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
tattoo statistics.png
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.

tattoo statistics 2.png
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
tattoo recognition tech.png
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.

07:12 AM
George Burchett card.pngGeorge Burchett's business card, part of Lyle Tuttle's tattoo collection.

The latest update to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB) includes the additions of two late-Victorian pioneers of professional tattooing, in an era when tattoos became popular among members of high society and royalty: Sutherland Macdonald (1860-1942) and George Burchett (1872-1953). 

Both entries were written by our friend Dr. Matt Lodder of the University of Essex. Here's just a taste from those entries:

Sutherland Macdonald began tattooing in the garrison town of Aldershot, Hampshire, as early as 1882. He was established as the first identifiable professional tattooist in England by 1889. In this year he first appeared in the London press as a fully-fledged (albeit part-time) tattooer to the general public, working out of the basement of the ornate Hamam Turkish Baths at 76 Jermyn Street--a street well known for its parade of gentlemen's clubs and fashionable shops. He was employed as the bath's superintendent, and undertook his tattooing out of hours.

Macdonald claimed to have coined the term 'tattooist', a contraction of 'tattoo artist', to distinguish his practice from that of a mere 'tattooer', which he suggested associated his new profession too closely with the workaday business of a 'plumber' or a 'bricklayer'. In 1894 the Post Office Directory for London created the category of 'Tattooist' specifically for him, under which Macdonald was the only entry for four years. Sutherland Macdonald continued working as a tattooist into his 70s. However, his pioneering career was posthumously obscured by his children who (on his death certificate) gave their father's profession not as 'tattooist' but 'Water Colour Artist'.
George Burchett was Macdonald's 'rival' artist and emerged as Britain's best-known tattooist, having first encountered the art form on a tour of Japan with the Royal Navy. Burchett made a good living producing finely rendered, beautifully detailed work that exceeded all his peers in terms of quality. Between 1914 and 1947 Burchett worked from a studio on Waterloo Road, London.

Burchett became the most famous European tattoo artist of the twentieth century, appearing so often in newspapers and magazines that he became recognizable as the archetype of his profession. By the 1930s he had amassed a client list which reputedly included Alfonso XIII, the exiled king of Spain, and Frederik IX, the rough-hewn king of Denmark. His most notorious client was the former army officer Horace Ridler, who in 1927 asked Burchett to tattoo his entire body and face with broad black stripes and swirls. He was still working in 1952 at the age of 80, tattooing ten-bob dragons and indelible make-up in premises at 125 Waterloo Road.

Read more on Burchett here and Macdonald here. The life of Macdonald is also available as an audio version via ODNB's Soundcloud page.
09:14 PM
Gakkin tattoo.jpgTattoo above by Gakkin.

I'm back to bring you the tattoo goodness after a quick break to get married and also take care of my growing tattooed belly. Reviewing the recent tattoo news felt good because there were a bunch of really positive stories focused on the art of tattooing, particularly with profiles of top tattooers around the world, so that's what I'm focusing on here. Let's get to it!

The BBC's "Japanese artist's beautiful macabre tattoos" looks at the work of Gakkin, an Instagram tattoo fave, especially for the his heavy blackwork that often combines traditional Japanese iconography. I'm also a particular fan of his work that evoke photo negatives, like this one. Gakkin told the BBC that his tattooing freehand offers "infinite possibilities" and, by drawing with ballpoint pen directly on skin, his pieces will "look beautiful on your body from any direction."

brush stroke tattoo Lee Stewart.pngAlso looking at blackwork, but with a lighter brush stroke style, Australia's Lee Stewart (whose work is shown directly above) is featured in Vice's Creators Project. Lee, who got her start tattooing in Estonia, told Vice that her work is influenced by the street art of Berlin and East Asian ink wash painting. She also shares her thoughts on abstract tattooing: "Abstract work is a great challenge of perfecting composition with balance of weight and depth, and making the flow of the piece match and compliment the general build and curvatures of the body at hand, so that the right parts of the body can be accentuated." See more of Lee's work on Instagram.

Star Wars Tattoo Chris Dingwell.jpgIn Portland, Maine, Chris Dingwell creates tattoos (like the one above) with a painterly perspective, which is highlighted in this article and video on his work. There's also an interesting tidbit behind Chris' first tattoo:

The first tattoo Dingwell ever got, as an art student, back in the early 90s was the outline of a dead squirrel.

