Gallows as we think of them today usually consist of two upright posts and a crossbeam from which a rope with a noose at the end hangs, usually with a trapdoor that will open, or something for the hanged person to stand on that gets pushed or kicked out from under them. But this traditional version of the gallows was not documented until 1760 in England.
Gallows throughout history also refer to crucifixion during the Romans rule, and in the Middle Ages in Paris a square structure with wooden columns from which people would hang in the elements before being dropped into a pit to die.
Gallows in their most notable form are meant to break the persons spine, killing them instantly, but often people died by strangulation or even beheading. Until 1832 in England many people were hanged by being drawn up from the platform by a heavy weight, causing death by strangulation which would have been very slow and painful.
Public hangings were very popular and were even treated as good old entertainment for the whole family. In fact, the last public hanging in the United States was only in 1936, with the last public hanging in the United Kingdom taking place in 1868.
As a tattoo, gallows are often done in heavy blackwork, pointillism or dotwork, American traditional, or black and grey. Gallows tattoos are popular with people interested in the more macabre side of life, and many artists who create darker imagery use gallows as a common theme.
For those who are unfamiliar, the guillotine is a device made for execution by beheading. The structure consists of a tall wooden frame from which a razor sharp and heavy blade hangs ready to fall on its victim who is placed in a stock of sorts, leaving the neck exposed and ready to be separated from its body.
The guillotine as we know it was allegedly invented by Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin as a more humane way to execute people. It was significantly quicker than even regular beheading by axe which could be easily botched and would often take two or more swings to finally kill the victim. This specific name “guillotine” dates back to 1789, France, but similar devices with different structural designs existed for centuries before; such as the “planke” in Germany and Flanders dating back to the Middle Ages, and the “Halifax Gibbet” in England which may have been used as far back as antiquity. But the French guillotine design was specifically based off of two other existing execution devices; the “mannaia” from Italy during the Renaissance, and the “Scottish Maiden” from Scotland which was used from the 16th to 18th centuries.
Dr. Guillotin was apparently horrified when the device was named after him, and his family even tried (and failed) to have the name changed in the early 19th century. The French Guillotine claimed its first victim in April 1972, and its last use was in France in 1977 where it was still the main method of execution until capital punishment was stopped in 1981. While hundreds of thousands of people met their bloody end underneath the glinting blade of a guillotine, the most infamous time of its usage was during the French Revolution which took place from September 1793 – July 1794. During this relatively short time a shocking 16,594 people were executed by the guillotine in France, with 2,639 in Paris alone.
Public beheadings existed from the beginning of the French Revolution until 1939 in France, but during the Revolution it was extremely popular for anyone, including families to check out an execution and even grab a bite to eat at the famous “Cabaret de la Guillotine” before watching the bloodbath. There was even a well known trio of women called the “Tricoteuses,” who used to sit next to the guillotine and knitted in between executions. Theatrics even became popular for those being executed with some dancing on their way up the steps, and others offering jokes and sarcastic remarks before their heads rolled away.
As tattoos, guillotines are popular with those interested in the darker side of life and history buffs alike. They are easily recognizable and can be done in many styles including American traditional, neo-traditional, black and grey, blackwork, and woodblock print styles. They are often accompanied by decapitated heads, skulls, flowers, flames, and blood.
The tanuki is an animal found mainly in Japan, as well as other parts of Asia. It’s sometimes called a raccoon dog in English, and is related to wolves, foxes, and domestic dogs, and has a vaguely raccoon-like appearance.
While the tanuki is a real animal, it is usually depicted as a creature with magical powers in Japanese folklore. It’s usually seen wearing a straw hat, holding a bottle of sake, with a large belly, happy or mischievous facial expression, and extremely large testicles (which, according to legend can stretch large enough to create sails for a boat).
Tanuki’s are mischievous creatures and enjoy playing pranks on humans and tormenting them. One way they do this is by transforming themselves into happy looking Buddhist monks, then mocking and imitating the humans during ceremonies to both confuse and delight.
They also enjoy transforming into tax collectors or police officers and showing up at peoples homes at odd times, accusing them of made-up crimes or pressuring them into paying additional or fraudulent taxes.
As a tattoo tanuki are usually done in a traditional Japanese style, sometimes accompanied by flowers or other creatures. Neo-traditional and black and grey are also popular styles for tanuki, and are sometimes only shown as a happy face instead of the full body.
