of Queensland, they passed laws just as bad as what's been proposed.

If you want to tattoo in NSW, you have to:
  • consent to a National Police Check
  • attend a police station to have your finger and palm prints taken
  • undergo a security determination by the Police Commissioner.
It's even harder if you want to actually run a studio and if you actually get your license the police can enter any time, no warrant required, to:
  • inspect and take copies of records
  • take photographs and videos
  • bring in drug and gun sniffing dogs.
These NSW laws, Queensland's proposed laws, seem to imply the link between tattooing and crime is so strong the rights of tattooists and the tattooed are somehow worth less than everyone else's. If those laws can pass in NSW, the proposed laws could pass in Queensland; the two States have the same basic rights, freedoms, and powers.

Once the wheels of government start grinding out a Bill it will be too late to stop it. Wherever you are in the world you can help, before it's law, before it goes any further, by telling the Queensland government this is not okay.

Find out how at
08:50 AM
charlie wagner tattooing.jpgToday, we have another wonderful installment from Paul Roe of Britishink for you tattoo history buffs!

By Paul Roe:

Now as I sit down to write this, that Shirley Bassey song just kept popping in to my head. Tattooing, like most things human, has been re-invented many, many times.

What is "Old School"? This question arose from a discussion on the way historic tattooing is presented in an exhibition setting. Some learned institutions are displaying comic book portrayals of anything tattoo related, which only perpetuates the myths, usually the bad ones, and ignores the rich social context and cultural significance of the art.

Generally, the stereotype is a grubby man in a one room shop, cigarette butt in mouth; this was the case in most major metropolitan cities -- and here's the key -- after the Wall Street Crash of 1929. This is the common perception of "Old School" tattooing that most people have today. The hardships and honest sweat of the working class man, purveyor to the working class around him, scraping a living from his street front shop. Bleak? Definitely.

The worn and weathered face of Charlie Wagner personifies the "Old School" so I'll use him as an example. He lost his life's savings in the crash -- about $11, 000 in 1929 -- equivalent to about $150,000 today. That tidy sum had been built up over a period of time starting as the apprentice to Samuel O'Reilly, the inventor of the electric tattooing machine. O'Reilly died in 1908, and by this point, Wagner had taken over the shop. So let's go back a little further to get an idea of what Mr. Wagner had as a working environment and mentor before America got broke.

Tattooing has always been a cross-class activity; in the vast majority of indigenous tattooing, the hierarchy of the group carries the most and best tattoos. Westerners spread the practice on board ships and the hand poked tattoos of ocean crossings took a great deal of time to complete. Some of those sailors settled in port towns to tattoo by hand primarily serving the military of that port.

charlie wagner tattoo.jpg Let's look at NYC before Wagner...

Martin Hildebrandt, a German immigrant, settled in New York City in 1846 and did great trade up to and through the Civil War, crossing the line to tattoo both Yankees and Confederates, establishing himself as the tattooist in NYC. In 1875, Samuel O'Reilly opened his Chatham Square location and became Hildebrandt's competition. Remember at this point all tattooing was done by hand and a growing interest was stirring in the society class of New York as wealthy British and Europeans returned from India and Japan with handmade body decorations as souvenirs of their travels, men and women alike. European aristocracy had embraced tattooing for decades and the news was spreading west.
The 1870's New York tattoo craze was on. And of course with each dinner party, each ball, each of those tattooed aristocrats needed to out-do their peers with the delicacy of their tattoo work, the price was often bragging rights too (and one carefully cultivated among the tattooists). But this was an age of revolution -- every process that could be mechanized was being mechanized. O'Reilly sped up the process a hundred fold with his rotary machine, which meant more tattoos could be done, and bags of cash could be made.

Marketing himself directly at the wealthy O'Reilly followed the names of Sutherland MacDonald (London) and Hori Chyu (Yokohama) as the go to tattooist on this side of the Atlantic, and by the time Charles Wagner joined him in the 1890s, O'Reilly ran quite a fine establishment. His Japanese assistants not only served tea to the clients but also would be sent uptown to apply a tattoo in the residence of a wealthy patron. This cost extra I'm sure.

The Japanese studio layout was emulated too, the first room you entered had couches and pillowed nooks to sit and take your tea, the second room contained the apprentices, both Japanese and American in O'Reillys case, and this is where Wagner started. The third room was the masters studio and if you had enough money and influence you got tattooed there. This layout and hierarchy is very similar to the western "atelier". The atmosphere would have to be pleasant for the upper class customers, a surrounding they would feel comfortable in with its damask cushions and elegant artwork strewn walls.

On January 30th, 1880, the New York Times explained "...that the noble savage has become the newfangled ideal...and hence to be tattooed is to put one's self in sympathy with Nature and to protest the sickly conventionalities of civilization..."

The poet Andrew Lang, in his 1884 Rhymes a la Mode proclaimed a high-caste person when tattooed was really an Art's Martyr:
"...The china on the shelf is very fair to view,
And wherefore should mine outer self not correspond thereto?
In frame I must tattoo..."
So with the newspapers, the society balls and dinners, artists and statesmen alike buzzing with the tattoo fad from Europe, American tattooing flourished. High society names of the day wore tattoos from O'Reilly's establishment which could well have been tattooed by his assistant Wagner; among them Mrs. George Cornwallis West boasting a delicate snake around her left wrist, which she covered during the day with a matched gold bracelet, and Mrs. Clara Ward who's daytime dresses all had a long right sleeve and a short left sleeve but her evening dresses were constructed in reverse to reveal a snake circling her right shoulder and a butterfly.

1Clara_Ward_OReilly_snake around R shoulder butterfy on shoulder.jpgThe fashion waxed and waned each few years and those tattooists who endured were those who actively targeted their audience directly. In a 1905 publicity photo of Wagner, he's seen wearing a top hat and large fresh flower in his lapel, interestingly enough holding an O'Reilly machine when he had patented his own device (a side by side twin coil machine) only the year before.

