Tattoo History 6: The Circus/Sideshow and Tattoos

Tattoos were an important part of the sideshow in circuses and carnivals from the end of the 1800’s and into the early 1900’s. Though tattoos didn’t become an integral part of the circus until this later time, tattoos in the circus originated around 1804 (approximately) when Jean Baptiste Cabri (also seen as Kabri) who had been tattooed by the Marquesas in the Pacifics joined a carnival. Jean was a French deserter who fled to the Pacific Islands and lived there with his wife whom he met and married there. He acquired a large number of tattoos while there, all of which had a specific meaning. His tattoos were a mark of entering manhood, and meant that he had been fully accepted as one of the islanders. Jean was discovered on the island by Russian explorers, and after some convincing, went back with them to Europe to tour in a carnival as a heavily tattooed man.

tattoo Jean Baptiste Cabri
Jean Baptiste Cabri

The first tattooed man to be apart of the circus in America was named James F. O’Connell. James was an important part of Barnum’s circus in 1842, specifically in the “freak show”. James was tattooed head to toe in tribal Polynesian style during his time as a prisoner on the Caroline Islands in the South Pacific. James became shipwrecked on the islands and lived apparently by dancing Irish jigs to entertain the local islanders. He was then forcibly tattooed over a period of eight days, and even forced to marry one of the women who tattooed him. After about 5 years on the island another ship finally landed and brought him back to America where he started life in the circus as the first tattooed man in America to be part of the show.

tattoo James F. O'Connell
James F. O’Connell

After O’Connell, a Greek man nicknamed Prince Constantine, and also Captain Constentenus quickly became immensely popular in 1873 due to his extremely heavily tattooed body which at this time was rarely seen. His tattoos covered his hands, neck and face.He reportedly had 388 tattoos. He may have been the most popular and wealthy tattooed circus member of this time, bringing in around one hundred dollar US a week, which was a lot of money for this time. His tattoos included hundreds of animals and small filler pieces all over his body, tattooed over a period of three months with three hours of tattooing being done every morning.

tattoo captain Costentenus
Captain Constentenus/ Prince Constantine

Women also had their place in the circus world of tattoos. Nora Hildebrandt is known as the first tattooed woman to earn a living based on her ink. Nora had an elaborate (but untrue) story of how she got her tattoos. To attract more attention, she claimed that her tattoos were forcibly done on her by “savage Lakota Indians” when in reality she was born in London, and tattooed by her common law husband Martin Hildebrandt. Some thought Martin was her father or her actual husband, but according to numerous sources it looks as though Nora was not actually related to Martin. Martin was one of the first (if not the first) permanent tattoo artist in America, tattooing in New York after tattooing soldiers in the civil war and travelling with the Navy. At just 25 years old Nora was able to make a career for herself in the circus business starting in 1882. Nora is most famous for being in the Barnum and Bailey’s Circus in New York.

tattoo Nora Hildebrandt
Nora Hildebrandt

Women quickly became the more popular option of viewing when it came to seeing tattooed people, as seeing a woman showing skin at this time was scandalous and unheard of. Naturally this alone drew crowds. In the 1920’s one of the more head-turning women in the circus was a woman called Lady Viola. Lady Viola was very popular in part due to her often being known as “The most beautiful tattooed woman in the world” as well as her unique tattoos, some of which were early portrait work of well known people such as Charlie Chaplin, Tom Mix, and presidents Wilson, Washington, and Lincoln across her chest.

tattoo lady viola
Lady Viola

For around 70 years or so, every big circus employed tattooed people as part of the act, showcasing them as freaks or acts just because of their ink, and as part of other acts such as juggling, feats of strength, sword swallowing, fire breathing, and more. Tattooed people made good money travelling with a circus as different circuses had rivalries with each other, so these people could get the best pay from those who wanted them badly enough. Tattoo artists could also make a good living by either travelling with a circus or setting up shop in a location where lots of circuses stopped.

tattoo sideshow banner by Fred G. Johnson
Circus banner by Fred G. Johnson

While tattoos in the circus remained a popular staple in this form of entertainment (even today), they did lose some of their mystery and novelty around the early 1900’s with the invention of the modern electric tattoo machine. Thanks to this machine more and more people were getting tattooed. In order to keep people interested circuses had to step it up a notch. This was done by presenting whole families of tattooed people, tattooed dwarves, motorcycle riders, and even tattooed animals.

