Elbow Tattoos:

Elbows are one of the more painful spots to get tattooed, but if you’re wanting that full sleeve it’s something you’ve got to tough out. 

Horseshoe and Flower by Caige Baker at the Brindle Room in Calgary, Alberta
Spiderweb by Tony Torvis at Mortem Tattoo in Montréal, Quebec

There are lots of designs that fit the shape of the elbow well, such as spiderwebs, flowers, mandalas, geometric shapes, and other “gap filler” type pieces. 

Mandala by Hans Joen Heggum at Blue Arms Tattoo in Oslo, Norway
Heart web done by Tasha Terror at Three of Swords Tattoo in Halifax, Nova Scotia

Elbow tattoos also often take a bit longer to heal than many other locations on the body just because it’s a joint that most of us use all day every day. All that movement irritates the area so you can expect prolonged swelling, and maybe more scabbing than other tattoos you have.

Spiderweb done by Gabriel Buison
Bright flower piece done by Jasmine Worth at Remington Tattoo in San Diego

Because the bone lies directly under the skin with virtually no “padding” on your elbow, it’s going to hurt more than the rest of your sleeve, which is why many people choose to save it for last, or choose a design that doesn’t fully cover the area such as a spiderweb or a horseshoe.

Geometric dot work piece by Tommy Birch
Bright and bold flower piece by Capa Tattoo at Tattoo Circus in Italy

While spiderweb tattoos are arguably one of the most popular elbow designs among old school collectors, you should be aware that originally this design was meant for people in prison, often signifying how much time a person has done. Nowadays most people won’t assume that you’ve been to prison if you have this tattoo, but it’s important to be aware of. 

Black work butterfly by Alin in Seoul, Korea
Colourful spiderweb by Dave at Trophy Tattoo in Hamilton, Ontario

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Artist of the Month: David O’Connor

David O’Connor is a traditional tattoo artist working out of Trophy Tattoo in Hamilton, Ontario. The shop caters specifically to those looking for American traditional tattoos, and all of the artists who work there do fantastic work.

Jesus chest piece
Old school flowers

Davids Instagram is full of classic flash and finished pieces that would have been seen on the walls of tattoo shops throughout the 1900’s and on the bodies of sailors. 

Healed Geisha
Black traditional chest piece

When booking a tattoo with David you can choose from pre-drawn flash or bring your own idea to the table. David and the rest of the shop also take walk-ins.

Tiger vs snake
Classic old school dragon

The majority of his work is done in colour, with the traditional colours of black, red, and green, but if you’re looking for some black traditional work he’s got you covered as well.

Queen of Hearts
matching forearm pieces

Whether you’re looking for a small walk-in piece or a full back, David does it all, with style. If you’re in Hamilton or just passing through he is a must see artist for all your traditional needs.

Battle Royale backpiece
Bert Grimm butterfly lady

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Gap Filler Tattoos:

Gap filler tattoos are exactly what they sound like, small tattoos that fill the gap between other pieces to make a sleeve or torso look more fluid.

Cute bondage Kewpie done by Cobra Kai Tattoo
Frog filler by Tattoo Mozart

Generally when someone says gap filler they’re referring to a more old school style, as the custom with old school tattoos is to collect lots of smaller tattoos that then form a larger piece when it’s all put together.

Flail by Gary Gerhardt at Key City Tattoo
Coffin nails by Hudson at Rose of Mercy in London

Some common gap fillers include centipedes, flowers, butterflies, spider webs, nails, snakes, frogs, etc. Almost anything can be a gap filler if it can be made small enough and can have some diversity in placement to fit those odd angles.

Old school flower by Aaron at FHC Tattoo in Melbourne
A happy little sun by Daniele Delligatti at Sacred Circle Tattoo in Rome

If you’re going for that bodysuit look you’ll probably end up with some gap fillers unless you pre-planned your whole body before you started getting tattoos, or worked with a style like Japanese where gap fillers are less common (though not unheard of).

Pistol and butterfly by Jade Harper at House of the Rising Sun Tattoo in Winnipeg
Floral fillers by atomlenhart

What gap fillers do you have or want?

Mosquito by Dan Coy at Hobart Tattoo Collective in Australia
Dice and floral filler by Eva at Baltimore Ave Tattoo

Edited by Harrison R.

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Battle Royale Tattoos:

The Battle Royale is an old school design that consists of an eagle, a snake, and a dragon, all battling it out to be number one (sometimes it is depicted as an eagle vs a snake, or even other animals fighting).

A more neo-traditional take on the Battle Royale by Sergio Latorre at Octopus Tattoo
Classic colours in this Battle Royale by Tim Pausinger at Pearl Harbor Gift Shop

This design has been passed down for generations through tattooers and tattoo collectors, usually as quite a large design like a full back piece, chest, or stomach, but also as smaller work on arms and legs. 

Black work Battle Royale by Nico at El Furgón Tattoo Parlour
Colour Battle Royale by Rudi Ridgewell in Worthing, England

This most famous design was tattooed on D.C (Dave) Paul by Huck Spaulding and Paul Rogers, though there are a few older designs that are bit different. One was tattooed by George Burchett when he was working with Japanese artist Hori Uno in his shop in London, and the other by Percy Waters in Detroit. Ben Corday’s version is also quite popular.

