07:26 AM
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I really enjoyed this installment of the the Proust Questionnaire for Tattoo Artists with multidisciplinary artist Michael Kortez. Michael's work infuses Cubism, Pop Art, Surrealism and Traditional Tattooing styles into his own unique portfolio. You can find him tattooing at Tattoo Mania in West Hollywood, California.

For this Q&A, Michael offers some insight into the man behind the artwork.

What is your current state of mind?
Trying to be open for growth and ready for anything.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Perfect happiness is waking up everyday and doing exactly what I want to do.

What is your greatest fear?
Losing the rest of my eyesight. I use bottle cap glasses.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Which living person do you most admire?
Tattoo Godmother Shanghai Kate.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

I'm a Cancer, so my sensitivity.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?

What is your greatest extravagance?
I spend a lot of money on records, movies and Beatles Boots.

What is your favorite journey?
Traveling to Europe was a blast...I look forward to going back at some point.

What is your most treasured possession?
Pictures of my father. There are only 3 in existence.

When and where were you happiest?
Here and Now.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I would give myself a quicker wit.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Becoming a professional artist.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

The ninth circle of hell.

What is your most marked characteristic?
My enthusiasm.

Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
Holden Caulfield.

How would you like to die?
In my sleep, dreaming.

What is your motto?
EVER FORWARD...Nothing can stop you.

See more of Michael's work on Instagram.

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07:56 AM

Past posts on stick & poke tattoos -- particularly the sale of commercial stick & poke kits -- have led to some interesting debates, and I'm guessing this video on The Dirty Poke, a backyard stick-and-poke tattoo shed, will lead to one too.

The Dirty Poke was a month-long art show/tattoo shop in a converted tool shed in Mount Washington, Los Angeles.  On Sundays, the artists gave hand-poked, as well as machine, tattoos of "imagery related to the rustic side of LA Life."

A lot of what you see in the video are those hipster "I don't care if it's dumb and shitty" tattoos, and the artists featured, Matthew Johnson and Joel Kyack, take an irreverent approach to tattooing, which may annoy some, particularly when Matt characterizes tattoos as bad decisions.

Like many who preach the democratization of tattooing through stick & pokes, Joel talks about how anyone can do a handpoke and how he teaches others by using his body as their scratchpad. There's no discussion of health and hygiene, but that doesn't make for a fun video anyway. And whatever you think of the discussion, the video is pretty fun, and Super Deluxe did a good job with it. Worth a look.

For a more serious look at hand tattooing and some artful examples, check this post on Handpoke Tattoo: 23 Artists' Words and Ink.
09:41 AM
HR Giger Empire State Tattoo.jpgThe NY Empire State Tattoo Expo kicks off tomorrow, and I'm excited to take my baby bump over there to have fun at the show (not working! yeah!). It'll also be my husband's first tattoo convention -- he's already studied "How Not To Get a Tattoo at a Convention" - and so I'm lining up a list of highlights, kind of like a convention plan of attack.

The first thing on my attack list is to view the art of one of tattooing's greatest artistic influences: H.R. Giger. While his legacy in pop culture is his acclaim for designing the Alien creature, for the tattoo community, he inspired a whole stylistic genre: biomechanical tattoo design -- art that conveys man and machine fused in surrealist dreamscapes.

The H.R. Giger works on view will be Harkonnen Chair, the Nubian Queen, and the Birthmachine Baby sculptures.

On the last day of the show, Sunday, July 17th, at 5pm, there will be a contest for the best H.R. Giger Inspired Tattoo (like the one shown below). The prizes are stellar: 
1st Place Winner will receive the Tattoo Biomechanoid, a Limited Edition Giger sculpture; and the 2nd Place Winner will receive the Tattoo Biomechanoid Ring, also designed by Giger.

Once we've checked Giger off our convention To Do list, we'll be checking out the other tattoo competitions, viewing portfolios of the top artists in attendance, and buying lots of cool stuff (including tattoo baby clothes!). For tattoo artists, the seminars are a must-see, with the very best in the industry sharing their secrets. 

I'll be posting photos from the show on my Instagram and later on the blog. Hope to see you there!

