03:29 PM
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polynesian tattoo.jpgThe ancestral art of Polynesian tattooing, as practiced by Steve Ma Ching, of Samoan and Chinese descent, is being honored at the Creative New Zealand Arts Pasifika Awards next week, where Steve will receive the Senior Artist award for significant contribution to reviving cultural Polynesian tattoos over the last 33 years.

Steve, who owns Western Tattoo Studio Ltd in Auckland, New Zealand, has notably tattooed famed rugby player and boxer Sonny Bill Williams; however, Steve is renowned, not just for his powerful work on sports stars, but for invigorating Samoan tatau for all those who wish to express their cultural pride.

See more of Steve's work via his Facebook albums.

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03:21 PM
symbeos rotary.jpgI often get asked what's the main thing behind tattooing's popularity today: TV shows? Fashion? Beckham?

I truly believe that it's the incredible artistic heights that we are seeing now in the craft. Maybe Rihanna's midnight tattoo sessions on TMZ play a part, but in the end, I have faith that beauty and art win out over all.

This level of artistry today is the product of certain key components: readily available information--largely via the Internet; the development of fine art skills of tattooers; and the advancement of materials and tools.

It's the tools and how they have evolved that I find particularly fascinating and cool. And so, when Eikon Device approached us about being a Needles & Sins sponsor, and spreading the word about the Symbeos Rotary Tattoo System, I thought it was a great fit.

In creating the Symbeos Rotary Tattoo System, with HM Tools & Dye, Eikon made the first ever rotary tattoo machine with the adaptability of a coil machine. The lightweight and versatile system features one machine body and a system of interchangeable components, which allows tattoo artists to make quick and easy changes to suit the machine to one's particular needs. Essentially, in this one Symbeos system, is the diverse functionality of many machines.
I hear rumors that the Symbeos Rotary Tattoo System also makes tasty fruit smoothies; however, I could only confirm from Eikon that it allows you to do the following:
  • Easily make changes without risking your current machine setup.
  • Switch out your motor to change the speed and torque.
  • Swap out your slide to adjust the give.
  • Change the stroke wheel to adjust the stroke length.
Testimonials from well-respected tattoo artists, including Horimatsu and Daemon Rowanchilde, affirm that the Symbeos Rotary Tattoo System lives up to its reputation. For example, in this video, Daemon explains to a client that the Symbeos is "gentlest, easiest to control machine ever," and also notes how a more refined machine like the Symbeos means that there will be the less irritation on the skin.

The Symbeos Rotary Tattoo System is available as a Deluxe or a Flex and is ready to tattoo -- right out of the box. Add extra Symbeos Machine Bodies to either System and build an arsenal of Symbeos Rotary Tattoo machines at a fraction of the cost of an industry standard rotary tattoo machine.
Find out more here: www.eikondevice.com/symbeos.
07:18 AM
shawn mcdonald tattoo.pngtiger and dagger tattoo.jpgmcdonald painting.jpgColorado-based tattoo artist and painter Shawn McDonald of American Standard Tattoo Gallery in Fort Collins, CO, has been on the road, doing guest spots across the country, but he took some time to play along with our Proust Questionnaire for Tattooists, the Q&A designed as an old party game -- offering some insight into one's personality, including particular affection for Scarlet Johansson. 

Shawn will be a guest artist at New York Adorned in NYC
from October 27th to 30th, and then at Mainstay Tattoo in Austin, Texas from November 13 to 16th.

I believe Shawn may still have some free spots left at NY Adorned this week, so hit them up to see if you can score some time.

Now, here's our quick & dirty Q&A:

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? 
Being uninspired, there's nothing more miserable than having no idea what to make next.

What is your idea of earthly happiness?
Those final exciting moments when a great tattoo or painting is about to completed.

Your most marked characteristic? 
I'm bryllhient!

What is your principle defect?
At times, I'm maybe too submerged into my work, not giving enough time to normal.