The Grinch; one of Christmases most beloved fictional characters is also a popular choice for holiday themed tattoos.
The Grinch was created in 1957 by Dr. Seuss for his book “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” This was followed by the animated adaptation in 1966, starring Boris Karloff as the voice of The Grinch and the narrator. While there were a number of other adaptations created, the next most well-known version was the live-action musical film from 2000, starring Jim Carrey as the Grinch.
The Grinch is a popular character for many, and for different reasons. For some it’s the heart warming ending in which The Grinch rights his wrongs and becomes a part of the Who community, but for others its his earlier persona that makes him so popular. His Christmas hating, gift stealing, Who scaring personality makes him both amusing and sometimes relatable, as Christmas can be a difficult time of year for many.
As a tattoo, The Grinch is often created in a more realistic style, but neo-traditional, new school, black and grey, and old school are also options for the wearer.
Did you know that Jim Carrey had to spend 92 days in his Grinch costume and make-up? It took about three hours every day to get ready in make-up, and he had to get special training from a CIA trainer (who teaches CIA operatives how to endure torture) to be able to manage the oppressive costume and make-up which was reportedly “literally like being buried alive everyday.” The actors and extras who played Whos had to go to a special Who-School to learn how to properly behave and act as a Who, mainly through choreography. Actor and singer Taylor Momsen (Gossip Girl and The Pretty Reckless) got her start playing Cindy Lou Who, where she did a great job both acting and singing.
Galina is a vintage non-electric (hand poke) tattoo artist based out of Moscow (though she does guest spots world wide when she’s able to).
Her work is largely inspired by old school tattoos done in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, which includes lady heads, portraits, weapons, animals, etc.
Galina’s work is primarily inspired by both Russian and French prison tattoos, again mainly from the 18-1900’s.
Along with more old school work, Galina also does great geometric work, particularly on fingers for full hand pieces. Because the work is hand poked it allows her to do more detailed work then a machine could do, particularly in such a small space as a hand.
Most of her work is done without colour, but if you’re wanting some red thrown into the mix she can do that for you. Many people think hand poked tattoos have to be small, with very little detail, but Galina is proof that hand poked pieces can still be big and bold. If you’re visiting Russia Galina is a must visit artist! And pay attention to her Instagram to find out her guest spot dates.
Black out tattoos have been growing in popularity over the last few years, with some people even getting full body suits in this style.
Black out tattoos are exactly what they sound like, large amounts of black ink as the subject, sometimes covering older existing tattoos.
Some black out tattoos also feature some geometric style work mixed in, or white ink over top of the black.
Many black out tattoo collectors do it in part for the experience of getting the tattoo, as a full blackout (especially as a coverup) can be very painful, creating an almost spiritual experience for the person getting tattooed.
Most artists who do black out tattoos specialize in it, as it’s not actually all that easy to make a full sleeve or torso look even in its blackness, especially when the piece is done in multiple sessions.
Sak Yant tattoos are well known to tattoo lovers as a mainly Thai Buddhist form of tattooing. “Sak” means “to tap” or “to tattoo”, and “yant” comes from the Sanskrit word “yantra” which has many meanings. Usually referring to a “machine”, “instrument” or “apparatus”.
Most people who have heard of Sak Yant tattoos are familiar with them because of their tie to Thai culture, but this specific form of tattoo actually comes from the Khmer people of Cambodia.
Sak Yant tattoos are very closely tied to religion and spirituality, mainly Buddhism. Most Sak Yant tattoos are performed by Buddhist monks at a temple where they can bless the tattoo properly. But the Sak Yant designs are becoming so popular that tattoo artists are doing them, just without the blessing or spiritual connectedness that accompanies the tattoo when done by a monk.
Much of the script featured in Sak Yant designs come from Buddhism and are meant to be a chant or a mantra. This is why it’s important to research what kind of Sak Yant you would like, as they all carry different meanings.
While Sak Yant pieces can be for anyone to wear, it’s important to understand the religious and cultural significance of the piece, and make sure you are getting the tattoo in a respectful way, including the placement of the piece. Since Sak Yant’s are largely Buddhist, it can be seen as highly disrespectful to tattoo the design anywhere below your waist, particularly if it includes a design featuring Buddha.