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H.R. Giger inspired tattoo by Paul Booth.
07:47 AM
ancient tattoos.pngSome interesting news on the ancient tattoo front: a new study found that 3,000-year-old chips of volcanic glass were used to tattoo in the South Pacific -- and these tools may offer greater insight into ancient tattooing practice. 

The study, recently published in the August 2016 Journal of Archaeological Science, is entitled "Detecting early tattooing in the Pacific region through experimental usewear and residue analyses of obsidian tools," and conducted by Nina Kononenkoa, Robin Torrencea, and Peter Sheppard.

Live Science breaks the study down:

The scientists analyzed 15 obsidian artifacts recovered from the Nanggu site in the Solomon Islands. (Obsidian is a dark natural glass that forms when lava cools.) The creators of these artifacts, which are at least 3,000 years old, reshaped naturally occurring obsidian flakes so that each possessed a short, point on its edge, the researchers said. To create a tattoo, the surface of the skin must be broken so that pigment can be embedded and thus remain under the skin permanently after the wound heals. In 2015, the researchers performed 26 tattooing experiments with pigskin, using black charcoal pigment and red ochre dye, over the course of about four months. They used obsidian tools that copied the size and shape of the ancient artifacts from Nanggu.

When the scientists compared the ancient Nanggu artifacts with those used in the experiments, they found that both sets of tools had similar signs of wear and tear, such as microscopic chipping, rounding and blunting of the edges, and thin scratches. They also detected residues of blood, charcoal and ochre on the Nanggu artifacts.

"The research demonstrates the antiquity and significance of human body decoration by tattooing as a cultural tradition amongst the earliest settlers of Oceania," Torrence said.

On Ancient-origins.net, there's further discussion of the study, including on the types of tattooing techniques in the islands: "One was to make incisions and rub pigment into the skin. Another was to sketch the design on the skin in charcoal or ochre pigments and then make incisions. Another was to pierce the skin, either with the pigment on the point of the tool or on the skin."

For further reading regarding tattooing on the Solomon Islands, Ancient Origins also points to our friend Lars Krutak, tattoo anthropologist, and his article online entitled The Art of Nature: Tattoo History of Western Oceania. While you're on Lar's site, you can check more on ancient as well as contemporary tattooing.
07:04 AM
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Our friend Demetra Molina of The Hand of Fate Tattoo wrote a great primer called "How to Get a Tattoo at a Tattoo Convention," following her time at Art Tattoo Quebec (where she got tattooed by Kaija Heightland, as shown above).

A number points that Demetra lists are common courtesy and common sense acts, but after seeing some very bad behavior at conventions worldwide over the years, it definitely warrants mentioning.

It's this bad behavior that has inspired me to add to Demetra's list, but more in the vein of how NOT to get a tattoo at a show.

* Don't price compare: Going from booth to booth, asking artists to price the Pinterest tattoo on your phone screen to get the best deal will not just get you a bad tattoo, it may just get you smacked. Even setting aside the "Good tattoos ain't cheap, cheap tattoos ain't good" ethos, conventions aren't Priceline, where you and William Shatner can name your own price. I watched a kid at one of the Milan tattoo shows almost get ejected from trying to haggle a price of a neo-tribal down a convention row. Don't be that guy.

* Don't be ashamed of your budget:  It's cool to be upfront about your budget and ask what the artist can do in that budget (if reasonable). I had a friend who wanted so badly to get tattooed at last year's Empire State Convention as a souvenir of his first show, but only had $150. He wanted an Americana piece and approached artists who were doing walk-up flash to see if he can get anything for what he could afford. I watched the first artist he approached (in a respectful way) be a total dick and scoff at doing anything for that budget. [I won't name the artist but I will never recommend him again.] Convention booths are very expensive, so it is completely reasonable for artists to have a minimum to make up the costs of the show (and travel, etc).  Not reasonable, however, to be an asshole about it. My friend eventually found a great artist to work within his budget and has gone back to the same artist for more work since.

* Don't expect the drawing in advance of your appointment: As Demetra writes on the design process, "Some artists will prefer to do a pre-drawing and use a stencil, others might free hand a design directly on skin with markers." It's natural to want a peak of your custom design if the artist will be sketching out your work in advance of the appointment, but many artists will not email or hand you the design prior to meeting and that's because there are too many shady people who will pay a small deposit, have a top artist design the tattoo, and then they'll cancel the actual tattoo appointment and bring the design to a cheaper artist. Who would do such a thing? LOTS! In fact, I know first hand of one tattooer who did it to another (for a facial tattoo!). So keep that in mind if you're asked to wait until the convention to get a look at the design.