Your favorite painters? 
Caravaggio, Leonardo DaVinci, Angelica Kauffman, Timothy Hoyer, Mike Davis, Albrecht Durer.

Your favorite musicians?
Clint Mansell, Juicy J, Sargeist

Who are your favorite writers? 
Oscar Wilde, DaVinci, Harlen Coben

Who would you have liked to be? 
Who married Scarlet Johansson?

How would you like to die? 

See more of Shawn's work on Instagram.
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02:24 PM
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Photo by Gemma Angel

There's been a bunch of talk in the news recently about what to do with your tattoos once you're dead. The buzz largely surrounds the skin preservation offerings of the Foundation for the Art and Science of Tattooing -- the work of Peter van der Helm, owner of Walls and Skin, a tattoo and a graffiti supply shop in Amsterdam.

This isn't a new story. I posted on Peter's "preserve your tattoos" project last year, when he began working on the service, but it seems that interest has grown exponentially since then. According to The Guardian:

More than 50 people have already signed up with the Foundation for the Art and Science of Tattooing, so that after their deaths, pathologists can remove the skin carrying their tattoo, pack it in formaldehyde and send it to a laboratory where the water and fat will be removed and replaced with silicone. They then become the property of the foundation, put on display or "loaned" to family and friends of the deceased.
The Guardian also spoke to our friend Dr. Matt Lodder on the history behind tattooed skin preservation; Matt notes that there are collections of tattooed skin at museums in Krakow, Tokyo and London; however, a big difference in this case, is that "the foundation is ensuring the tattoos that are preserved are kept with the owner's permission."

For more on preserved tattoo skin, see our previous posts:
08:52 AM
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Considering just how many tattoo books have been recently published, it's interesting to see how much media attention has been focused on Pen & Ink: Tattoos and the Stories Behind Them -- a collection of illustrations by Wendy MacNaughton depicting people's tattoos along with the stories behind them. MacNaughton and editor Isaac Fitzgerald, who based the book on their Tumblr (of the same name), highlight the tattoo stories of rock stars as well as "ordinary people" in an "exploration of the decision to scar one's self with a symbol and a story."

Overall, the book's reception (from outside of the tattoo industry press) has been favorable. For one, Maria Popova had quite a positive review of the book on her Brain Pickings blog (of which I'm a huge fan). In her review, which offers extensive excerpts and illustrations from the book, Popova writes:

From a librarian's Sendak-like depiction of a Norwegian folktale her grandfather used to tell her, to a writer who gets a tattoo for each novel he writes, to a journalist who immortalized the first tenet of the Karen revolution for Burma's independence, the stories -- sometimes poetic, sometimes political, always deeply personal -- brim with the uncontainable, layered humanity that is MacNaughton's true medium.
These stories are not necessarily well received by all. As Margot Mifflin writes in her review in SF Gate, she found Pen & Ink to be "a slight and parochial collection of anecdotes that reinforces some awfully weary tattoo cliches." She explains:

One [anecdote], occupying an entire page, written by someone who wears the words "pizza party" across her toes, says only, "I really f-- love pizza." Most of the other contributors muster a paragraph or two, saying in print what you can hear on any tattoo reality show, if you must: backstories for memorial tattoos, pet tattoos, relationship tattoos and "reminder" tattoos -- those permanent Post-its bearing personalized platitudes.
The entries that do rise to the level of storytelling demonstrate how good this book could have been if the authors had just thrown their net wider. Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy tells of her beating and sexual assault by riot police in Egypt, and the image she chose as a way of reclaiming her body afterward: Sekhmet, the goddess off retribution and sex. "I'd never wanted a tattoo before," she writes, "but as sadness washed away and my anger and the Vicodin wore off, it became important to both celebrate my survival and make a mark on my body of my own choosing."
Those of us in the tattoo community like to say -- especially in light of the endless reality shows -- that not every tattoo has a story. We can get a tattoo simply because we like it, and the design itself need not be imbued with grave significance and meaning. But really, every tattoo does have a story in some way -- the story of the experience of getting tattooed. And a key component to that experience is the artist. That seems to get lost in Pen & Ink. As Margot notes, "[...] respected tattooists [are] consigned to the back pages of this collection as footnotes to bar tales, some of whom are not even identified by name, but instead by "parlor.'"