tattoo tattooed family
Tattooed family

Popular circus tattoo artists include Stoney St. Claire, who along with being a tattoo artist, was also a sword swallower.

tattoo Stoney St. Claire
Stoney St. Claire

Another artist was Jack Dracula, an artist most famous for working out of Coney Island. Jack was also heavily tattooed himself, and is famous for his facial tattoos, some of which he at least partially did on himself before he realized tattooing his own face would prove a too daunting task.

tattoo Jack Dracula
Jack Dracula

Charles Wagner was another famous artist responsible for tattooing over 50 people who were, or went on to be tattoo attractions. Charles worked out of New York and is also famous for patenting a tattoo machine, improving upon the new design Samuel O’Reilly had created to make tattooing faster and less painful, as well as more sterile.

tattoo Charles Wagner
Charles Wagner and a number of his clients

Samuel O’Reilly patented the first “modern” tattoo machine, and also fully tattooed up to 12 ladies in the late 1800’s.

tattoo o'reilly
O’Reilly’s machine

Many of the tattooed people were also at least part time artists themselves, giving them a chance to earn more money.

Tattooing was an extremely important part of the circus world (and still is), and is also in part responsible for how quickly tattooing became popular in North America and some parts of Europe.

Information taken from books:

-Circus Age : Culture and Society under the American Big Top
by Janet M. Davis

– The Life and Adventures of James F. O’Connell, the Tattooed Man by James F. O’Connell

-Twelve Days at Nuku Hiva : Russian Encounters and Mutiny in the South Pacific
by Elena Govor

-Tattooed : The Sociogenesis of a Body Art
by Michael M. Atkinson

-The Greatest Shows on Earth : A History of the Circus
by Linda Simon

and websites:

http://www.thehumanmarvels.com

http://www.vanishingtattoo.com

http://www.tattooarchive.com

Monmon Cat Tattoos:

Monmon is a Japanese term for tattoo, and a monmon cat is a cat with tattoos. They were designed by Horitomo, a Japanese tattoo artist well known for his hand work (tebori) and his monmon designs. He published a book entitled Monmon Cats and has inspired other tattoo artists around the world.

cat Amber Bananafish at Bananafish Tattoo Parlour
Sassy looking cat with skeletons by Amber Bananafish at Bananafish Tattoo Parlour.

Monmon cats are usually done in traditional Japanese style, and usually have their own Japanese tattoos. They can also be done realistically, in black and grey, and have other tattoos such as American traditional, flowers, and skulls.

cat Ash Valentine
Realistic cat with rose by Ash Valentine.
cat by Simina at Old Bastards Tattoo Shop in Romania
Samurai cat by Simina at Old Bastards Tattoo Shop in Romania.
cat Heather Sinn at Tattoo Room in Simi Valley CA
New school cat with geisha back piece by Heather Sinn at Tattoo Room in Simi Valley, CA.
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Matching foot monmon cats by Horitomo at State of Grace tattoo in Japantown SJ, CA.
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Another by Horitomo with American traditional tattoos.
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Stomach cat by Horitomo with peony tattoos and a fun ball of yarn.
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Full sleeve with monmon cat also by Horitomo.
cat Horitomo
More matching monmon by Horitomo with mean looking Oni!
cat Jason Rose
Monmon cat doing its own tebori tattooing by Jason Rose.
cat Jamie Negro at Behardcore Tattoo
Large monmon with koi fish and cherry blossoms by Jamie Negro at Be Hardcore Tattoo.
cat Kika Blunt
Monmon with waves by Kika Blunt.
cat Luana Cavalcoli
Monmon with cloud and wind designs and cherry blossoms by Luana Cavalcoli.
cat Sarah Baldwin at Control Tattoo in Florida
Monmon drinking sake with a wicked dragon tattoo and flowers by Sarah Baldwin at Control Tattoo in FL.
cat Sebastian Giraldo Nieto
Cute cat with peony flower tattoos by Sebastian Giraldo Nieto.
cat Steph White at Cock A Snook Tattoo Parlour in Newcastle
Blackwork monmon cat with skull inspired by Takiyasha the Witch and the Skeleton Spectre by Utagawa Kuniyoshi done by Steph White at Cock A Snook Tattoo Parlour in Newcastle.