* Don't be drunk at your appointment. Demetra mentions the No Booze rule for clients. I'm mentioning it for artists. I was once told, "Tattoo conventions are the best places to get the worst tattoos by the best artists." And that can be very true. Conventions are a party. That's why I love them. But if someone is throwing down a lot of cash to get tattooed by you, at least wait to go wild at the final after-party when there's no work the next day. Of course, if you're in the hotel room giving each other free drunken tattoos, well, then you're clear, ethically.

* Don't come with your squad. Despite being expensive for artists, convention booths are often really small and can barely accommodate you, the artist and supplies. They cannot accommodate your crew. Roll twenty deep at the club later on.

* Don't let your Selfie Stick come between you and the tattoo. Your primary goal is to get a good tattoo, not more Snapchat followers. Save your rainbow puke filters until after your session.

* Don't be too serious. You're getting a tattoo! Yeah! Don't worry about being too cool, too tough, too artsy, too whatever. Enjoy the process and also enjoy the show. Smile. Make friends. Make eye contact with that cutie. Maybe you'll take something more than a tattoo home.

What's your tattoo show advice? Share on our Needles & Sins FB group or Tweet at me.
12:03 PM
bigboypinups.pngBig Boy Pinups above by Jamie August.

There have been some really fun & interesting recent tattoo headlines that I'm excited to share, from the heart warming to head shaking, pin-ups to penis tattoos. Take a look ...

First up, I'm loving the Big Boy Pinups (shown above) by Jamie August of Blue Lady tattoos in Melbourne. Instinct Magazine featured her work this weekend, highlighting her reinvention of classic Sailor Jerry flash, morphing designs from buxom to brawny. Jamie keeps to the "bold will hold" traditions with a sense of humor and wink. She has some flash-styled prints for sale online here.

Moving from pin-ups to penises, yesterday, Vice posted "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Penis Tattoos," which is exactly as you would imagine. I was impressed that the subject was handled seriously. I would have been tempted to throw in too many sad jokes. And I actually learned some things:
  • An "informal survey" of NYC tattoo studios found that most artists here will not tattoo penises, and if they do, they would charge a sizable "handling fee."
  • You do not need an erection to get a penis tattoo.
  • There often isn't a huge difference in the look of the tattoo when they are hard or soft.
  • Tattooer Luke Wessman has a penis tattoo that says, "Hubba hubba." He also has done one penis tattoo and advises other artists "to factor in the whole accordion feature" when doing these tattoos.
  • Laser removal of a penis tattoo is excrutiating, but you don't need that many sessions because it's near the lymphatic system.
There ya go. Don't you feel smarter knowing all this?

In more serious news, a new "Safer Tattoo" public awareness campaign in Germany has recently been launched by members of the Federal Tattoo Association (BVT) in Berlin and Consumer Affairs Minister Christian Schmidt. Minister Schmidt is also advocating for Europe-wide regulations on chemical substances in tattooing, which has been getting more attention on the European-wide level, with calls for greater safety studies of tattoo inks. According to DW.com, "Both Schmidt and the BVT are calling for the introduction of professional certification for tattoo artists in Germany. Currently, tattoo artistry is not a state-recognized vocational career which means its practitioners are not required to undergo training." A fun data point in the article (although the source is not mentioned): "Over six million people in Germany have tattoos and almost 25 percent of people under 30 have one."

In Vietnam, Hanoi is experiencing a "tattoo renaissance," according to Channelnewsasia.com. This feature is inspired by Hanoi's first tattoo festival, which took place this weekend. A video report accompanies the article and shows a packed convention floor, with artists working in a variety of styles and close-ups on some impressive large-scale pieces. As the article notes, in Vietnam, tattooing is legal but there are no specific regulations or licenses that govern tattooing and it is largely self-regulated. Read more for first-hand accounts of local Hanoi tattooists talking about their industry.

