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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Tattoo History 12: Hong Kong

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).

Tattooist James Ho, Hong Kong, 1961. Photo by Burt Glinn from vintage tattoo archive.
U.S. Navy officer getting a dragon tattoo at Ho Gee tattoo shop near Fenwick Pier, Hong Kong, September, 1957. Photo by Hank Walker from vintage tattoo archive.

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.

A full back piece done by Jimmy Ho.
Jimmy Ho still tattooing, from 2016.

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.

Marcus Yuen dragon on the left, based on Ricky’s design on the right.
A Ricky chest piece from the 1970’s. Photo from Marcus Yuen.

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.

Unfinished eagle around 1975 Ricky and Pinky’s shop, picture from Marcus Yuen.
An old sign from Rose Tattoo. Photo from Marcus Yuen.

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.

A Hong Kong protestor piece done by Samantha Fung.
Rose Tattoo that unfortunately no longer exists. The area is now all shopping malls. photo from Marcus Yuen.

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.

A dragon by Dave Ryo Lau.
A dragon done by Samantha Fung.

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.

An eagle by Dave Ryo Lau.
A tiger done by Marcus Yuen.

Have you been tattooed in Hong Kong yet?

To read more about Hong Kong’s tattoo history check out https://zolimacitymag.com/not-just-for-triads-hong-kongs-unique-style-of-tattoos/ and https://www.the4thwall.net/blog/2016/8/13/hong-kong, where a lot of my information came from. Special thanks also to Marcus Yuen for sharing information and photos and to Samantha Fung for pointing me in his direction.

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Japanese Blackwork Tattoos:

Japanese is undeniably one of the most popular tattoo styles, but heavy black pieces are changing the game.

Blackwork wave sleeve mixed with geometric patterns by Raimundo Ramìrez.
Spirited Away’s Yubaba done by Stephen Doan.

Japanese tattoos traditionally use lots of red and black, but also feature some yellows, orange, and shades of grey. Basically the same colour palette as original American traditional.

Blackwork tiger back done by Takizomoro.
Samurai Hannya done by Daniel Ra.

Blackwork is becoming a more and more popular style all the time, and can be done in many styles.

Blackwork leg sleeves done by Guy Le Tatooer.
Blackwork cloud sleeves with geometric patterns done by Gakkin.

Japanese blackwork often makes great use of negative space, making the subject pop, particularly when done on lighter skin tones.

Blackwork Bodhidharma by HoriNami.
Blackwork peony and snake sleeves by Lupo Horiōkami.

Some artists also mix styles such as Neo-traditional and geometric with their Japanese work. Both of these styles are often done as all black pieces, so it mixes well.

Blackwork namakubi by Damien J. Thorn.
Blackwork fish by Horihiro.

Which tattoo is your favourite?

Blackwork negative space sleeve by Oscar Hove.
3/4 sleeves and chest panels by Gotch.

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Tsuchigumo Tattoos:

Tsuchigumo is a Japanese yōkai, or demon. It’s a creepy crawly beast that according to legend can grow to a monstrous size, big enough to eat a person with no problems.

Tsuchigumo as a NSFW shunga piece by Carlos Guerrero.
More American traditional style Tsuchigumo piece by Isaac Bushkin.

Tsuchigumo literally means “ground spider”, and is found in mountains, forests, and caves.

Traditional Japanese Tsuchigumo by Harriet Street.
Crazy neo-traditonal head piece by Alex Rusty.

In legends, these beasts live in silk tubes in trees and caves, from which they trap their human or animal prey. Think Aragog from Harry Potter or Shelob in the Lord of the Rings.

Tsuchigumo sleeve topper with a Hannya mask, done by Lukas Speich.
Bright and bold Tsuchigumo by Dani Ardila Escobar.

Like a lot of Japanese yōkai, particularly snake and spider ones, Tsuchigumo relies on tricks and deceit to catch their smarter prey.

Tsuchigumo with a traditional Japanese skull done by Rocky Burly.

For example, one legend tells of a Tsuchigumo using an illusion to torun itself into a beautiful woman, with an army behind her, to attach Japan. Warrior Yorimitsu met army on the battlefield with his own force, and first attacked the woman general. When she was struck by a sword she transformed back into a creature, while her army disappeared as it had all been an illusion. she ran away back to her cave where she was sliced open. This led to thousands of babies spilling from her swollen abdomen, but each one was killed by the Japanese warriors.

Black and yellow Tsuchigumo done by Nero Morte.

Many more tales feature Tsuchigumo using illusions to trick their prey, leading to many people being eaten by the giant spider-beast.

Traditional Japanese Tsuchigumo as part of a sleeve by Jason Lambert.

As a tattoo, Tsuchigumo is usually done in a traditional Japanese style, as it comes from Japanese folklore. Though it can also be done with a more American traditional twist, Neo-traditional, or realistic style. It pairs well with Japanese warriors, or as fillers with webs, skulls, or flowers.

Big thigh Tsuchigumo by Ricardo Araya Con.

Which piece is your favourite?

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Boost Your Immune System With Tattoos

Full back done by Joel Soon at Sanctum Tattoo.

Over the last few years there have been numerous studies looking at tattoos and their effect on the immune system.

And for all you fellow tattoo collectors I have good news. Tattoos do in fact have a positive impact on your immune system!

Are they going to keep COVID-19 away from you? Unfortunately, no, but people who have more than one tattoo generally have a stronger and healthier immune system than those who do not.

Full back done by Don Ritson at Rebel Waltz Tattoo.