Black work Battle Royale by Gil Guerra at Heart of Oak Tattoo in Belgium
A more neo-traditional Battle Royale by Erich XXX in Buffalo, NY

The Battle Royale is an American traditional design that has clear roots in Japanese tattooing as well as American. It was designed to represent the eternal struggle of keeping balance, particularly between the East and West, but life in general as well. Everything in life requires balance and hardship. This is a battle that will never be won.

Bold and colourful Battle Royale by JF Bourbon
Spaulding and Rogers version by Leonardo Maria Cardinali at Fat Cat Studio in Viterbo Italy

Most people choose to get this piece in full colour as the first wearers of the tattoo would have, but it also looks great without colour, or as a more neo-traditional piece. 

Black work Battle Royale by Alban at Lig Neverte Tattoo in Montréal
A very bright Battle Royale done by Alfy Iglesias at Old Ironside Tattoo in Honolulu, Hawaii
Ben Corday’s Battle Royale by Rich Hardy

Edited by Harrison R.

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Artist of the Month: Duan Tattooer

Duan Tattooer is an artist at and the owner of Sick Rose Tattoo Parlour in Shanghai, working alongside great artists in the shop like Kai who tattooed me.

Woman and dragon
Monkey King

Duan specializes in American traditional and single needle styles, seamlessly blending old school American and Asian motifs.

Traditional woman portrait
Knee ditch webs

Whether you’re looking for bright and bold colours, black and grey, or heavy black traditional work, Duan can take care of all your needs. 

Black trad horse
Matching hands

If you check out their Instagram linked above you’ll find plenty of flash to choose from, or you can check out the shop in person and find the perfect tattoo for you.

A classic rose
Super cool cat lady

Whether you’re in the market for a full sleeve or a small filler piece, Duan is a must visit artist in Shanghai for clean and bold tattoos.

Bright and colourful dragon
Fortune teller

Edited by Harrison R.

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Tattoo History 16: “Dainty Dotty” and Owen Jensen

Owen Jensen and “Dainty Dotty” were artists who married sometime in the mid 1900’s. Owen was a tattoo artist with a number of cities and shops under his belt, and Dotty was initially a circus performer working as a “fat lady” before she started tattooing. 

Dotty and Owen with their business cards
Owen tattooing a sailor. Posted by The best Traditional Tattoos

According to a letter written in 1972 to Steve Rogers, Owen Jensen was introduced to tattoos in 1911 in Utah after walking some 12 miles to see the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show, which featured James Malcolm as a performer, who had been tattooed by Charlie Wagner. A few years later Owen got his first tattoo from Bob Hodge. 

Owen Jensen flash posted by Andreas Schwertfeger
Owen and Dotty’s shop front. Posted by Eye Love Tattoo

It’s unknown who taught Owen to tattoo, but during WW1 he served overseas and tattooed other military folks while abroad. When he returned to the US he never stayed in one place too long, working in cities such as Michigan, Los Angeles, New York, San Diego, Norfolk, and finally Long Beach, just to name a few. He eventually met Dotty and the two married and settled in Long Beach, working near Bert Grimm. Around the early 1970’s Owen had a disagreement over flash with Bert who then apparently “ran him off.” Owen then worked with Lee Roy Minugh until he was stabbed in the back and beaten on July 5th 1976. Owen never fully recovered from the attack and died July 24th 1977. 

Dainty Dotty tattoo flash. Posted by Iciar Wallace
Dainty Dotty performing. Posted by My Flash Showcase

Dainty Dotty was initially a circus performer as mentioned above. She first worked as a “fat lady” in the Ringling Brothers circus in the 1930’s and 40’s. Dotty learned how to tattoo after meeting Owen, and he supposedly tattooed her, but there are no known photos of Dotty with tattoos, though there are photos of her tattooing people, and her flash is still floating around!

Owen working on a chest piece.
Owen’s tattoo flash. Posted by My Flash Showcase

Dotty is famous for being the world’s largest female tattoo artist, though she is in fact not the largest woman on record. Both Dotty and Owen tattooed classic old school designs such as eagles, skulls, roses, snakes, and patriotic pieces such as the statue of Liberty, American flags, and military designs.

More of Owen’s tattoo flash.
Dotty tattooing a customer. Posted by Yellow Beak Press Publishing.

Edited by Harrison R.

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Tattoos for Beer Lovers:

Who doesn’t enjoy a nice cold beer at the end of a hard week or day, being able to sit out on a patio with friends or in a nice homey pub? Some people like beer so much that they’ve even chosen to immortalize their favourite drink on their skin as a tattoo!

New school Heineken by Craig Foster at Skin Werks
Old school brew and anchor by Siam Mais at Stay Cold Tattoo in Bangkok, Thailand

Many people go for a realistic depiction of their drink of choice, but neo-traditional, American traditional, new school, and black and grey are also popular.