But with the death of O'Reilly the socialites slowly stopped visiting Chatham Square as the fashions were changing and high society, in both Europe and the US, shunned the bold lines and "the American style" even straying from the patronage of Sutherland MacDonald in search of finer lines and more delicate work at the hands of Japanese masters such as Hori Chyu of Yokohama. This trend had started in the late 1890s, and by 1900, a New York millionaire had offered Hori Chyu an establishment in NYC at the annual salary of $12,000 (about $180,000 today). Sadly this arrangement never came to fruition.

The Bowery "fun zone" with its dime museums and amusements, displays of tattooed men and women and of course tattoo shops was falling out of vogue with the rich but not the average American. The tattooed men and women of the sideshow and circus were bread and butter for the tattooists of the day but sideshow wages were dropping and their novelty with the public wearing off. Just around the corner was the First World War and a new batch of tattoo hungry customers would descend upon the port city of New York...the military.

The latest and greatest development in the tattoo business was flash -- the stock images displayed usually on the walls and ready to be tattooed. These images had been around a long time, each individual artist making their own travel books and sketches but the wholesale distribution of pre-drawn flash really took off during WWI. The name "flash" is from the carnival days - a canvas roll of brightly colored images hanging outside the tattooist tent - to "flash" and catch the eye of the passing customer. Regimental badges, patriotic eagles and sweetheart remembrances are still with us as standard flash today.

Prior to about 1900 all the aristocratic atelier tattooing was custom drawn, made once and not repeated, in fact the  derogatory term "Jagger" (still in use on the Bowery until the mid-thirties) meant someone who uses stencils and does not draw the tattoo on the body or even tattoo the image without the use of guide lines. Jagger is from the Scottish slang "to jab wildly". The act of replication was frowned upon by the great names but proved to be the saving grace for the industry as electric tattooing equipment had been for sale through various gentlemen's magazines and publications and now sheets of designs could be purchased too.

Lew the Jew tattooed in NYC from the early 1900s and is the person most responsible for the proliferation of tattoo flash. A former wallpaper designer, he returned home from the Spanish American war tattooed and entranced by the tattoo business. His basic designs are those that set the western traditional style and are still seen today on the walls of shops across the world.

Harry Lawson took a different approach. His three room studio in Los Angeles had examples of tattoos framed on every wall -- not flash painted on paper or card but preserved human skin, contracted from people he had met, bribed from the local coroner's office and otherwise obtained by unknown methods. His workspace contained a large desk with medical books and implements giving him a learned air.  Mr. Lawson disappeared in 1920 and had advertised he was retiring in 1919, selling his entire operation and giving it up. He resurfaced on the Pike twenty years later. The stories of the high ranked officials and military officers he had tattooed were told until his death in 1950.

Harry Lawson 1919.jpgSo "Old School" should be a term used lightly.

In my humble opinion it correctly describes any tattooing pre-electric device, which would make the great names of O'Reilly, MacDonald, Burchett and Wagner..."New School"!

The image of the grubby man sitting outside his one room street front shop, hungry and, surly with it, are what we consider to be right for the Old School label. But as with most of the industrial revolution we remember the grit, grime and soot, the appalling sanitary conditions of the very end of this historic period. We forget the lavish interiors, the splendor of presentation, the exotic visual influences from Asia and India and the titled men and women of leisure who were old or new money and would spend it to out-spend their peers as a kind of competition of worth, capitalized on by the tattooists of the day.

So as we begin 2013, we see that it's not too dissimilar from 1913 in terms of tattooing. There are excellent custom tattoo studios out there producing quality work on a small scale and there are street shops banging out flash all day long. Each has its market as history repeats itself.

That was the Golden Age of tattooing as this is the Golden Age of tattooing.
At your service,
Paul Roe
Britishink Tattoos
Tattoodles Online Inc.
508 H St. NE
Washington DC 20002
05:38 PM
la skin and ink.jpgIn September, we posted on the L.A. Skin & Ink exhibit, which is currently on view at the The Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles until January 6, 2013.  We won't be able to make it to the West Coast before its closing, and so we're grateful to Dr. Anna Felicity Friedman, who offers this insightful review of the exhibition -- and a bit of a tattoo history lesson. The value of her expertise here is not limited to her thoughts on this particular show but also makes an excellent guide for those seeking to organize their own tattoo exhibitions. For more from Anna, check her Tattoo History Daily blog.

By Dr. Anna Felicity Friedman

As a tattoo-history scholar and curator, I'm always excited for the opportunity to see new exhibits that highlight the art form I love so much. My recent Thanksgiving trip to Los Angeles gave me the opportunity to stop by the LA Skin & Ink show at the Craft and Folk Art Museum. From the press release, I was expecting an in-depth investigation that "explores the unique role of Los Angeles in the Tattoo Renaissance over the last 60 years.

Sadly, the exhibit did not fulfill my expectations. Instead it presented a curatorially confused mishmash of flash, photographs, and artwork. Was this a tattoo history show? A show of fine art by tattoo artists? A show of art somehow generally related to tattooing? Upon rereading the press release post-visit, I probably should have tempered my enthusiasm in advance--it trots out many of the usual myths about tattooing pre-Renaissance being the purview of sailors and criminals (not to mention the typographical errors, which usually predict a general lack of attention to detail or consistency).

From my first steps into the exhibit, a disconnect between what the museum wanted the exhibit to be and what the exhibit ended up being became immediately clear. The wall text promises an exhibit about LA tattooers who "have been instrumental in researching and refining the distinct styles of Japanese, Tribal, and Black and Grey tattooing." It was a shock to turn around and then see, situated across from the wall text, essentially, an installation art piece rooted loosely in old-school Americana (described in the exhibit label as a "site-specific installation" by Lucky Bastard, Buzzy Jenkins, and Lincoln Jenkins). A wall filled with sheets of mid-20th-century flash hovered above an artist's evocation of a "historic" tattoo "station."

tattoo station.jpg After a video monitor screening interviews with LA tattoo artists and collectors, the exhibit then transitioned into a brief tattoo-technology section. The press-release promised "tattoo equipment" which would make one assume there would be a sizeable selection. Two power supplies, two machines, and a single photograph of a machine, with a short 3-paragraph text about "How It Works" didn't really do any justice to an understanding of this aspect of tattooing nor was any unique LA angle with respect to tattoo technology obvious.