In one test, a group of 29 people were tested before and after visiting a tattoo shop in Alabama. The researchers tested levels of cortisol, which is one of the body’s indicators of stress levels, as well as Immunoglobin A, which is in simple terms is an antibody that helps our bodies fight infections . This study showed that those going in with no tattoos yet showed a greater strain on their immune system with a dip in their Immunoglobin A levels, while those going in for their second, third, or even tenth or more tattoo, actually experienced a large boost in their Immunoglobin A levels immediately following the tattoo. The full test can be read here “Tattoos to Toughen Up.”

Big Hannya mask done by Hide Ichibay at Three Tides Tattoo.

Another test done in American Samoa by the same researcher took 25 saliva samples at the start and end of tattoo sessions on both tourists and locals getting tattooed. They also measured the tattoo recipients height, weight, and fat density to account for general health. Again, both cortisol and Immonoglobin A were extracted and tested, as well as an inflammatory marker C-reactive protein. A similar finding was concluded here, with Immonoglobin A staying remaining higher in the bloodstream even after tattoos had healed. As well, people with more and larger tattoos tested higher Immonoglobin A levels than those with less or no tattoos prior to the start of getting tattooed. This effect also appears to be dependent on getting multiple tattoos and not just having some time pass after getting tattooed once.

Full front torso done by Rich Hardy.

Of course having lots of tattoos won’t guarantee your health, but based on testing it can be beneficial for general immune health, and in particular skin injuries and health.

Both studies were done by Dr. Christopher Lynn.

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Artist of the Month: Max Rathbone (edited)

A number of people have brought to my attention that Max Rathbone has a large number of sexual assault and abuse allegations against him. Whether they are true or not is not for me to decide, but the number of women making claims against him is outstanding. Hence I have deleted photos of his work and will not be including him in future articles.

If you or someone you know has been abused by a tattoo artist, please say something. It’s an industry that unfortunately all too often allows men to prey on innocent people that are in a vulnerable position.

Winnipeg Artist 13: Mathew Machado

Classic panther and snake going at it.
What’s a more classic elbow tattoo?

Mathew is a tattooer at Rebel Waltz Tattoos in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Mathew does crisp American traditional tattoos the way they were meant to be made. Bold as hell!

A small, classic eagle.
“Working class” skull piece.

If you take a look through Mathew’s work, either online or in person, you’ll see he really does the classics. His Instagram is full of eagles, pinups, sailors and pirates, skulls, snakes, and more.

An all black, classic Japanese/American dragon head.
Another classic old school piece. The Rock of Ages.

If you’re looking for a bit of a Japanese twist to an American style, Mathew is also your guy. He’s done both dragon heads and full bodied dragons, and Japanese flowers.

A more Japanese styled chrysanthemum flower.
Crisp lines on this rose and cross.

Mathew mentored under Don Ritson, the owner of Rebel Waltz, and you can certainly see Don’s influence in Mathews work. Both artists stick to a very traditional colour palette of mainly black, red, some green, and small amounts of yellow to make pieces pop.

Skull butterfly for a small filler piece.

Check out his work on Instagram @mathew.machado where you’ll find his email for making appointments. You can also watch Rebel Waltz’ Instagram to see when Mathew and the other artists there are doing walk-ins.

Beautiful pirate lady portrait, done as quite a large thigh piece.

Artist of the Month: Kelly Smith

Kelly Smith works out of Cry Baby Tattoo in Sheffield, England. Kelly mainly does American traditional pieces, but also works in black work and Japanese styles.

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Bloody panther head and a deadly looking snake.
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Some gorgeous pink peony’s paired with solid black filler in a forearm half sleeve.
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Some old school flowers for a bold neck piece.
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Badass scorpion ready to sting for this side neck piece.
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Japanese kitsune, or fox spirit.

Kelly’s work is bright and bold as hell, mixing the traditional themes of Americana and Japan with the bright colours of a Neo-traditional style.

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Some classic clasped hands and trad flowers on the collar bone.
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Traditional geisha wearing a beautiful kimono.
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Anchor featuring Neck Deep lyrics.
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Good luck horseshoe and some mountains done in blackwork style.
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Badass Sailor Jerry inspired piece.

If you’re looking for a banging one off then Kelly is the one to see, but don’t be shy about getting a big piece! A back or torso design will be a brilliant addition to your collection.

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Toad getting that zen life.
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Lots of green in this gorgeous back piece featuring Eve and Lucifer with that dratted apple.
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A painful spot for a mean looking eagle.
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Wicked snake head with some bright colours.
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Very painful looking old school piece featuring a tiger and a snake battling it out.

If you happen to find yourself in the Sheffield area Kelly is one to visit. I know I will!

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Blackwork lady and rose.
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Namakubi hand banger. Gorgeous blue tones in that bloody head.
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Another peony, featuring a cute old school butterfly.
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More pink peony’s and solid black. These pieces are great for some heavy contrast.
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Sick traditional dragon looking ready to get into some mischief.

You can find Kelly on Instagram at @kellysmithtattoos

Artist of the Month: Rob Kelly

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.

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Realistic black and grey tiger.
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Realistic black and grey lion head.
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American traditional lady head butterfly.
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Black and grey Japanese Kitsune.

Rob tattoos in many styles including American traditional, Neo traditional, black work, Japanese, Chinese, black and grey, line work, realism, tribal, and more.

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American traditional butterfly.
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Water colour dragon.
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Tribal chest panel.

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.

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Blackwork half goat, half mermaid.
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Classic mom tattoo with a heart and dagger.
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Japanese lucky cat, Neko!

The shop abides by all health regulations, including using new ink and needles, so no need to worry about infections.

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Blackwork chrysanthemum.
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Chinese dragon in American traditional style.
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Bright red chrysanthemum.

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

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American traditional cherub and skull.
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Black and grey Harry Potter piece. Expecto patronum!
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Legend of Zelda sword.