"Of course, a lot of people, when I tell them that, they think that's really morbid," said Dingwell, "but the idea of the squirrel, what struck me about it, at the time, was that this squirrel had been killed trying to cross the road but at least he had made the attempt."

It's the same with tattoos, with art, with photos, with any kind of creative undertaking. You struggle to conjure something into the wold that wasn't there before. The effort may not get you anywhere. Your art may not stand for the ages. You may even get run over by a car. But at least, like the squirrel, you aimed for the other side of the road.

Nurse tattoo Meg McNiel.png

On the traditional tattoo tip, Meg McNiel is profiled in the Phoenix New Times as one of the city's "go-to tattoo artists." It's an extensive, in-depth feature on her life, work, and also the Phoenix tattoo scene. In it, she talks about what a "traditional" tattoo really means:

In Meg McNiel's opinion, creating a top-notch traditional tattoo just requires adhering to the same policies famous tattoo artists like Owen Jensen and Bert Grimm followed generations ago. Back in the days of WWII and the Korean War, tattooers only had access to a handful of colors. Black, brown, green, and the primary colors were the only shades of ink that existed, so those are almost entirely the only ones that McNiel will use. Most of her content consists of pinups, snakes, daggers, eagles, ships, and similarly iconic imagery.

"If you wouldn't see it on your grandpa, it's probably not a traditional tattoo," McNiel says.
fox tattoo Mo Ganji.jpgFlash forward to today's popularized contemporary tattoo styles, Berlin's Mo Ganji and his single continuous line work are featured in Metro UK.  As noted in the article, Mo will "take an idea for a tattoo, sketch out how it could be drawn without ever taking his pen off the paper, and then he tattoos his artwork all in one go." The article is mostly photos from Mo's Instagram but worth a look.

Spend some time looking through all their portfolios for great tattoo inspiration.

For more tattoo news, check these quickie tattoo news links:

* Chicago lowers tattoo age limit.

* Game of Thrones tattoos.

* "Preserve your wedding bouquet - by tattooing it on your body."
08:59 AM
tattooed mummy.pngExciting news on the ancient history of tattooing for ornament and beauty: the mummified body of an Egyptian woman who was discovered at a site on the west bank of the Nile River known as Deir el-Medina (a village dating to between 1550 B.C. and 1080 B.C.) was examined and found to have symbolic tattoos.

As reported in Live Science, Stanford University bioarchaeologist Anne Austin first thought the markings were painted on after death, but because the designs were shrunken and distorted, she examined further and found them to be tattoos. According to the article:
Together with archaeologist Cedric Gobeil, director of the French Archaeological Mission of Deir el-Medina, Austin cataloged dozens of tattoos, many of which have yet to be identified. But a number of them were recognizable and had religious significance.

"Several are associated with the goddess Hathor, such as cows with special necklaces," Austin told Live Science. "Others -- such as snakes placed on the upper arms -- are also associated with female deities in ancient Egypt."

The mummy's neck, back and shoulders were decorated with images of Wadjet eyes -- divine eyes associated with protection. The Wadjet eyes on the neck may have carried yet another layer of meaning: Additional images known as nefer symbols, "the sign of beauty or goodness," appeared between them, Austin said.
Read more and see other images here. Article via tattoo anthropologist Lars Krutak.
12:07 AM
celtic tattoo.pngFor many people who just want a tattoo, source material for a design is a tiny printout of a screen capture from Instagram. "Look how many Likes that tattoo has. I want lots of Likes! I'm gonna get that tattoo." And there's always some shop out there willing to oblige.

There's nothing inherently wrong with looking to social media for tattoo ideas, but there is so much more artistic inspiration beyond our cell phones. It can be found in grave sites, tapestries, museums, and ancient texts.

Pat Fish, known as the Queen of Knots, created a lecture for the National Tattoo Association Garden Grove convention in 2014 about historical sources as inspiration for Celtic Tattoos, and has turned it into a comprehensive video lecture for YouTube (embedded below).

With ColinFraser Purcell, Pat discusses the historical art styles of the British Isles, drawing from illuminated manuscripts, standing stones, and metal artifacts. She also covers translating primary sources into quality tattoo art as well as customizing and combining designs for personalized tattoos.