JR-Tattoo-Tee_large.jpgOn the ridiculous front, Cleveland-based company Fresh Brewed Tees did a mock-up shirt featuring basketball star J.R. Smith's tattooed torso as a joke. Well, the shirt went viral and in-demand, leaving the company no choice but to sell it to the public (for $34.99). [See above.] But despite the humor behind it all, they were smart about it. They got permission from Smith and his tattooist Jayme "Bone" Faulkner of Flaming Ink Tattoos in Los Angeles, who did most of Smith's chest. [Smith's back was done by another artist, but Smith said that artist had died.] Two logo tattoos had to be obscured though. Yup, they definitely had lawyers in on this so the joke won't be on them.   

Finally, on the heartwarming tip, this story got tons of traction in news outlets and across social media, but in case you haven't seen it, check this beautiful story of how one father got a scar tattoo to match his son's very real brain surgery scar. Eight-year-old Gabriel Marshall was feeling "like a monster" due to the large scar left on the side of his head after an operation to remove a brain tumor, and so his father Josh got a tattoo to mirror the scar "to take away some of the stares or attention from him." The tattoo went viral after Josh won the annual Best Bald Dad contest, held by St. Baldrick's, a childhood cancer charity. A great story story and a much deserved win.

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07:39 AM

On social media, this wonderful video on a woman "coming out" to her parents about her tattoos is making the rounds these days, even though it was published back in September. I missed it then, so I'm glad it's still being shared. It's a fun, beautifully produced This American Life piece, and its message resonated a lot with me.

Back when I first started writing about tattoos online, about 13 years ago, there was much more discussion about dealing with family disapproval of tattoos and seeking acceptance from them. Today, of course, the more common discussion is what Mother-Daughter tattoo to pick out on Pinterest.

But that fear of disapproval still exists. In the film, Maggie, a heavily tattooed daughter of conservative Christians, frets over her what her parents' reaction will be when they find out about her tattoos. This video is the the big reveal to them (complete with choir songs and a priest weighing in). You can see just how nervous this adult woman is to share something so personal and important to her. I got it. I was Maggie. Sometimes I'm still Maggie.  

As a daughter of a conservative Greek father, the big question that has hung over my head since birth is Ti tha pei o kosmos? that is, What will people think?" My dad was a ship captain and would say, "Captains don't get tattoos, sailors get them." Sailors and whores. My parents spent a lot of time and money educating me so that I'd be held in societal regard here in the US. The irony is not lost that I became a lawyer, the most hated profession in the country. Add the whole tattoo layer over that, and their princess wound up a pariah.

The tattoos are a big part of who I am, though. Tattoos were the first time I felt that I really did something solely for me. It was how I wanted to look, not what I was expected to look like. Tattoos were very real steps in being an individual, separating myself from a tight feta-eating clan.

I love my feta-eating clan, and it was hard disappointing them. But they love me too. And, when they realized how much happier I was being part of this art (among my other "weird" passions), they got over what others would think [well, mostly].  Before they could do that, though, I had to really show love to myself first. [*Cue Whitney Houston ballad.*]

I wanted to share this video on Maggie because its cool, and because it got me thinking a lot about self-acceptance. With NYC Pride weekend kicking off today, the timing seems right too. It really is a time to celebrate love, whomever you chose to love, just as long as you show some love to your own fine self.
07:06 AM
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Last week, Dermatology medical journal published "Skin Care in the Tattoo Parlor: A Survey of Tattoo Artists in New York City," which shares some interesting findings on the role that tattooists play in providing skin care advice, and concludes that there is "great potential for collaboration between dermatologists and tattooists."

Researchers at NYU School of Medicine's Department of Dermatology conducted an online, survey-based study of 90 licensed tattooists in New York City, and asked them about their observations of adverse tattoo reactions, advising on removal and reworking tattoos, preexisting skin conditions and aftercare, confidence in addressing client questions about reactions and preexisting conditions, and prior training about skin conditions related to tattoos. The abstract summarizes the findings as follows:

Most tattooists (92.8%) reported being asked by clients to evaluate adverse tattoo reactions, 85% were asked about tattoo removal, and 90% were asked about the safety of getting a tattoo with a preexisting skin condition. About half (56.1%) had received training about skin conditions related to tattoos. Tattooists with prior training reported higher rates of optimal skin care behaviors and higher confidence with tattoo-related skin conditions; 91.4% reported interest in skin care education.
Tattooists play a major role in the skin health of their clients. Providing education for tattooists may improve skin care in populations less likely to see a dermatologist.
Read the full study for the breakdowns.