As a lawyer, I was naturally intrigued over whether the tattooists ever gave permission to have their tattoos reproduced as illustrations. As I have written about endlessly regarding tattoo copyright, tattooers generally hold the copyright to their designs, or at least share them with the client, unless those rights are otherwise transferred, licensed or assigned. I wonder if the tattooers were ever even contacted to give permission to have their artwork reproduced. [In general, the copy need not be exact, and creators could retain their rights even if their work is translated in other forms.] I'll leave an extensive legal discussion out of this post, but only wanted to mention it in the context of how this book falls short by not giving the proper credit and respect to the very reason why the book exists -- that there were tattoo artists behind every story.
Nothing in this post should be relied upon as legal advice. Obviously.
08:35 AM
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One of San Francisco's long standing and highly respected tattoo studios, Everlasting Tattoo, was recently profiled, along with owner Mike Davis, in Hoodline.com. In addition to a brief history on the studio, which has been in operation for 22 years, the article focused on Mike's fine art work and his solo show and book signing tomorrow, October 21st, at 111 Minna Gallery in San Francisco, from 6:00 pm - 10:00 pm.

Entitled A Blind Man's Journey, the book and solo show feature Mike's modern surrealist oil paintings, described by publisher Last Gasp as follows:

Surrealist painter Mike Davis captures mysterious scenes in the style of the Dutch Masters. Davis uses oil paint to create an alternate world where anything is possible, combining arcane personal symbols with social commentary. His vivid, narrative work pulls viewers into dreamscapes where they are soon lost among burning birdhouses, cannon-toting eggs, anthropomorphous insects, and skeletons holding what may be the keys to it all. Will the forlorn subjects who populate his paintings spill their secrets? What happened among the rubble and where are the travelers going? Davis' tableaus can reveal important parables to the attentive mind, but only if we study well and learn to read his visual poetry.

Mike Davis is a self-taught painter, who renders complex paintings of surrealist life, embedded with symbols of mortality, folly, and hubris, fixated within whimsical compositions. In addition to painting, Mike Davis is a musician and woodworker as well the owner of an internationally-renowned tattoo shop, Everlasting Tattoo. Davis attributes much of his inspiration to watching his mother pursue craft projects during his childhood, and immersing himself in art history throughout his career.
Buy A Blind Man's Journey on Last Gasp here and check more of his fine art work here.

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03:22 PM
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I was just trolling Tim Kern's Instagram and found this fabulous "de-resolution" tattoo that he did at the King of Tattoo Convention in Tokyo last weekend, and I had to share.

Find more on Tim via Tribulation Tattoo.
08:34 AM
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One of the largest, if not the largest, collection of Russian prison tattoo photos has recently been published by Fuel in the 256-page hardcover Russian Criminal Tattoo Police Files. The 180 photographs are just a sample of the thousands collected by Arkady Bronnikov during his 30 years as a senior expert in criminalistics at the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs. According to Fuel, as part of his duties, Bronnikov visited many correctional institutions of the Ural and Siberia regions where he interviewed, gathered information and took photographs of convicts; he also regularly helped solve criminal cases across Russia by using his collection of tattoos to identify culprits and corpses.

Text offering more information on the symbolism behind the tattoos are included in the book as well as a 48-page section printed on pink paper with texts, mug shots and criminal profiling.  View more photos here.

Vice interviewed Damon Murray, co-founder of FUEL, to talk about the book. Here's a taste:

Do you have any information about the prisoners who were photographed?
Apart from a small section at the very beginning of the book, which reproduces a number of actual police files, all the information gathered about the criminals is done by reading the tattoos on their bodies. Their crimes vary from serious cases such as murder or rape to lesser offenses like pickpocketing and burglary.