A more neo-traditional beer and nature scene by Pablo Sinalma at Eclipse Tattoo in Barcelona
A realistic frosty mug by Melek Tastekin

Now for some cool facts; Did you know that beer is actually the oldest recorded recipe in the world? Ancient Egyptians first recorded their recipes on scrolls that date back to around 5000 BCE, and was brewed with ingredients such as dates, pomegranate, and other local fruits and herbs. This early form of beer was used mainly in religious ceremonies, and was controlled directly by the Pharaoh of the time.

Prisoner of beer by João Teixeira at Shark Tattoo Gallery
Beer, boobs, and bikes by Hubert Plaikner at Tintenfass Tattoo in Italy

While beer recipes were written down around 5000 BCE, it is believed that the ancient Mesopotamians were also brewing beer, around 10,000 BCE based on the malted barley and bowls with a beer-like residue that have been found by archaeologists. This beer eventually made its way over to Europe from the Middle East, and became an important part of life for nearly everyone. Northern Europe in particular brewed a lot of beer, in large part due to the crops like barley that they were able to grow. Beer even became a popular alternative to water because it was often cleaner to drink (lots of water at that time was pretty badly contaminated by human and animal waste). 

Neo-Traditional beer and hand by Marco Condor
Matching beer tattoos by Hécate at Le Coer Sauvage in lyon, France

Beer that is more similar to what you and I drink today was made in the early Middle Ages, combining hops and other herbs and spices to the barley that had already been used for a few hundred years. Around the year 1150, monks from Germany started using wild hops in beer and it caught on quick. It also acted as a natural preservative, allowing beer to last longer before needing to be drunk. While Pharaohs were the main brewers in Egypt thousands of years ago, monks were the main brewers in the Middle Ages, with almost all monasteries having an onsite brewery. Even today a number of Belgian monasteries still produce beer and rank as some of the best in the world. 

Hand poked beer carton by Simply Uglyful at Inkformal Tattoo
Photo realistic Stella Artois beer bottle by Maiko Only at Good Tattoo Studio in Nottingham, UK

What’s your favourite kind of beer?

Edited by Harrison R.

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Artist of the Month: Tony Torvis

Tony Torvis is the owner of Mortem Tattoo in Montréal, Canada. His work consists of traditional old school designs without colour, making his clients look like the brilliant black and white photographs of days long past.

Full sleeve with hand
Battle Royale on the stomach

Tony’s work is reminiscent of the great tattooers of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s but is still recognizable as a Tony Torvis piece. 

Full back featuring a dragon and ladies
Beautiful chest piece

Expect crisp clean lines and bold, powerful motifs such as dragons, snakes, lady heads, portraits, and flowers. There is original flash in the shop to choose from, or you can bring your own idea to him, or re-create an old piece of historical flash.

Pharaohs cats as part of a back piece
Angelic ladies

Tony’s Instagram page is full of both large and small scale work, from chest pieces to full backs, sleeves, and little filler pieces.

Full front torso, some healed some fresh
Bert Grimm sintered chest piece

You’ll also notice from his Instagram page that the majority of clients are repeat customers. Tony’s tattoos are kind of like chips, you just can’t stop at one! Mortem tattoo is a must visit shop if you’re in the area, and there are other brilliant artists working there as well.

Two sleeves in progress
Full back featuring ladies

Edited by Harrison R.

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Cactus Tattoos:

While existing for centuries, cacti have become extremely well known as a pop culture phenomenon more recently over the years, particularly among my fellow millennials. This definitely has something to do with how easy they are to take care of, requiring only sunlight, sand, and water on occasion; they pretty much thrive if left alone in a sunny spot. 

Black and grey cactus by Julien Perron in France
A cute new school cactus by Bronte Evans in the UK

They’ve become so popular now that you could light your cactus candle for the dinner table to see your cactus salt and pepper shakers and cactus glasses before you reveal your new cactus tattoo, all without ever having to mention the word cactus. 

Ram skull and cactus by Laura Gómez at Blessed Art Tattoo in Barcelona
Skeleton lovers, cactus, and a dreamy sunset by Kayla Gohm Webster at Kitchen Sink Tattoo

People seem to love the diversity and toughness of these prickly plants. They can come in all shapes and sizes; from tall and skinny to short and fat, perfectly round, multiple offshoots, each with their own unique personality. 

An old school cactus by Randy Sanchez at All Is One Tattoo in New Mexico
Tortoise and cacti by Maggie Campanelli at Hereditary Tattoo

This diversity makes them look great in photos, paintings, and tattoos, and their tough exterior could represent a kind of (symbolic) protection for the tattoo wearer. 

Old school skull and cactus by Nichher in Puerto Rico
Black work cactus by Chris de Arms in California

As tattoos, the most popular cacti by far seems to be the tall skinny ones (San Pedro Cactus/cereus). These pieces are often done in old school, black work, neo-traditional, fine line, or new school styles.

A classic black and grey vase and cactus by Jade Harper at House of the Rising Sun tattoo in Winnipeg
Old school cactus with swallow done by Samantha Fung at the 59 Tattoo in Hong Kong

Do you have a cactus tattoo?

Edited by Harrison R.

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