The video is a smart 25-minute educational piece, which includes side-by-side compares of ancient art as interpreted into tattoos, travel photos of potential sources, sketches highlighting common mistakes in weaving knotwork designs, and lots of other goodness.

This isn't a quick, slick "Top 10 Tattoo" Buzzfeed styled video. It's serious stuff, worth carving out time for, whether you're a tattooer or collector. The lessons also translate beyond Celtic design and offer ideas on inspiration for other artistic styles.    

For more on Pat and her work, check my Inked Icon profile on her.

05:37 PM
becca roach tattoo.jpgTattoos by Becca Roach.

The recent tattoo headlines focused on the very good and the very bad of tattooing, tattoo history, tattoo symbols, and lots of Prince tattoo tributes.

First up, Vice UK's interview piece "Tattoo Artists Tell Us About the Worst Tattoos Everyone Wants." I thought it would be your average trend piece -- we know all about those infinity symbols and arrow tattoos that flood Pinterest accounts, in the US as well as the UK. And, like those in the article, tattooers across the globe have have lamented the impact of Pinterest and Instagram on client design requests. But they are admittedly fulfilling these requests, so it just seems a little tacky to me to be publicly mocking clients while taking their money. That said, I did like reading the stories of tattoos they were most proud of.   

Vice US also had an interesting tattoo piece: "People with Face Tats Explain Their Ink."  The portraits of the tattooed subjects were honest and didn't have that "look at the freaks" feel. But I would have preferred some diversity in their subject choices. Four out of five interviewed were tattooers. So, while, they can definitely speak to general societal reactions to their facial tattoos -- which is still a big thing -- their tattoos don't have the same impact on them making a living, and in fact, could have a positive effect. To me, it's easy to say "fuck you" to society when you can afford to. Very few professions encourage people to get an AK-47 tattooed on their faces. While people in more conservative fields with facial tattoos may be harder to find for an interview, their experiences in navigating between work and expression is likely more layered and interesting.

A more in-depth tattoo artist profile on Becca Roach was a good recent read. I first learned of Becca's work when she was an artist at Senaspace in Manhattan. She's since moved to Hawaii, where she works at Queen Street Tattoo. Here's a bit on how she got her start:

I wasn't sure the traditional route of becoming a commercial or editorial illustrator was for me, so I took a job as an artist's assistant in a huge loft in Chinatown. After [having loved the work of] making art every day for three weeks, I found out that I had been getting paid in fake checks.

I was devastated and broke. I went back to tending bar and immediately started schlepping my portfolio around to different shops asking for an apprenticeship. I was turned down more times than I could count, but eventually someone said, "Maybe. Come back tomorrow." I ended up going back to that shop a few more times before they finally said yes, and soon after I started working under Elvis Crocker at New York Hardcore Tattoos on the Lower East Side. I worked there for three years before heading over to North Star Tattoo, and eventually Senaspace in SoHo. I recently moved to Honolulu, to work at Queen Street Tattoo, with a wonderful friend and tattooer from NYC as well, Steve Von Riepen.

See more of Becca's work on Instagram

The most talked about tattoo story was that of the paralympic swimmer disqualified over a tattoo. The 19-year-old paralympic swimming champion Josef Craig, who has cerebral palsy, was disqualified from a race at the IPC European Championships for failing to cover up his Olympic rings tattoo.  An International Paralympic Committee spokesman said: "Body advertising is not allowed in any way whatsoever and that includes the Olympic rings. The athlete did not wear a cover and was therefore disqualified." Craig didn't protest. He just competed again with the tattoo covered up. Mathew in our Needles & Sins FB group rightfully called out the use of "body advertising," as it pertains to Olympic athletes -- as opposed to those who get casino names tattooed on their foreheads for cash. It does seem like a huge disconnect but Olympic trademarks are heavily protected, and that likely plays a role. 

On the tattoo history tip, Buzzworthytattoo.com has a great article entitled, "The Case of an Obscure Tattooer: Prof. J.L. Hayes." In it, the life of tattoo artist James Leonard Hayes is explored. Haynes, who was tattooing as early as 1890 in Chicago, is not as well known as his contemporaries, such as Sam O'Reilly, Elmer Getchell, and Edwin Thomas, which makes this piece an especially good read. I enjoyed how writer Carmen Nyssen documents her research process, which is just as interesting.

