Tattoo History 13: Doc Forbes

Doc Forbes is one of the most famous early tattoo artists in Canadian history, having learned the craft from Frederick Baldwin, the first tattoo artist in Canada to use an electric tattoo machine, in the 1920’s. 

Doc Forbes showing his sleeves off, from Classic Tattoo Appreciation
1966 heart by Curly Allen on Hasting street .. and 1967 swallow and rose by Doc Forbes at Ace Tattoo on Davies Street

Doc Forbes trained under numerous brilliant artists including Pat Martynuik from San Francisco. Much of Doc’s work can be found in Lyle Tuttle’s collection, although unfortunately Doc suffered a stroke in the early 70’s which led to severe depression, which in turn led to him destroying a lot of his work. 

Doc Forbes tattooing a sailor around 1965 while his buddies look on. From vintage tattoo photo archive
Doc Forbes with a young man from the Navy that he tattooed. Picture from New York Tattoo History

Doc Forbes tattooed in the classic old school American traditional style, and most notably worked near the navy base in Victoria, and then on Davies Street right in Vancouver from the 1960’s through to the 1970’s. He died in 1977 on Lyle Tuttle’s birthday; October 10th. Though Doc was a pioneer of old school tattooing in Canada, he also performed medical tattoos on burn victims, and cosmetic tattooing on women’s lips and eyebrows. 

1960’s pink panther by Doc Forbes
Doc working on a woman’s back from Classic Tattoo Appreciation

Doc tattooed everyone, but his main clientele was young men in the Navy who often got classic military and navy designs such as eagles, skulls, roses, ships, and lover’s names. 

Doc tattooing a young woman’s chest, from Docks Weird Years
Leg sleeves in progress by Doc, from New York Tattoo History

A brilliant documentary about Doc can be seen here on CBC’s website. Made in 1964, and entitled “The Diary of a Tattooist,” the short documentary and interview features CBC host Harry Mannis visiting Doc in his shop in Victoria. Numerous people are tattooed in the short film including a mother of four, a man in his 80’s, a close friend of Doc’s, and two sailors. Throughout the documentary Doc talks about hygiene and safety in tattooing, how he makes his colours, the technicality of running the machine, who his clientele are, and much more.

$18 for the pair on a man before he joined the navy
Doc tattooing Lyle Tuttle

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Black Sabbath Tattoos:

For lovers of alternative music it’s pretty much common knowledge that Black Sabbath’s 1970 debut album “Black Sabbath” marked the beginning of heavy metal as we now know it. There were distinct differences from rock including references to the occult in the lyrics, Ozzy’s style of singing, the heavier sound of the guitars, and loud, fast thundering drums. Put together it all sounds quite dark and sinister, which is part of why we still love it so much today.

Black Sabbath cross done by wolfirish_tattoo
Black work Henry done by Riley Borne in Portland Oregon

The original members of the English metal band include guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, drummer Bill Ward, and most famously, vocalist Ozzy Osbourne. Though the band has also seen many lineup changes, most notably vocalist Ronnie James Dio after Ozzy was kicked out of the band for substance abuse.

Cross piece done by Else Mau
A black work portrait of Ozzy done by Blake at Hot Stuff Tattoo

The band previously had other names, including “Earth.” The bands manager wanted them to change the name because it was too generic, so Butler suggested changing their name to Black Sabbath after the song they had written. He was big into both the occult and horror movies, as was Iommi, and they thought the name fit the sound of the band at the time. The name for both the song and band was thought up by Butler, and was inspired by Mario Bava’s 1963 Boris Karloff horror anthology.

