Moon Cheon is a tattoo artist working out of Kodzunak in Seoul, South Korea. Cheon, tattoos traditional Korean motifs in various styles.
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.
Cheon also does delicate black and grey tattoos of Korean and East Asian animals, mythical creatures, and Gods and Goddesses.
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).
If you live near Seoul or are passing through, Moon Cheon is a must-see artist.
Hong Kong, a fascinating city with an equally fascinating history and culture. Tattoos are becoming more and more popular as they enter into the mainstream, making it hard to walk around the downtown area without spotting a tattoo either on a tourist or a local. But for a long time tattoos were seen as something only for criminals, mainly the triads (the Chinese mafia that also operates in Hong Kong and Taiwan among other places).
While tattoos of course existed in the area long before the 1940’s, the first official tattoo shop wasn’t opened until 1946 by the famous James Ho (father of Jimmy Ho). James Ho was a Shanghainese marine engineer in the navy in 1940 and was sailing on a ship in the Indian Ocean when it was hit by a Japanese torpedo. James was lucky and survived by clinging to wreckage and was picked up by an American warship and brought to Calcutta where he first came in contact with tattoos; hand poked tattoos to be specific. James brought his new passion home to Shanghai where he made a machine from bike chains and other spare parts. He fled Shanghai towards the end of WW11 because of political conflict and went to Hong Kong, where he opened the first shop; Rose Tattoo Studio. James had seen mainly old school tattoos on sailors, so that’s what he brought back both to Shanghai and Hong Kong, and why old school Hong Kong tattoos follow similar tropes of hearts, flags, pin-ups and more, all with thick bold lines and vibrant colours. The shop did very well, mainly working on those in the Navy during the Korean and Vietnam wars. Along with these American designs, tattooers in Asia were adding imagery such as dragons, koi, and tigers, among other culturally significant iconography.
To keep up with the high demand, James took on four apprentices; Ricky Lo, Pinky Yun, Benny Tsoi, and Swallow, and later eventually his own son, Jimmy. Jimmy started officially working for his father at the age of 14 after already tattooing clients after hours from around the age of 12. His mother didn’t want him working there but he insisted, and when he showed his father James the earnings, he was finally gifted two tattoo machines of his own. Pinky eventually moved to the US in the 70’s and became very popular after first working with Ricky at “Ricky and Pinky Tattoo”, Benny has a shop still in Hong Kong run by an apprentice (his daughter also tattoos and runs her own shop), and Jimmy’s shop is also still being run by an apprentice in Hong Kong.
When business declined for all tattooers in Hong Kong after the Korean and Vietnam wars, tattooers were working more and more with triads. Only a “大佬” or, “boss” could get tattooed then, and some of the main designs included dragons on the arms or back, or eagles on the chest. Now triads are tattooed less and less, similar to the yakuza in Japan. But when they do opt to get tattoos they are more likely to get them in mainland China where they are significantly cheaper.
Apart from gangsters, the most common people getting tattooed from the 70’s-90’s were construction workers and truck drivers. These developed their own kind of style which consisted of only an outline without any shading, often because they would run out of money. As long as you could tell what the design was supposed to be, it was good enough.
Hong Kong style is also compared to Japanese, particularly for full bodied work with backgrounds such as waves and clouds. This is largely due to Japanese tattooers visiting Hong Kong, and vice versa. For example, James’ son, Jimmy Ho was visited numerous times by Horiyoshi in the 1990’s. Jimmy then borrowed Japanese ideas of tattooing but made them his own.
Today, artists such as Marcus Yuen and Samantha Fung, both working out of 59 tattoo alongside other great artists, and Dave Ryo Lau working out of The Company Tattoo, are all keeping Hong Kong style tattoos alive by continuing to tattoo in the unique style. Marcus in particular works hard to keep Hong Kong style tattoos alive by also sharing information about the old legends, and many historic pictures on his Instagram account.
Hong Kong is probably the most interesting city I’ve ever been to. It’s by far the most multicultural, and it’s full of rich and interesting history.