Monmon cat tattoos are a must for cat lovers!

Artist of the Month: Nissaco

Nissaco is a tattoo artist based in Shinsaibashi Osaka at an unnamed private studio that goes by the name room_23_26 on Instagram.

Nissaco 1
Smaller scale pieces. Healed waves and fresh geometrical shell design.

Nissaco does mainly large scale pieces such as full sleeves, back pieces, and even body suits. His style is black geometrical work and it is extremely detailed.

Nissaco 2
Big and painful back of the leg going right over the knee ditch with some popping red in the mandala and linework designs.
Nissaco 3
Full back piece right over the butt and legs leading into a great sleeve on the left arm. Some great use of negative space in the back.
Nissaco 4
Fantastic sleeve with bird skull and eye mixed with geometrical designs.

His work is hard sought after with visitors going to see him from all around the world. Along with having clients from around the world, he also travels, going to various tattoo conventions. Most recent he will be at the 13th London Tattoo convention in September 2017.

Nissaco 5
Filler neck/throat piece that fits great with the adjacent neck pieces.
Nissaco 7
Matching geometric sleeves.
Nissaco 8
Full back and legs with a lot of heavy blackwork for filler.
Nissaco 9
Full front is a tender area going right onto the nipples, with brilliant line work and heavy blacks.
Nissaco 12
Brilliant full torso, sleeve, and two leg sleeves with geometric designs and a hidden face.
Nissaco 13
Half body suit full of heavy blacks in large scale geometrics.
Nissaco 15
Fantastic intricate healed geometric design.

Along with being geometrical in design, Nissaco’s work also often features classic Japanese elements such as dragons, waves, flowers, snakes, koi fish, and hannya masks. These pieces are almost entirely black, but occasionally feature a small amount of red to make them really pop.

Nissaco 6
Full front, sleeve, and half leg sleeve. Featuring a brilliant Japanese dragon, and flowers such as chrysanthemums and cherry blossoms.
Nissaco 10
Great geometric koi fish with some colour thrown in.
Nissaco 11
Heavy blacks and lots of negative space with this angry hannya.
Nissaco 14
Another hannya coming off of a sleeve and onto the back.

Nissaco is a must see artist in Osaka, Japan, but book well in advance as his books fill up fast!

Deathly Hallows Tattoos:

The Deathly Hallows are three magical objects from the Harry Potter series that together make up a triangular design that when worn shows you are a believer. The three objects are the Elder Wand, a wand made to be unbeatable, The Resurrection Stone, which brings back the dead, and the Cloak of Invisibility which as it says, renders the user completely invisible. The cloak forms a triangle, the stone is a circle within the triangle, and the wand is a straight line within the triangle and circle.

Hallows 1
My own Hallows and quote Done by Carly Montgomery at First String Tattoo in Winnipeg.

The story of the Deathly Hallows is first told in the seventh book. In the story, Death created each of these three items, and gave them to the three Peverell brothers who had outsmarted Death by crossing a river that usually claimed lives. These items were their rewards for outsmarting him. The two eldest brothers had requested the wand and the stonem but both met grisly deaths due to the nature of their magical items. The wand caused Antioch Peverell to gloat, leading him to be killed in his sleep and have the wand stolen, while the stone caused Cadmus Peverell to take his own life after bringing his late wife back from the dead, as she was unable to be happy in the land of the living again. The youngest brother Ignotus Peverell requested Death’s own cloak, and used it to avoid him until he was ready for Death. Ignotus passed the cloak on to his son and from there greeted Death “like an old friend”. This cloak is the very same on that Harry had passed down to him.

hallows Brit Tigera
White Hallows and bright flowers by Brit Tigera.
hallows Felipe Bernardes
Watercolour background with Hallows and hand holding onto the Elder Wand by Felipe Bernardes.
hallows Fulvio Vaccarone
Neo traditional hand with Hogwarts and Hallows by Fulvio Vaccarone at Dark Ink Tattoo Studio in Italy.