The next section started the confused mix of work that would characterize the rest of the show. Under the heading "American Traditional," classic old-school artists Bert Grimm and Bob Shaw shared a wall with Cliff Raven's work--much of it from his Chicago days, not his California ones. Across from them, tagged as "Japanese," hung Sailor Jerry flash and some contemporary fine-art pieces by Ed Hardy. At the end of the room a selection of "Tribal" tattooing highlighted Leo Zulueta's blackwork, which along with one of the pieces representing Zulu's work around the corner, appeared to be the only "tribal" included in the show.

Especially problematic for me in this gallery, I struggled to grasp why Sailor Jerry, who as far as I know did not work in LA, had been included in the show (and given such a large and prominent section). Also, none of the Hardy pieces were either from his LA days (the pieces were dated 1999-2007) nor particularly tattoo related (all of Hardy's fine-art work aesthetically draws at least a bit from his many years as a tattooer, but many, many other pieces would have been better choices for this exhibit--I would have loved to have seen in person some of the Bert-Grimm-inspired flash Hardy drew as a kid living in Orange County reproduced in "Tattooing the Invisible Man."
09:41 AM
groupshotBat.jpgToday, we have Paul Roe of Britishink taking the blog reigns to offer a history lesson and share his own experience becoming part of The Bristol Tattoo Club. A fantastic story.

By Paul Roe:

There has been a tie between British and American tattooing since the very beginning. Techniques, machines and designs have been exchanged and traded for more than a century. One of the oldest international bonds between tattoo artists is still running strong -- The Bristol Tattoo Club -- established in 1953 by the legendary Les Skuse.

Les Skuse started tattooing under the guidance of Joseph Hartley in Bristol,1928, and tattooed tens of thousands of people around the world until his death in 1973. In 1956, he was invited to Sandusky, Ohio by Al Schiefley. Invitations were sent out to the Sandusky Tattoo Club Members all over America and the first American tattoo convention took place on September 8th and 9th, 1956. In attendance were Paul Rogers, DC Paul, Milton Zeis, Huck Spaulding and many more.

LesSkuseShop.jpgThe list of Bristol Tattoo Club members reads like a list of who's who in the world of tattooing: Norman Collins, Paul Rogers, Milton Zeis, Leslie Burchett, Ron Ackers, Cash Cooper, Jessie Knight, Lone Wolf, Jack Zeek, Jock Liddle, Doc. Forbes, Doc. Webb, Lyle Tuttle ... on and on and on. The purpose of the club was to bring together the artists. In the words of Les:

I have always been ready and willing to learn, never thinking I knew it all and continually searching for ways in which to improve my work and equipment. It is my firm belief that the more tattooists meet, correspond and exchange ideas, the better it will be both for the individual and the profession.
Danny Skuse took over the presidency of the club after Les passed and the mantle has now fallen to Jimmie Skuse, the third-generation Skuse to tattoo in Bristol.

So in August this year, I made the pilgrimage from Washington DC where I run Britishink Tattoos back to my home country, back to Bristol to receive the BTC "bat" tattoo. It is customary to bring gifts of vintage tattoo related items to add to Jimmie's collection and I came prepared even donating a custom made machine, which will be included in the BTC tattoo machine poster available later this year.

BTC-batsmall.jpgThe logo of the club is a bat with the letters BTC around it. This tattoo is on about twenty people alive today and was on the arms of all those legends before me. I was honored to be included in such a group, to be tattooed by a Skuse family member, to spend the afternoon sitting on the floor with Jimmie bringing out historic machine after historic machine from his museum collection: Hartley machines -- I have only seen a photo of one once and here are seven in my lap. George Burchett machines, Paul Rogers, Sailor Jerry, Percy Waters ... I was the proverbial kid in the candy store. The best was saved till last, the Edison Autographic Printing Device -- the device on which Samuel O'Reilly based the first electric tattoo machine in 1891. [The Smithsonian doesn't even have one of these.] It was tiny, perfect and exquisitely made.

Edison.jpgAnd so to the tattoo, with the question:  "Do you want me to make a new stencil or do you want me to use one from Les?"  The sentence wasn't finished and I cut him off -- of course the original stencil. How many arms had this been used on? How many of my heroes had this touched? Now the faint impression was on my arm and Jimmies machine buzzed. It was quick, painless and suddenly I was a fully fledged member.

We chatted and made dinner arrangements for that night; after a slap-up meal, champagne and toasts we walked Jimmie and his lovely wife Jackie to the car to say goodbye, he handed me an envelope. "Don't look at it until you get back to your room. You was looking at it today, and I think you should have it." We said our goodbyes.

Back in the hotel room I found an acetate from Christian Warlich (the only tattooist in Third Reich Germany) tucked in the envelope. Jimmie is a true gentleman and I can now say a good friend.

JimmieSkuseTattooingPaulRoe.jpgJimmie Skuse Tattooing Paul Roe.

The next day we traveled back to my home town of Norwich for the Body Art Festival and had a very successful convention with close friends and made many, many more. In eight days in England, hanging out with hundreds of artists and thousands of tattoo enthusiasts, I did not hear the term "tattooer" once. The British term "tattooist" is suitable and dignified, applicable to all.

When I returned to Washington DC, there was an announcement on the BTC Facebook group stating that, for the first time in the club's history, a British Ambassador was appointed to the United States, an Englishman who could apply the official BTC bat tattoo to those members on this side of the Atlantic:  Mr. Paul Roe of Washington DC. I am humbled and elated to receive such a great honor.