Hong Kong also has a fantastic art scene with artists from around the world finding their style and inspiration in and among Hong Kong’s towering skyscrapers and narrow, winding streets filled with irreplaceable noodle shops, the all-important umbrella repair store, and a thriving tattoo scene.
Arguably some of the best artists in the world reside in Hong Kong, at some of the best and most interesting tattoo shops I have been to yet. This past month I received three different tattoos from two different artists at two different shops in Hong Kong.
If you’re getting a tattoo in Hong Kong there’s a good chance you don’t live there and are just passing through or visiting for a short time. I currently live in mainland China and though it’s only a short train ride into Hong Kong, it is a hassle, and it’s not called the world’s most expensive city for nothing. These two factors combined mean I have only spent around a total of eight days or so in the city, even though I’m so close.
If you are a visitor to the city like myself, then you’ll want to find your artist and get ahold of them well before your visit. I mainly use Instagram to find artists I want to go to, and a quick search on the old gram of “hktattoo” will yield seemingly endless results.
Alternatively you can google tattoo artists or shops in Hong Kong and you’ll have similar results. There are a number of artists and shops that will appear first in your searches such as Star Crossed, The Company, Freedom Tattoo, MoFo Tattoo, and Blackout, to name a few. For my own tattoos I chose Star Crossed and The Company.
If you prefer to find your shop one of the old school ways you can also wander through the streets and find ones to walk into, but there’s no guarantee artists will be available as Hong Kong is a bustling place. If you want to find yours by walking then your best bet is taking the metro into Kowloon or Central and starting from there.
Once you find your shop and artist send them an Instagram message or email if they prefer and find out if you need a consultation or if you can start talking designs and prices straight away. If you are coming from outside of Hong Kong there is a good chance you’ll have to pay your deposit through PayPal, and this is common practice. I did so for my tattoo on Japan and Hong Kong, both.
Tattoo day has come finally and you’re excited, and possibly nervous if it’s your first tattoo. If you are getting your first tattoo and it’s in Hong Kong I have a few tips for you. 1. If you are like myself and not used to blistering heat then you’re going to want to drink a fair amount of water before your tattoo, and bring a cold drink with you as even with AC some places in Hong Kong can be pretty hot. 2. Sanitation in parts of Asia, including Hong Kong, are a little different compared to Western cities, so you’ll want to make sure the shop has hygienic practices, and afterwards you’ll want to do a good job washing your tattoo with soap and hot water. 3. This one is again to do with the heat. If you’re a sweater then you’ll really want to make sure you clean your tattoo twice a day to make sure it’s not getting caked in sweat while it’s trying to heal.
At Star Crossed Tattoo I was tattooed by their resident apprentice and local Hong Konger, Cathy (as of July 2019). Cathy tattoos in an American traditional style with an HK twist. I got some script and a good luck piece from Sailor Jerry’s Hong Kong flash that Cathy updated a bit and made her own. If you’re going to get a Chinese character tattoo, make sure you can read it, or get it from an artist who fluently reads and writes the language (that goes for getting a tattoo in any language you don’t actually speak). And this goes both ways, I have also seen people in China with English words tattooed on them that make absolutely no sense. Don’t be that person. The script I got reads jiāyóu, which literally means “add oil”, but is used to say “you got this” or, “keep fighting”. Cathy’s work is often inspired by punk music, and she has many punk rock pin-up ladies you can choose from to get tattooed on you. She mixes old school motifs with a bit of a Neo-traditional colour scheme. Meaning my Sailor Jerry piece has some popping blue and green in there in addition to the black, red, and yellow. Cathy is extremely friendly and Star Crossed has an open and inviting atmosphere. I highly recommend checking it out.
The next shop I visited was The Company. I was tattooed by black work artist James Lau, another Hong Konger, born and raised. James tattoos in a heavy black work style, using thick, bold lines and dark shading to create stunning original pieces. James is known for tattooing finger and palm pieces that really last. James is also a very friendly guy, joking and inviting as soon as the door of the shop opens. The Company has a similar open-floor plan to Star Crossed, so the whole place is very free and open feeling. The Company is also a must visit shop in Hong Kong.