The article notes that, as the survey was of licensed professional studios, it may not reflect that experience of those tattooing illegally, where there's increased risk of infection and hepatitis C transmission. It's also unlikely that scratchers are giving full and proper tattoo aftercare advice.

I think it's great that more collaboration among tattooists and dermatologists is being touted. Many of us remember having to deal with very negative responses by doctors to our tattoos before its explosive popularity, so this is further movement in a positive direction.

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01:09 PM
prosthetic tattoo arm.pngJC Sheitan Tenet and his prosthetic. Photo: Chriz Yvac aka Lady C/JC Sheitan Tenet.

If you didn't catch Serinde's post in our Facebook group, check this video (embedded below) of French artist JL Gonzal, who took an existing prosthesis of tattooist JC Sheitan Tenet and created a tattooing prosthetic arm. JL wrote on in his Facebook page that the machine can be adjusted to JC's tattooing needs.

Vice offers more on how it works:

To enhance the prosthetic, Gonzal first fixed the tattoo machine to it. He made sure that the whole thing was light enough for Tenet to lift with ease, and ensured it would move 360 degrees when he wore it, and that the machine's electric cord didn't interfere with his tattooing. The hybrid tattoo machine combines parts from a sewing machine and a record player, and sports a Terminator-esque aesthetic.

Currently, Tenet uses his shoulder to move the prosthetic tattoo machine, but in the future, he wants to enhance the prototype to incorporate wrist-like movements, and eventually finger movements.

"What started out as a sculpture is now something that I can use," said Tenet. "[Gonzal and I] understood that we didn't have to recreate a hand as a prosthetic; we just had to create a tool that is better than a hand."

08:36 AM
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Last week, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) released "5 Ways Law Enforcement Will Use Tattoo Recognition Technology": a look at a program to accelerate tattoo recognition technology and concerns for privacy, free expression, religious freedom, and the right of association.

As EFF explains, federal researchers at the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), in conjunction with the FBI, set forth the "Tattoo Recognition Technology Challenge" or Tatt-C; as part of that, a giant dataset of prisoner tattoos was gathered and then divvied it out to biometric companies, research institutions, and universities. They were asked to run five experiments to show how well their algorithms could match tattoos under various circumstances. The tests included tattoo detection, tattoo identification, region of interest, mixed media, and tattoo similarity. In the article, EFF points out how problematic these tests can be:
One of the most worrisome applications of tattoo recognition technology is its potential ability to reveal connections or shared beliefs among a population. For example, rather than matching a particular tattoo of a crucifix with an individual, police could run the image of a crucifix through a database to produce a long set of people with similar cross tattoos. This essentially means police would be able to create lists of people based on their religion, politics, or other affiliations as expressed by their tattoos.
This type of tattoo matching could sweep up fans of the same bands or members of the same labor union or military unit. This application has a high likelihood of generating false positives--matching someone whose tattoo may be visually similar, but not actually symbolically similar. That could result in people being improperly associated with groups, such as gangs, with which they have no actual affiliation.

Law enforcement primarily wants to use this technology to identify members of gangs and hate groups, who often use coded symbols to express their affiliation. But that's not necessarily what NIST researchers focused on during Tatt-C's "Tattoo Similarity Experiments," which tested how well algorithms could match different tattoos with similar visual features. Many of the images NIST asked participants to analyze were religious symbols--often Catholic iconography, such as hands holding rosaries and Jesus Christ's crucifixion.

This should raise bright red flags for those concerned about religious freedom, especially in light of how authoritarian governments have used tattoos to oppress religious minorities. Nazi Germany's use of tattoos to track Jews during the Holocaust comes to mind. Indeed, the six-pointed Star of David was one of the images used during the NIST experiments. However, in that case, the star also serves as the symbol of the Gangster Disciples, a Chicago street gang. So even when law enforcement is attempting to use tattoos to investigate gangs, people who are simply expressing their religion could be labeled as affiliates of criminal gangs.

For an in-depth look into the technology and EFF's take on it as regards privacy and First Amendment rights, read the entire piece here.

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