JimmieSkuseTattooingBTC.jpgThe membership continues to grow. Tattooists are applying and our ranks swell. Current members include John Black, Dana Brunson, Scott Sterling, Shane Enholm, Todd Hlavaty, Seth Ciferri and many more. Jimmie Skuse will be producing some collectibles for purchase including the a fore mentioned tattoo machine poster and a series of flash books of the current members' artwork.

It is important to me to know and understand the history of this craft. It is even more important that the history of tattooing is in the hands of a group of dedicated professionals who will tend it, grow it and pass it on to generations to come --The Bristol Tattoo Club.

Information, history and a great set of pictures are available at
Jimmie can be reached on Facebook as well.
Paul Roe -- Anglo-Romany, tattoo historian and artist -- has been tattooing since 1998 in Washington DC. For more from Paul, check and
10:17 AM
Discussing his personal experience being portrayed in the media as a "tattooed dog freak" -- and the portrayal of tattooed people in general -- Craig Dershowitz offers this essay.

2212dog.jpgDressing for my appearance on the Today Show, I worried about what shirt to wear. It was one of the first real humid days of the summer and called for short sleeves, but I had to be a cognizant that I was appearing on national television and that not everyone would take kindly to my long (tattooed) sleeves.

That is the thing about most people who have marked themselves -- we are far more aware of the bias against us than of actually holding any bias ourselves. Each dressing decision is informed by our choices. There is a heightened self awareness amongst the initiated and an intangible level of vulnerability that betrays the tough guy (or girl) personae normally associated with tattooing.

I am the tough guy who spent $60,000 on lawyer fees to attempt to rescue my dog from my ex-girlfriend. In the two or three days that I became news content, opinions ranged. In the span of a news cycle, I was: A pathetic loser who could not get over his ex (not true); A sucker who had been milked by his attorneys (possibly true); A fiercely loyal father with more courage than money (very true). Regardless of the reporter's personal take or, more likely, the spin he was concocting to separate himself from the other reporters and try to get a few more hits on his social media platform of choice, they were always asking about my job. Every story began with my name, age and job description. If you remember the days of dial-up, AOL modems and chat rooms - you might remember how disappointing it was when we discovered that the internet, this new form of communication, would only lead us to discuss ourselves in the same superficial, box-creating definitional ways as before.

The other superficial box that was being created for me was that of one who is tattooed. No matter if I was a loser or a hero, I was a tattooed version of either. In fact, the first three reports in well-known, credible news sources referred to me as follows: A tattooed employee at an art gallery (true); A tattooed artist (possibly true); And, finally, a tattoo artist (not true at all). Forget the apprenticeship model, the news is a far quicker way for one to earn his machines. Again, regardless of their spin and the validity of their descriptions, reporters loved to point out the tattoo information as if it had some bearing on my extreme situation or my being at all.

I was incredulous. And, I was curious. I kept trying to figure out why tattoos meant so much. My greater concern was raising the funds I needed to pay the lawyers to ask the judge to do the thing he should be able to do for a lot less money. Looking at the very arms that I hoped to use to carry my dog back home, I realized just how much money was on them. I could have fought two more cases with what I had spent on ink. Then I realized, it meant everything.

I fought (and am still fighting) for my dog because of the same reasons I am tattooed. I have a sense of permanence and significance. Items that are important or significant to me are sacred to me, expressed in my skin, in my blood, in my life. I am fearless in the face of societal judgment and norms. I am generous with my time, spirit and money when it comes to holding onto beauty. I am, sometimes, reckless and impulsive in protection of my individuality. I am beholdent to no one but myself and to my puppy.

Considering my new extreme circumstance, I would trade all these tattoos back for the money to rescue my pup. But, I would never trade the passion that created my desire to tattoo myself and to hold on to my dog.
01:15 PM
bowery tattoo.jpgThis Father's Day, we're happy to have Doug Moskowitz, son of tattoo legend Walter Moskowitz, talk about what it was like being raised by one of the Bowery Boys. Before Walter passed in 2007, Doug recorded his father telling golden stories of tattooing on NY's rough Lower East Side. Those stories are immortalized on the two audio CD set Last of the Bowery Scab Merchants -- a perfect gift for dad, mom, your crazy uncle, and especially your tattooist. A must have.

By Doug Moskowitz

My dad was Walter Moskowitz and this Father's day I would like to tribute my late father with this guest blog entry. My dad tattooed (with his brother Stanley) in an era when the lines were bold, the shading was heavy, and the tattoos were always readable. The designs were often about loyalty, toughness and love. My dad could read human nature as if each person he encountered in his life was filed away like an acetate stencil. He lived in the moment and relished the wonderment of the natural world.

walter moskowitz 1970s.jpgNonetheless, the real triumph of his life was the way he performed as dad. His wife and kids were so important to him that he stuck out life on the Bowery where at any time there "could be good people or real scumbags." He would often have rowdy visitors to his shop who only wanted to fight and he would have to defend himself. Then of course there was the government who wanted to shut the tattoo shops down. So, I asked my dad why and how did you put up with all of this? He said matter-of-factly, "I had to provide for my family ... they come first and foremost", as if my question was from outer space. There was just no way he was not going to deliver for his family. He was a tough guy who would go to the end of the earth to defend his family and his right to provide for them.

As a Dad, he was selfless and you always knew that when he was with you there was no other place he would rather be. He did not buy much in the order of material comforts, he greatest joy came in what he could share with his family. To that end our mom and dad provided us with enough love and life lessons that the kids were never left wanting. We grew up in an environment rich in loyalty and love. Our dad was bold and his dedication was always readable.
He was true old school.
10:44 AM
tim kern tattoo on craig.jpgStarting off your week with this personal essay from our Craig Dershowitz on scoring a tattoo appointment with a booked artist, and the disappointment of having to cancel.