So you’re travelling to China, or maybe living there short term like myself, and you want to get a tattoo. This might be a more different experience than you’re used to in Western countries, and it’s good to do your research.
I’m living in Shenzhen, but travelled to Shanghai for a week, where I was tattooed by Kai at Sick Rose Tattoo.
Before getting to Shanghai, I found Sick Rose on Instagram so I could check their quality of work, and I was very happy with what I saw. All of the artists there are professional and do quality work! The shop mainly deals with old school style pieces. Strong bold lines and bright colours that will last a lifetime.
I messaged the shop before arriving and talked to Kai to make sure I could do a walk in. Sometimes you may want to actually schedule an appointment if you have a specific day in mind, but if like me you need to keep your schedule open, then make sure the shop takes walk ins.
If you don’t speak Chinese then it’s also important that the artist you go to can speak some English. Everyone at Sick Rose speaks English and they are all very friendly. Kai was very professional and a soft spoken guy.
I had my ribs tattooed, which took around three hours, and he made it as good an experience as possible, considering the painful placement. I also had one of the shop cats sleeping on me for most of my experience, which was a good distraction. Back in the West cats wouldn’t be allowed into shops, but here in China you come to expect the unexpected. The shop did follow all other health protocols, such as using new needles and ink, and wearing gloves the whole time. This is important to check as I know many shops in China don’t follow Western health standards as closely. Since Sick Rose followed everything else by the book I was able to overlook the shop cats since I had followed them for so long and seen the healed results, with no issues. On day four now and my own piece is healing nicely.
I highly recommend Sick Rose and Kai if you are in Shanghai! Always be sure to thoroughly research a shop before going, especially when visiting another country. Happy tattoo collecting!
Rob Kelly is the owner of BLACKOUT Tattoo in Hong Kong. Rob has been tattooing since 2005, and has lived in Hong Kong since 1994. BLACKOUT Tattoo was founded in 2010 and features brilliant permanent artists as well as travelling guest artists.
Rob tattoos in many styles including American traditional, Neo traditional, black work, Japanese, Chinese, black and grey, line work, realism, tribal, and more.
Rob has a book of flash you can choose from, or you can book a consultation with him and collaborate on something completely original for yourself.
The shop abides by all health regulations, including using new ink and needles, so no need to worry about infections.
Rob has incredible attention to detail and will make sure you leave the shop happy and with a badass tattoo! Check out his website and set up a consultation http://www.blackout-tattoo.com
Jimmy Ho is a tattoo artist in Hong Kong. Jimmy has had his own shop since he was 14, and was tattooing before that, thanks to his father, James. His father opened Hong Kong’s first tattoo shop in 1946 called “The Rose Tattoo”, and by 1950 the shop was working non-stop to fill the demands of American soldiers getting tattooed. Jimmy has had his own shop since 1958.
Jimmy started tattooing sailors at night before he was 14, when his fathers shop was technically closed. He wanted to help out and make some money so he started doing them himself, and has been tattooing ever since.
During the Korean war he and the other artists at his father’s shop would tattoo 30-40 men per day due to the high demand. Jimmy would tattoo soldiers everyday from 11am until 4am, non stop.
Jimmy has his own style, modelled after his fathers. A mix of traditional Chinese and American traditional, but specializing in dragons.
Jimmy still tattoos, but most of the pictures on his Instagram are from the 70s-90s if you’re trying to find a portfolio.
There are some differences between Chinese and Japanese dragons, as you’ll see in Jimmy’s work. His dragons usually have 4 claws, which was used in ancient Chinese history for high ranking officials and nobility, while the 3 toed dragons were for common people, as well as the Japanese.