Lovers of the Harry Potter series, whether the books or films, have often gotten the Deathly Hallows as a tattoo to show their love of magic. The Deathly Hallows symbol is often paired with quotes or other images such as flowers, Hogwarts, magical creatures, spells, potions, and people’s patronuses.

hallows Helena Darling, Halifax Nova Scotia
Brightly coloured Hogwarts in a globe with Hallows by Helena Darling in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
hallows Jack Peppiette
Brilliant geometric patterned back of the neck piece with Hallows by Jack Peppiette at Insider Tattoo in Edinburgh, Scotland.
hallows Mike D Old Rose Tattoo Califirnia
Hallows and American Traditional rose by Mike D. at Old Rose Tattoo in California.
hallows Nichola Pierport at Jays Inks in Lincoln UK.
Blackwork/dotwork tree’s, broomstick, wand, snitch, and Hallows by Nichola Pierport at Jays Inks in Lincoln, UK.
hallows Raul William
Golden snitch, Harry Potter, and Hallows with watercolour background by Raul Willian at Jack Tattoo.
hallows Ryan Murray at Black Veil Tattoo in Salem Ma
Mcgonagall in cat form with Hallows by Ryan Murray at Black Veil Tattoo in Salem, MA.
hallows Ryan Tews
White Hallows and bright watercolour background by Ryan Tews in Calgary, Alberta.
Hallows Twon Egypt
Blackwork Hallows and and Augrey, a magical bird creature that is tattooed on the Character Delphi from Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Done by Twon in Egypt.

“Always” keep the magic alive!

Tiger Tattoos:

Tiger’s make a fantastic design and can be done in many different styles including Japanese, Chinese, Korean, American traditional, neo traditional, black and grey, photo realism, dotwork, geometric style, and watercolor.

tiger Adam Guy Hays
Neo traditional scalp tiger done by Adam Guy Hays at Red Rock Tattoo.

Tiger tattoos can also carry many different meanings. When done in an Asian style a tiger represents strength, courage, long life, and are also meant to ward off evil spirits, bad luck, and even disease. When done in a more Western style such as American traditional, black and grey, realism, etc.. the tiger is tattooed for its beauty, power, and intensity.

tiger Adrian Bascur
Watercolor space tiger done by Adrian Bascur in Chile.
tiger Alex Gotza
Huge neo traditional three-eyed tiger head by Alex Gotza done at Dirty Roses Tattoo Studio.
tiger Brian Flores
Beautiful neo traditional tiger head by Brian Flores in Spain.
tiger Sandra Dauksh
Photo realistic tiger head with flowers done by Sandra Daukshta at Home of Tattoos in Latvia.
tiger Mikey Holmes
American traditional tiger fighting a snake done by Mikey Holmes at coast to Coast Tattoo in Charlotte NC.
tiger Stefan Johnsson
Another American traditional tiger fighting a snake done by Stefan Johnsson at California Electric Tattoo Parlor in California.

Tigers are one of the biggest predators in the world, and are a solitary creature, so are often seen as symbols of strength and resilience. Tiger tattoos are often done just as a head, but can also be done as a full body. Generally tiger heads are done in a more Western design, with a full body tiger being done in an Asian style, though both can be done in any style.

tiger Apro Lee Seoul
Korean style blackwork tiger done by Apro Lee in Seoul South Korea.
tiger Eli Ferguson Ichi Tattoo
Japanese tiger done by Eli Ferguson at Ichi Tattoo in Tokyo.
Tiger Sean Cushnie Kapala
Unfinished Japanese backpiece done by Sean Cushnie at Kapala Tattoo in Winnipeg.
tiger Jakob Holst Rasmussen
Realistic black and grey tiger head by Jakob Holst Rasmussen done in Aarhus, Denmark.
tiger Mark Ostein
Geometric dotwork tiger head done by Mark Ostein at Wozen Studio in Lisbon.
Tiger Matt Jordan, Ship Shape Tattoo New Zealand
Realistic full back piece with skulls done by Matt Jordan at Ship Shape Tattoo in New Zealand.

What is your favorite style for a tiger tattoo?