My mom is sick. I am in a bitter court battle. My new apartment requires two months security plus first month rent. They say that when someone gives multiple excuses, they are probably all lies. Believe me, I wouldn't believe this if I wasn't living through it. It is not believable. I cope with tattoos, through tattoos. Tattoos are cathartic and liberating. They remind me that I have control and power over myself, regardless of how many things are conspiring against me. They bring physical pain that, when there is so much mental pain, is a welcome respite. You know when the pain of a tattoo will end and you know how it will end.

For the initiated, tattooing seems like a never-ending process. We are constantly picking our next piece, considering our next artist and, usually, in the midst of a large project. But, there is a finite amount of skin and as each session closes, so too, eventually, does the body. It was my goal to have my body complete by the end of 2012. Tim Kern is in the middle of my back piece (above). Claire Reid is in the middle of my thigh (below right), and I had an appointment with Yoni Zilber for portions of my chest. 

claire reed The Magician Tattoo.jpgAnd, I had to cancel them all. Not only was it personally upsetting, it was professionally problematic. I know these guys. Their schedules are beyond packed. I wonder how many seconds it took for any of them to fill my spot with someone off of a waiting list. Getting another appointment can be difficult. Getting a reputation for being a flake is worse. Getting them to believe an excuse or three that you yourself wouldn't believe is the worst.

In a small shop in the Village, a tattoo artist told me that he wished he could get work from Yoni and asked if I could get him an appointment. Tim is enigmatic and booked--constantly. Claire travels the world and is only in the States about once a year. All three are legends in the community. All three are incredibly talented. All three have spots on my body reserved for them that, until complete, feel even more empty and naked than if they had nothing on them at all.

I was whining to Marisa about this situation and she told me what a controversial problem it is. Some artists are so booked and full of willing subjects to take any open spot so it's not that big an issue. Others take great offense as if it was a personal slight. The reasons, true reasons, for cancelling are equally across the board. Whether it is financial constraints, laziness, forgetfulness or some serious, life-altering change, the reasons for cancelling an appointment range from meaningful and necessary to insulting and rude.

How each artist copes is probably based on their own personality mixed the experiences they have had in the past both with that particular collector and with random others. I am lucky to consider Yoni a friend and know him to be a genuine, caring and family-oriented man. When I told him about my mother, he knew I was telling the truth and had immediate concern. He returned the money I had Pay-pal'd him and gave good wishes. Tim said not to worry and was extraordinarily flexible and kind. Claire was still in Australia but promised to ask the earth for healing. If you know Claire, you know this is completely in line with her beliefs and personality.

Their generosity was, mostly, their general nature. But, it was also coupled with what they know about me. I had never blown off an appointment with them before. I had sat through long sessions and I have recommended them and promoted them as much as possible. Each one deserves it too. Such a familiarity between artist and subject is, however, not the norm. And, in the interest of preserving an important relationship, there are standards everyone should abide. I am going to get deep now!

For Collectors:
  • Don't cancel. Yeah, that sounds definitive. And, it is. Don't cancel. And, I am not even talking about for the sake of the artist but for your own. You made a commitment, you chose something important to you. Do it. Anything else is a weak-willed cop-out. Of course, nothing is without exception and, for the proper reasons, you can make exception but you should consider an appointment as something that should only be missed if the reason to miss it is absolutely urgent and important.
For Artists:
  • Don't mind cancellations. Yes, it is your time and your money and your livelihood. But, you customer is also putting their time, money, livelihood (potentially) and body (definitely) on the line. Shit happens. Respect that.
That was brilliant, was it not? So many questions could be answered if we just returned to a state of chilling the heck out. There are down payments for a reason -- it addresses this problem. Anything else is a bunch of personal, petty, childishness on both sides of the gun. Our culture deals with enough harassment and misinformation as it is. Stay honest and respectful and we are all good.

04:08 PM
filipino tattoo by elle.jpgEditor's note: I've been a big fan of the work of the Tatak Ng Apat Na Alon Tribe, a group made up of largely young Filipino-Americans seeking to revive the tattoo traditions of their ancestors. One of the founders of the Tribe, tattooist Elle Festin, opened Spiritual Journey Tattoo last year, which offers traditional, hand-poked Filipino tattoos in addition to being a full service studio of all tattoo genres. For more info on Tatak Ng Apat Na Alon and Elle's work, here's Tribe member Tina Astudillo-Ash's guest blog. 

By Tina Astudillo-Ash

In the past few years, Tatak Ng Apat Na Alon (Mark of the Four Waves) Tribe has been blessed with continued momentum in their efforts to revive indigenous Filipino tattoos. The Tribe's family has grown throughout the United States, especially in California, as more people have reached out to get in touch with their Filipino roots through tattooing.

The growing interest in the Tribe's work has allowed tattooist Elle Festin to continue to hone his skills at hand-poked tattoos. Elle utilizes several different hand-made tools, which he has been able to model after indigenous tools.

filipino tattoo.jpgIn 2008, the Tribe's work was further validated when Elle and other Tribe members including Zel Mayo and Jyroe (Jose Jimenez) traveled to the Philippines to participate in the Cordillera Festival and meet Whang Od, one of the last Kalinga tattooists in the world. Whang Od questioned and tested Elle extensively about his tattoos and the motifs behind the patterns. She was satisfied with his responses and she realized the Tribe was sincere in its efforts to revive the art form. Whang Od had confidence in Elle's skill and knowledge, and she invited him to tattoo her. Elle obliged, applying a simple yet beautiful centipede design on her upper back. Elle would later remark that even at over 90 years old, Whang Od did not flinch when getting tattooed. Elle also had the opportunity to meet Whang Od's apprentice, her grand-niece. Although still very young, her apprentice was eager to learn and continue the sacred tradition. An encouraging sign tattooing will continue to flourish in Kalinga culture.