Another fun story -- especially as I'm a fan of The Walking Dead (TWD) -- is this epic TWD backpiece. Tattoo artist Edgar Ivanov spent hundreds of hours recreating the US show's characters in this massive piece (on a client he does not name). Check more on his Facebook page.

And, of course, there were many stories on Prince tattoo tributes. My fave was the profile on one mega-fan's 20 Prince tattoos. That's a lot of purple love.

Walking Dead tattoo.jpg Tattoo by Edgar Ivanov.
07:41 AM
The Kunsten på Kroppen team low.JPGThe Kunsten pa Kroppen team hand tattooing.

Sharuzen low.JPGSharuzen tattooing.

 Meatshop low.JPGMeatshop tattoo.

The Frankfurt  Tattoo Convention has always been a fun show for me. It is HUGE, but still, the convention crew works hard to take care of its artists and attendees. They also chose interesting themes and invite artists accordingly. This year -- the 24th year! -- it celebrated a Scandinavian theme, with top artists from that region in attendance. While I wish I was in attendance this year, our friend (and fave guest blogger) Serinde enjoyed the show and is sharing her photos and thoughts in this guest blog. See more of Serinde's photos on the Frankfurt Tattoo Flickr Album.


I went "on mission" for Needles & Sins to cover the Frankfurt convention. It was a pretty easy mission to get to, considering how central the venue is in Frankfurt. So many tattoo shows require a trek to get there, but not this well established event. Plus, locations that are easy to access draw a diverse crowd. 

And the show drew a crowd. Artists and traders were all settled in the same hall, but the organizers paid attention to leave enough space between the rows so that you can always walk around without getting stuck in traffic. No bleeding people rubbing up against you!
It also was of special interest to me because of the convention's intriguing Nordic theme - as a Scandinavia lover and tattoo enthusiast, it was a natural draw. Plus, the beautiful convention poster designed by Jannicke Wiese-Hansen of Nidhogg definitely suggested something very Viking (and fun) would be going on.
There was no "Nordic event" per say, but many Scandinavian and Nordic artists had been invited. Almost all Scandinavian artists were within the same convention area, whether they worked in a Nordic/Viking style, like Meatshop from Denmark, or Nidhogg from Norway, or in a completely different style, such as Adrian Hing, Isso, and others.

Other Nordic artists were in the "traditional" area, which featured only artists using hand-tattooing techniques; among them, you could find the following studios specialized in Viking style and dotwork : Ihuda (with Tor Ola Svennevig), Kunsten pa Kroppen (with Kai Uwe Faust and Uffe Berenth), and Skin and Bone (with Colin Dale).
Durga tattoo low.JPGDurga hand tattooing.

Durga tattooing low.JPGClose up of Durga hand tattooing.

This traditional area also included Horikaze & Horimyo, Brent McCown, Durga tattoo, Ferank Manseed, Pauhi, and Bunga Terung. Hand-tattooing is always impressive, and "visual" for the visitors. It's a real show on its own, attracting attention from tattoo collectors and the press, who followed the "tap, tap, tap" sound of the tools.

It was also interesting to look at the artists using the hand-poking method, as they all have a very personal way to work - the way they hold their tools, their gestures and speed. [And while I was there, I took the opportunity for a quick session withTor Ola Svennevig.]

The Nordic theme of the convention inspired even non-Nordic artists and clients; I spotted a Viking dragon being tattooed by a French artist from Tattoo Lyon Lugh Spirit studio. But the main tattoo trend at this convention was the portrait/realistic style. The tattoo competition even had its own specific "realistic" category, which doesn't always exist in other conventions.

The contests, hosted by Daniel Krause, were also a fun component to the convention, but because I'm not fluent in German and partly because of a slight lack of information regarding the artists who made each tattoo, it was difficult to learn which artists were the winners.

All in all, after 3 days of haunting the place and watching artists tattooing non-stop like crazy, this convention left me with a very positive impression of a pleasant and interesting event.


More photos on Flickr.

Miguel Bohigues low.JPGMiguel Bohigues tattooing.

Josh Payne low.JPGJosh Payne tattooing. [Love the Leia tattoo too!]
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