Tattoo History 5: Yakuza and Tattoos

The Yakuza are the main face of organized crime in Japan, and can be traced back to  two different groups samurai/ bandits as early as before the 1600’s. These outlaws were called Kabuki-mono, and wore fantastic costumes and carried long swords at their sides as they terrorized towns. These bandits had extreme loyalty to each other, as do the modern day Yakuza, swearing to protect each other even against their own parents, which was unheard of at this time. While the modern day Yakuza do identify with this aspect of the bandits, they really look back to these samurai’s enemies, the machi-yakko, or servants of the town. These townsmen formed groups to fight off these travelling samurai and defended their homes. These groups were made up of merchants, clerks, shopkeepers, homeless wanderers and stray samurai. These men quickly became folk heroes, seen as honourable outlaws.

ancient tattoo scene
Tattooed Tammeijirô Genshôgo, bare-chested, kneels on a fallen foe, a drawn sword in his hand.(from mid 1800’s)

These men were immortalized in stories and plays that are still popular today. These legends eventually passed down to another group of “chivalrous commoners and honourable outlaws”; Japan’s firemen, police detectives, leaders of labour gangs, sumo wrestlers, and members of Japan’s 18th century crime syndicates. These men formed the first groups of the Yakuza. Much like the Italian Mafia (as it is often compared to), the Yakuza formed families, with a father to child hierarchy.

yakuza family
Full Yakuza family portrait.

Like most cultures, criminals were often tattooed to distinguish them from proper citizens, but tattoos can be traced in Japan as far back as the 3rd century . In Japan, criminals started being tattooed in 1720 in order to identify, punish, and humiliate them. These tattoos were sometimes small lines on the arm,  or a black ring around the arm for each crime, or the more prominent forehead tattoo that was either the Chinese character for “dog” or the character for “evil”. After being tattooed, these criminals would be held for three days so that the tattoos would form properly under the skin and would be unable to pick them out of their skin. These people formed groups, and eventually created a subculture of tattooing, adding to their criminal tattoos, making their own art of defiant pride.

tattoo-local-209x300
Different arm tattoos for criminals. (taken from http://www.iromegane.com/japan/culture/history-of-japanese-tattoo/ )
tattoo-face-200x300
Criminal head tattoos (from http://www.iromegane.com/japan/culture/history-of-japanese-tattoo/ ) Top left: Inu (犬/ dog) Top right:lines each time they committed a crime Middle:lines on the forehead and the arm Bottom left:tattooed dots Bottom right: tattooed “x” meaning “bad”

Today when someone says Yakuza, people automatically think tattoo. By the late 17th century these tattoos moved away from simple lines or characters, to fluid pieces of flowers, gods, heroes, and animals, often creating full body pieces. Modern day full body pieces can take years to finish, and can cost upward of $50,000. Traditionally these tattoos or “irezumi” would be done with a bone or wood rod that has a cluster of tiny needles at the end. The rod would then be dipped in ink and jabbed repeatedly into the skin, which was very painful, and very slow. This method is still done today in Japan and other parts of the world, but most artists now use machines. Inks would be made by hand, mainly consisting of black, grey, red, and green. Though modern day Japanese tattoos are more colorful. Early red ink was actually toxic, so it would be a mark of strength and resilience to see how much they could endure.

yakuza backs
Full backs of Yakuza members.

Yakuza designs often feature flowers, dragons, tigers, namakubi, and folklore legends such as Chōbei Banzuiin and other warriors.

utagawa kuniyoshi
Chōbei Banzuiin woodblock print done by the famous Utagawa Kuniyoshi from 1845 in the Edo period.

A way to identify former Yakuza members other than their tattoos is if they are missing part of their pinkies. Members would have part of their pinky cut off if they did something wrong during their time, and many had it cut off if they wanted to leave the gang, though some ended off much worse.

kusters odo yakuza tokyo
Tattooed hands with part of a pinky cut off.

Today in Japan tattoos are becoming much more common and less associated with the Yakuza, with new members often even foregoing getting tattoos.

For more information on the Yakuza and on crime and punishment in Japan, read the books “Yakuza : Japan’s Criminal Underworld (1)” by Kaplan, David E., Dubro, Alec, and “Punishment and Power in the Making of Modern Japan” by Botsman, Daniel V.