A realistic portrait of Ozzy done by Shaks in Bexhill UK
A bright and bold Henry done by Aliki at Below Zero Tattoo in Florida

After hearing the riff of what became “Iron Man,” Ozzy said that it sounded “like a big iron bloke walking about.” Geezer Butler took that a step further and wrote the lyrics as the story of a man who time travels into the future, and witnesses the apocalypse. While returning to the present, a magnetic field turns him into steel. He is rendered mute, unable to verbally warn people of his time in the future and of the Earth’s impending destruction. Because his attempts to communicate are ignored and mocked, it causes Iron Man to become angry, and drives his revenge on mankind, causing the destruction seen in his vision. Another fun song fact is the coughing heard at the beginning of “Sweet Leaf,” is guitarist Tony Iommi. He had been smoking a joint in the studio given to him by Ozzy Osbourne. The title of the song was taken from a packet of Irish cigarettes which said “It’s the sweet leaf,” and refers to cannabis, which the band was using frequently.

Inverted cross done by Libby Guy at the Illustrated Man, Sydney Australia
Black and grey album art done by Edvin at Crooked Moon Tattoo

Some popular Black Sabbath tattoos include portraits of the band members (mostly Ozzy), album art, crosses, and “Henry” the bands devilish logo. Mostly done in black and grey, black work, or old school styles. Though realism, neo-traditional, and pointillism also make for awesome pieces!

Black work heart by Rodrigo Burnout in São Paulo
Ozzy’s head with a vampire bat done by Kalo at Spider Web Tattoo in Berlin

What’s your favourite Black Sabbath song? Do you have any Sabbath tattoos?

Butterfly Lady Tattoos:

Combining classic old school portraits of ladies and the wings of butterflies has long been a staple in old school tattooing. Flash from such legends as Bert Grimm, Ben Corday, and others from the 1800’s and 1900’s featured variations of the designs below, and more.

Back design done by Kasper_ftw in Seoul South Korea
Black and grey chest piece done by Rich Hardy in the UK

Portraits of women are one of the most popular images in tattooing, as are butterflies. Combining the two beautiful designs makes sense, and can form an elegant tattoo that stands the test of time.

Black work back piece featuring a butterfly lady atop a skull, alongside two at the bottom done by Paul Dobleman at Black Heart Tattoo in California
Butterfly lady head done on the hand by Reuben Todd at Kapala Tattoo in Winnipeg, Manitoba

One of the most popular ways for this design to be tattooed is a woman’s head with butterfly wings sprouting from behind, to the left and right.

Stomach butterfly lady head done by Francesco Ferrara in Rome
Butterfly lady atop a heart done by Blair Maxine Mckenna in Perth Australia

These butterfly ladies can also be seen more like fairies, with the bodies of women and butterfly wings.

Butterfly lady with a hidden face done by Capilli Tupou at Sunset Tattoo in Auckland New Zealand
Black work butterfly lady head done by Kim-Anh Nguyen-Dinh at Seven Seas in the Netherlands

Old school American traditional is the most common style for this design, but black work, black and grey, and Neo-traditional are also popular.

Black and grey butterfly woman done by Jade Harper at House of the Rising Sun Tattoo in Winnipeg
Butterfly lady head on the chest done by naughtyjam_tattooer in Taipei, Taiwan

Do you have a butterfly lady on yourself?

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Artist of the Month: Moon Cheon

Moon Cheon is a tattoo artist working out of Kodzunak in Seoul, South Korea. Cheon, tattoos traditional Korean motifs in various styles.

Beautiful traditional woman on the hand
Freehand river and flower sleeves

Most of Cheon’s work is done freehand in a more loose style that closely resembles an ancient Chinese style of painting called “Xieyi” or “写意.” This is mostly used for landscape paintings, and Cheon follows this style by applying this technique to land and waterscape tattoos, often including free flowing rivers and flowers.

Korean eagle as part of a sleeve
Black work freehand river

Cheon also does delicate black and grey tattoos of Korean and East Asian animals, mythical creatures, and Gods and Goddesses.

Freehand mountain landscape on the chest
Rooster on the stomach and onto the chest

While much of his work is delicate and beautiful, he also doesn’t shy away from blood, gore, and violence, in the form of severed heads, and Japanese ghosts and demons (yōkai and yūrei).

Healed namakubi (severed head)
Freehand river and flower sleeve ending with the hand

If you live near Seoul or are passing through, Moon Cheon is a must-see artist.

A darker version of a crane
Flowers right in the ditch as part of a sleeve

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