If you can’t make it all the way to Hong Kong for a tattoo you can always get some of Jimmy’s flash off of big cartel here. tattooflash.bigcartel.com
The Li people live in Hainan Province, China’s most southern point. Tattoos in Hainan can be traced as far back as 3000 years ago. Hainan is often referred to as “The Tail of the Dragon”, as it is the most southern point of China, though also used to be called one of the eyeballs of China (along with Taiwan when it was a part of China) as it is an island province.
According to one German ethnologist (branch of anthropology that compares and analyzes the characteristics of different peoples and the relationship between them), Hans Stübel, the origin of their tattooing came from a story about a descendant of the original Li. This descendant of Li had a daughter whose mother died early in the child’s life. When this happened, a colourful native bird called the hoopoe fed the child with grains to keep her alive. In remembrance of this, the Li women tattoo themselves to look more like the birds, both in their colour and the patterns of their wings.
Others still believe that the women tattooed themselves in order to be recognized in the afterlife.
A more practical reason that these women tattooed themselves, particularly on their faces, is the fact that their villages would be attacked often by many of their neighbors. In order to appear unattractive to the invading men, the Li women tattooed quite intricate designs on their faces and down their necks. Making themselves appear less attractive protected them from violence and rape.
Later on in history though, these women saw the tattoos as an enhancement to their beauty. When a girl turned 13 or 14, an older woman would tattoo her, first on the nape of her neck, then her face and throat over the course of 5-7 days. Then, over the next 3 years, she would continue to be tattooed along her arms and legs. The only thing that interrupted this would be the death of a family member. Once a woman married, her hand would also be tattooed, marking her as a married woman.
Like many ancient cultures, the Li used a bamboo rod, with rattan needles to hand tap the designs into the skin. The patterns used did vary from tribe to tribe, but all used motifs taken from nature, such as plants, animals, and totemic symbols passed down through generations.
Information taken from:
-Carrie E. Reed. “Tattoo in Early China.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 120, no. 3, 2000, pp. 360–376.Liu, H. (1939).
-“Hainan: The Island and the People.” The China Journal 29(5-6): 236-246; 302-314.
-McCabe, M. [and Q.Y. Wang] (2008). “Tattooed Women of Yunnan, China.” Skin and Ink Magazine (11): 64-74.
-Stϋbel, H. (1937). Die Li Stämme der Insel Hainan: Ein Betrag zur Volkskunde Sϋdchinas. Berlin: Klinkhardt & Bierman.
Zhuo Dan Ting is the owner of Shanghai Tattoo as of January 2007 (located in Shanghai, China) where she tattoos people from all around the world. People seek out her art from far and wide, and are not disappointed with the results.
Zhuo Dan Ting has been an artist since an early age, where her father (an art teacher himself) and his friends would teach her new techniques. She went on to art school in Harbin after high school, but quickly moved onto something entirely different.
Ting found the subcultures of death metal and punk music, which is where she fell in love with tattoos. Ting started off tattooing her friends in Harbin’s underground music scene, where she quickly started making a name for herself in the tattoo world.
Ting does brilliant black and grey, photo realism, portrait art, and Asian styled pieces inspired by both Chinese and Japanese art. Along with making beautiful art, Ting was also the first woman in China to open her own tattoo shop, a big step for the Chinese tattoo community!
If you’re in Shanghai, Shanghai Tattoo is the place to go!
Foo, or Fu Dogs as they are known as in the West are Chinese lion guardians called Shi. These creatures are both guardians and good luck charms. When placed outside buildings they are meant to protect those inside from negative energy and to stop those with intent to harm from entering. These ancient symbols have been around since the Han Dynasty (206 BC- 220 AD).
As a tattoo this creature is also meant to be protective. Keeping the wearer safe from harm. This creature is also tattooed to be a representation of the wearer’s strength, courage, and heroism.
Foo dogs are firstly a Chinese tattoo, but are also associated with Japanese tattoo’s and can be incorporated into Japanese pieces. They are often also done as black and grey pieces, American traditional, and realism pieces.
Foo dogs are often placed on hands, with the head fitting perfectly, lining up with the knuckles.
Foo Dog’s make a brilliant and powerful tattoo for those seeking protection and good fortune.