In 2011, Elle opened the Tribe's official tattoo studio, Spiritual Journey Tattoo & Tribal Gallery. The art found throughout the shop and applied on the walls pay homage to many indigenous cultures and their tattoo traditions. The shop also has a special room reserved only for applying tattoos by the traditional methods. Although a great majority of clients are seeking Filipino tattoos, the artists also do traditional American, Polynesian, color and black and grey tattoos.

poly.jpgThe opening of Spiritual Journey Tattoo has resulted in more positive exposure for the Tribe and Filipino tattooing. In recent years, Filipino tattoos have gained well-earned respect from other tattooing cultures. [Support and encouragement have always been given by respected artists like Aisea Toetu'u, Po'oino Yrondi, Orly Locquiao and Gilles Lovisa.] It is a testament to the significant impact of the beauty of Filipino tattoos. Perhaps the most important result of this is reflected in the growing number of older Filipino tattoo clients -- those who always wanted to be tattooed but avoided getting them because they did not want to be associated with the negative stigma surrounding tattoos.

Through Spiritual Journey Tattoo & Tribal Gallery, the Tribe continues to educate the community about indigenous-style Filipino tattoos, as well as offer other traditional work and contemporary tattoo art.

Spiritual Journey Tattoo & Tribal Gallery is located at 7159 Katella Avenue in Stanton, CA.

tribal hand tattoo.jpg
11:15 AM
In this guest blog, Pat Fish pays tribute to tattooist and author Pati Pavlik.

pati.jpgPati Pavlik began her tattoo career studying with Cliff Raven at Sunset Strip Tattoo in Hollywood, and went on to own several studios, most memorably the Laguna Beach Tattoo location that gave several of today's prominent artists their starts. When she sold that, she semi-retired to a large ranch in Tehachapi, CA, where she maintained her cosmetic tattoo pigment supply company Cleo Colors and did private work at Tehachapi Tattoo. She established the Tehachapi Mountain Research Center to promote the arts in the local community.

She authored "The Breast Book", a guide to areola re-pigmentation for breast cancer survivors, which she was. She also wrote a memoir "Through My Eyes" that told the story of her many experiences in the tattoo industry, especially her role in establishing the National Cosmetic Tattooing Association (NCTA).

In recent years she had been working on another more private autobiography, however she was in failing health for a long time, and died peacefully on 2/5/12.
05:56 PM
johnmack14_leftinnerthigh.jpgThe 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.
11:41 AM
Guest Blog by Dr. Matt Lodder *
tattoo history 2.jpg
As an opening line for an article in a popular newspaper about tattoos, the suggestion that "tattoos are not just for sailors anymore" is a familiar one. We saw it last month in an article in The Guardian called "The Rise and Rise of the Tattoo", whose subheading read "Just why has the art form of sailors, bikers and assorted deviants become mainstream?".

And just last week, an article in the Astbury Park Press declared that although "Traditionally viewed by Americans as the crude art of roughnecks or drunken sailors, tattooing has turned a corner, moving toward acceptance as legitimate art".

Indeed, it often feels as if the same sentiment graces every article about tattooing in the mainstream press: Tattooing, we've been told again and again recently, is coming of age - finally coming out of the murky shadows of the deviant underworld to leave its mark on the most well-heeled. Tattoos are now to be seen on catwalks, on trading floors and around the chicest tables.

The hacks who churn out these stories might be surprised to learn, then, that the popular media has been reporting the arrival of tattooing in high society for nearly one hundred years.

In his 1933 book, "Tattoo: Secrets of a Strange Art", Albert Parry reports that the onset of the Great Depression hit tattooists hard, as their usual clients - lawyers and bankers - were hard-up, unable to afford the highest rates for large tattoos. An even earlier article, from Tatler Magazine (the periodical of the British upper classes) in 1905, reports:

"The tattoing [sic] craze which first broke out in America has now come to this country, where its chief exponent is Mr. Alfred South of Cockspur Street. During his career Mr. South has operated on upwards of 15,000 persons, including about 900 English women, the designs in a great number of cases being of a most peculiar description. There are some instances where ladies have had the inscriptions on their wedding rings tattooed on their fingers beneath the ring. Ladies who like to keep pace with the times may be adorned with the illustrations of motor cars." (26th November 1905, p. 311)

There's simply no truth to the common tale that tattooing has always and forever been the domain of the seedy, the deviant and the marginalised in the West, though the tale is a persistent one. It pervades even the few serious academic histories of tattooing in the West, all of whom who almost universally agree that prior to about 1965, tattooing was less of an art form than some kind of ritual practiced by easily-identifiable groups of the underclass. The 1970s onwards are referred to in these texts as "The Tattoo Renaissance", as if the period before had been a dark age.

Recently, a colleague of mine passed me a fantastic article she stumbled across in the course of some archival research. Titled "Modern Fashions in Tattooing", it's from Vanity Fair, dated January 1926 (pp 43, 110). In its opening paragraph, the author confidently exclaims the; very same sentiment we saw only last month in The Guardian:

"Tattooing has passed from the savage to the sailor, from the sailor to the landsman. It has since percolated through the entire social stratum; tattooing has received its credentials, and may now be found beneath many a tailored shirt."

Even by 1926, magazines were announcing to their readers that tattoos were now popular amongst people like them. And these were not small flash designs either - the article reports large chest pieces, backpieces and designs artistically rendered to the desires of each individual client. It talks about re-works and cover-ups, and tattooing kings and queens. The article even mentions an old-salt tattoo artist called Professor Sharkey, bemoaning the good old days when tattooing was "art for art's sake" and not some modern fad. "It's too bad to have to tattoo diving-girls and Venus rising from the sea when you have it in you to do things like these," he says, gesturing at his collection of rare prints.

Tattooists, it seems, like tabloid journalists, have always stuck to the script.