Every image carries a detailed caption explaining how individual tattoos relate to specific crimes--for example, a naked woman being burnt on a cross symbolizes a conviction for the murder of a woman. The number of logs on the fire underneath the victim denotes the number of years of the sentence.

What kind of equipment were they using to tattoo themselves?
The majority of the tattoos would have been done in a primitive, painful way. The process can take several years to complete, but a single small figure can be created in four to six hours of uninterrupted work. The instrument of choice is an adapted electric shaver, to which prisoners attach needles and an ampoule of liquid dye.

In London, there will be an exhibition of photographs from the Arkady Bronnikov collection at the Grimaldi Gavin gallery at 27 Albemarle Street, October 17th to November 21, 2014.

The book is sold exclusively on the Fuel site for 20BP (approx. $32 US).

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07:51 AM
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Building really strong tattoos, that flow from the dark and brutal to light and playful, Lionel Fahy Out of Step Tattoo in Paris has amassed an exciting portfolio that has inspired others to think differently about tattoos. You can find more of his work on Facebook and also his blog, where he often offers more (in French) on the works he shows.

After eight years with the team of Art Corpus, Lionel is moving to a new location: Sanhugi at 88 rue des Dames, Paris 17. For appointments, he's best reached at lionel.fahy at gmail.com.

Looking forward to seeing more from Lionel at his new tattoo home.

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02:58 PM
8330d1356070011-full-back-piece-thread-003-copy.jpgI love stories of body transformations, particularly large tattoo work, so I thought I'd share a piece by Brian Dunn, entitled, "Kuniyoshi Dreamin'" on Medium's Human Parts collection. 

In his essay, Brian writes on the creation of his Utagawa Kuniyoshi-inspired Japanese backpiece, tattooed by Jay Cavna in Mesa, Arizona; however, he shares more than just the process, but also the thoughts that run through one's head when making such a huge personal change:  the leap of faith with the artist, finding the right expression, dealing with the physical pain ... and how to tell your wife. Brian is a really engaging writer and uses words like "sweet, callipygian backside," so how could I not share it?

Here's a taste:

Despite not having any recent successful pain management campaigns to point to, I was confident that I would lie like a cadaver while still recognizing that what men think we're capable of is both wildly optimistic and grossly inaccurate. We consistently overestimate our ability to do everything from throwing a football over those mountains to drinking a gallon of milk in one hour. That I had zero qualms about my ability to lie perfectly still while someone carved into my dermis for hours meant nothing in the final analysis, but blind self confidence was one thing I had going for me.

It wasn't the only arrow in my quiver. If I should ever be writhing on the table and looking to bolt, I need only remind myself that nothing's more sad than an unfinished tattoo. Except the person wearing it. I've heard of tattooers who, when tattooing dragons, save the eyes for last. They claim that it's only when the eyes are done that the dragon comes metaphorically to life. No one wants to walk around with a blank-eyed, dead dragon adorning their skin. What's more, half-completed tattoos are a tangible sign of failure. What example would I be tacitly setting for my young daughter if, every time we went swimming, I ripped off my shirt to reveal her father's lack of follow through in the form of colorless peony flowers?

I also had my modest-patron-of-the-arts status to uphold. I support live jazz. I've donated to NPR. I buy the occasional art fair original work of art. When I ponied up the deposit for the tattoo a month before my first session, I wasn't just saving a slot. No, I was entering into a tacit contract with Jay to see things through to the end. Composition is crucial for large tattoos, and I was making the man fit three large animals, plus clouds and waves and flowers, onto a funky-shaped canvas complete with curves, lumps, and crannies (see buttocks). His work was markedly front loaded, and my tapping out after a session or two would render his pre-tattoo toil for naught, effectively pissing off a man who would see me naked and was at liberty to divulge to the entire shop the relative size of my genitalia.

Read more of "Kuniyoshi Dreamin'" here. And see more of Jay Cavan's tattoo portfolio on Instagram.
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