* Dr Matt Lodder recently completed his PhD thesis in art history at the University of Reading. His research applies art-historical and art-theoretical methodologies to tattooing and other forms of body art. For more about his research, click here. Matt is on Twitter and can be contacted directly via mattlodder at hotmail dotcom.
02:11 PM
In December, we wrote about the release and exhibition of Tatted: A Documentation of Self Expression the Most Permanent Ways. Father Panik got the book and offers his thoughts.

Guest review by Father Panik:

I'm here to tell you what the problem with tattoos is. It's OK, I don't mind.

Too much damn thinking. That's the problem with tattoos today.

Like when you watch those tattoo reality shows. All the tattoos start with the artist asking "So what does this tattoo mean?" which is bullshit in the first place because those guys really don't give a shit what your tattoos mean. They're not therapists or dream interpreters or whatever. Besides, all we ever hear are tales of woe. It's like there's a country song behind every tattoo. In order to get a tattoo today you need to have some deep story to back it up. It gets all wrapped up in convoluted symbols, fancy script and general all around jerking off.

We need to stop forcing ourselves to be deep thinkers. That's how you end up with NBA quality or minor Hollywood celeb tattoos. Garbled deep/stoopid quotations that don't make no sense. People are working too damn hard to squeeze something out of the sphincter between the ears.

Now take Philly. Philly is a good tattoo town. Your average tattoo fan in Philly knows we're all kind of thick skulled. They take pride in it. Philly is to tattoos what Papst is to beer. Trailer park porn stars.

Tatted, published by Grit City Inc, gets it. Photographed by Marlanne Bernstein in Philadelphia, it's a large coffee table-style book filled with fantastic, deceptively simple photos of tattooed locals. A small, hand written, one-page note where they write about their tattoo, accompanies each photo of a person and their tattoo. Not a lot of room for over-analysis or deep thinking. We get lots of spontaneous wise-assness, accidental ballpoint haikus, misspellings and attitude.

tatted two.jpg
You get the feeling those being photographed kind of resented being given homework. What you have are average people with average tattoos and it's beautiful. A rare honesty is conveyed through the photos and notes. The cover blurb says, "Stunning photographs and simple hand written notes." That's pretty much it.

The first 30 pages or so are filled with interviews with tattoo artists and writers. I don't know, I just sort of skimmed through that part. Like I said: Too much thinking.

I like to look at pictures.

You can purchase Tatted for $20 from Grit City here.
11:26 AM
horiyoshi III tattoo irezumi.jpgJohn Mack offers his final story in this 13-part series on getting tattooed by Japanese master Horiyoshi III over the course of nine years.

I arrived for my appointment to find a woman discussing the tattoo she would be getting. She was there with her boyfriend, whom I had recognized both as a client and from photos in books about Horiyoshi's work. She was undecided about the design and asked Horiyoshi III, "Is there anything that you have always wanted to tattoo onto a woman?" 

When I later commented on this artistic latitude, Horiyoshi told me that, in fact, he dislikes this kind of freedom. When he got such requests in the past, he would draw up a design, but then the client would not like something about it. He needs the client to specify the basic theme.

For myself, I wanted the beauty of a Japanese tattoo more than any specific image. As with all matters related to Japan, I also desire authenticity. The intricate relationship between the images in a Japanese tattoo are beyond me--this was a job for an expert. I would make my preferences known, but ultimately, Horiyoshi III would be my guide.

I already told you that for my back, I specified a dragon with black scales, red belly and yellow dorsal fins, full size. It turned out that these would be the most detailed instructions I'd ever give Horiyoshi. Later, when it was time to fill in the dorsal fins, Horiyoshi recommended orange because "it looks cooler that way."

When it came to the front of my torso, I wanted a mixture of designs, but choosing the right combination was a job for a Japanese master. I wrote Horiyoshi a long fax that specified mainly what I didn't want: macabre, violent or religious scenes, nor humans or human creations like weapons or buildings. I asked him to help me choose a combination of images from the natural world: plants or flowers, plus real or mythical creatures with scales or feathers.

It wasn't until the day that he was to start that we discussed the design in earnest. He suggested a munewari format with chrysanthemums and two dragons. "We'll have the two dragons facing each other, the one on the right facing down, the one on the left facing up," he said, sketching on his copy of my fax. "You're tall, so for you we'll make the empty stripe down the middle wider."

He once again rummaged around in his drawer marked "Dragons," found a suitable image for the upper dragon's face, and began tattooing. The next day, he repeated with the lower dragon. Why dragons tattooed all over my body? I like how they look when rendered as tattoos. Simply, that's the real reason.

After we finished my munewari, we began discussing the design for the insides of my thighs.  Horiyoshi initially suggested images with Edo period erotic innuendo:  mushrooms on one side to represent male and a wolf on the other to represent female. I'd thus far stuck to wholesome images, but I became intrigued with the idea of branching out and acquiring something more lurid, and this was the perfect location. But meanwhile, Horiyoshi seemed to become less enthusiastic about such images for me. I pressed him, and he said he had some sketches at the other studio, where my next appointment was scheduled.

Once again, the day to start the tattoo arrived without a concrete plan. Horiyoshi III produced a file folder and laid out several sketches of couples engaged in various mischief. He had already tattooed over half the surface of my skin, yet this was the first time he presented me with a choice of flash where I would select an image, and say, "I want that tattoo."

Without seriously examining any them, I told him, "This isn't right for me. My tattoo collection does not include humans."  With some sense of relief, he immediately suggested koi (carp), and I agreed. The erotic sketches disappeared, but were not replaced with a selection of koi sketches for me to chose from. Instead, we returned to our usual arrangement:  with no further input from me, he rummaged around in his koi drawer, selected sketches that he felt were appropriate, and tattooed them onto me. I didn't even know what color they would be until I saw them in my skin.

Next up were my sleeves. We both knew that this was an extremely big deal, as I, like many Japanese tattooed people, usually conceal my tattoos. This was my first tattoo that would not be hidden by a T-shirt and short pants. We were to start the following day, and as usual I was still undecided on the design. He flashed his mischievous grin.  "John-san, it's tomorrow, you know," he chuckled, raising his voice slightly for emphasis.

For my arms, I initially considered hanafuda, Japanese playing cards. Hanafuda would make a great tattoo (as seen here) for a professional poker player, but for me, it wasn't the right theme as I really don't care for games at all. Horiyoshi did suggest an interesting approach to a hanafuda tattoo: use the symbols on the cards in a valuable hand, but render them in the tattooist's usual style, skipping the card format.

What I initially wanted for my arms was koi. No, Horiyoshi said, all the koi on your body must be contiguous. [It would've been nice to know that earlier this week when I got them on my legs!]  Another phoenix?  No, I already have the maximum of one. Tigers? Tigers have fur, not scales. Even more dragons?  Horiyoshi was unenthusiastic.

He suggested chrysanthemums and peonies. He explained that since peonies bloom in Spring and chrysanthemums in Fall, together they represent the whole year. Further, flowers can be added one by one, so I can stop at any point.  He noted that flowers already appear throughout my existing tattoos.

This sounded good. I like gardening, so flowers are meaningful to me. And as these tattoos would be seen on occasion, I wanted neutral images that broadcast no particular message.  Well, no message beyond "heavily tattooed."

So we settled on this motif. Before starting, Horiyoshi checked with me one more time, "A combination of chrysanthemums and peonies on each arm, right?"  He had never been so careful. I confirmed, repeating his words as if we were launching a torpedo.

Pushing the artwork down to my elbows, I once again crossed that line.

Horiyoshi's practice is now limited to finishing existing clients' tattoos, and we all keep him really busy.  As I have repeatedly witnessed, all new clients are politely referred elsewhere.

I'm grateful to Horiyoshi III for showing me the deeper, truer Japan that without him I never would have known.

Thank you, Marisa, for being my editor and to all of you for reading. I chose to publish on this site because this is where I could reach the most discriminating, erudite tattoo enthusiasts.

This is my final regularly scheduled guest blog. I'll reload with more stories next time I go to Japan and have more tattoo adventures. Meanwhile, feel free to friend me on Facebook.

John Mack

Previous Posts:

12:07 PM
thai tattoo monk.jpgFather Panik graces us with another tale of his tattoo adventures. This time he returns from Thailand and talks temple tattoos.

See some photos of the tattooing monks in this Flickr set.

I'm looking for meaning.
I'm walking through crowded, polluted 100-degree heat of Bangkok looking for sacred tattoos: Sak Yant. Temple tattoos, sacred Buddhist tattoos.
Tattoos created by monks and infused with holy mantras.
I'm hunting those who wear them.
They are hard to find.
There was a time in Bangkok where you saw them on every corner, on the arms necks and heads of cops, taxi drivers, soldiers, anyone who had a dangerous life.
Now, not so much.
Sure you see lots of tattoos in Bangkok, just as you would in NYC or Berlin or Tokyo.
But that's the problem. They are the same tattoos you see in every major city.
It's globalization.
Young Thais getting tattooed today want the ones they see on MTV or bootleg DVDs of LA Ink.
They don't want the tattoos worn by their fathers and grandfathers. They want to be cool.

sak yant tattoo.jpgIn a city famous for it's sex industry and Olympic level drinking, I'm looking for old cab drivers. Guys wearing tattoos that will stop bullets, protect you from knives, bring you wealth and prosperity.
Chok Dee.
So far I haven't had much chok dee. And it's fucking hot.
Still, I hunt.

For centuries, westerners have been going to Asia, finding cool stuff & bringing it back.
I am part of that tradition.
Not because I'm daring and adventurous but because I don't really "fit" in our world.
Most can find their niche at home, I cannot.
My landlord really wants me to find my niche.
I gotta pay rent. I gotta make a buck.

So like a Portuguese trader traveling the Silk Road, I find myself in Bangkok looking for meaning.
I think I can find it in sacred tattoos.
I'm probably wrong.
Something tells me that truth is not found externally.... but I'll skip the navel gazing.
I want the tattoo.


For more on Sak Yant tattoos, see this post on the Wat Bang Phra festival.
09:45 AM
horiyoshi III tattooing.jpgJohn Mack continues his weekly guest blog post on his experience getting tattooed by Horiyoshi III over the course of nine years. Check out his previous posts:  Part IPart II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII, Part IX, Part X & Part XI.

Horiyoshi III answered the phone and listened intently. "Sure, come by any time!" he told the caller. He hung up and explained to those of us in the studio, "A Dutch company is doing a television program on koi (carp) and they want some material on koi tattoos." Horiyoshi returned to tattooing me, declaring with a bemused smile, "I'll do anything for irezumi."

And he does. Horiyoshi opens his studios and techniques to anyone who can promote and enhance the art of tattooing. I already told you about the frequent visits by journalists.

Once I arrived at the studio to find Horiyoshi examining a pile of aluminum stock. I inquired what he was up to. "People do not know how to make tebori equipment that can be properly autoclaved," he explained. "So I'm going to make some and sell it so people can copy them." Indeed these tebori kits are now on sale on Horiyoshi's web site, where he writes humbly:

Nothing makes me happier than seeing the tattoo world advance. Be it tools or whatever, if I find something good, I do not want to keep it to myself. It is with this feeling that I publicize and sell this kit...

This is what I am currently using and what I think works best. Of course I do not think that my own method is the only way. People all have different ideas, and I think it would be fabulous if someone could use this as a step toward an even better design.

Another time, a guy with a computer was industriously scanning a pile of the tracing paper sketches that Horiyoshi uses as the basis for his tattoos. [I assume the images found their way into one the books of his sketches.] I asked Horiyoshi why he publishes his core intellectual property. He answered, "I want them to serve as inspiration for other artists." 

Anything for Irezumi.

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

Photo credit: Martin Hladik, Tattoo Master Magazine

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