Artist of the Month: Sergey Vaskevich

Sergey Vaskevich is a tattoo artist from Minsk, working out of Good Sign Tattoo. His work is dark traditional and neo-traditional. His work is dark both in colour, and in imagery. Often featuring devils, demons, ghosts,and occult designs, along with the occasional fetish piece.

sergey 1
Horrifying bat head.

He has a fantastic imagination, combining often mundane designs with a fantastic mix of death and horror.

sergey 2
Devil head and mountain range.
sergey 3
Vampiric looking ladyhead with her own great snake tattoo.
sergey 4
Knee mandala
sergey 5
Wicked throat piece of a fiery candle.
sergey 6
Beautiful harp.
sergey 7
NSFW fetish/torture piece.
sergey 8
Spooky occult piece featuring a demon hand making shadows.
sergey 9
Classic wolf head.
sergey 10
Fiery bold torch.
sergey 11
Well and ghost.
sergey 12
Classic bear head.
sergey 13
Banging elbow spider.
sergey 14
Fantastic demon head eating a naked woman.
sergey 15
Severed ladyhead with moon and crow.

Which piece is your favorite?

Goddess Kali Tattoos:

Kali is a Hindu goddess often misconstrued as a goddess of death. While she does bring about the death of the ego and demons, she does not kill humans. She is the counterpart of the more violent deity Shiva the destroyer, both of whom are the destroyers of unreality. Kali is depicted as a woman with a garland of skulls or heads, and dismembered arms, because the ego arises out of identification with the body. She also is usually seen with black or dark blue skin, which symbolizes the womb of which all creation arises and into which all creation will eventually dissolve into. So she is often mistaken as a fearsome deity, she is actually a motherly figure.

As a tattoo Kali is often done in American traditional style, neo-traditional, black and grey, or realism.

kali-aaron-riddle
Neo-traditional Kali by Aaron Riddle at Black Lotus Tattooers in Phoenix, Arizona.
kali-andrew-strychnine
American traditional, less angry Kali by Andrew Strychnine at Redrum Tattoo Collective in Moscow.
kali-dan-molloy
Unfinished black and grey Kali back piece by Dan Molloy in Perth, Australia.
kali-joe-ellis
Mostly black Kali by Joe Ellis at Sacred Electric Custom Tattooing in Leeds, UK.
kali-natalya-litvinenko
Full colourful Kali back piece by Natalia Litvinenko.
kali-philip-yarnell
Dark American traditional Kali head by Philip Yarnell at Skynyard Tattoos, UK.
kali-steven-huie
Full bodied version of Kali by Steven Huie at Flyrite Tattoo.
kali-tom-caine
Another unfinished Kali back piece by Tom Caine at Holy mountain Tattoo, UK.
kali-andrew-fyfe-at-main-street-tattoo-collectivve
Full rib panel Kali head by Andrew Fyfe at Main Street Tattoo Collective in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
kali-lucy-at-into-you-tattoo-piercing
A much more motherly version of Kali by Lucy Pryor at Into You Tattoo & Piercing in London, UK.

Winnipeg Artists 2: Reuben Todd

Reuben is a tattoo artist working out of Kapala Tattoo in Winnipeg. His main styles are American traditional and Japanese. Along with tattooing, Reuben also paints; mainly Japanese inspired images.

Reuben has years of experience under his belt and is a pleasure to be tattooed by. Even while tattooing my stomach which is quite a tender area, he was able to take my mind off the pain with conversation.

reuben-6
My own blackwork American traditional stomach piece.
reuben-1
Blackwork American traditional clasped hands and dagger with flowers.
reuben-2
Peter Pan inspired piece with pan flute and script.
reuben-3
Blue traditional rose.
reuben-7
Matching knee ditch Halloween pieces. A witch and Casper the friendly ghost.

Reuben has been doing larger pieces recently including half and full sleeves. His American traditional pieces are reminiscent of the old days, but have a twist of newer style, particularly while tattooing lady heads.

reuben-9
Ladyhead with apple and different coloured eyes based on his clients photo.
reuben-10
Large healed ladyhead with new traditional wolf below.

His Japanese work is bold, often featuring waves or flowers, which really make the main center piece of the tattoo pop. His Japanese work is generally done large in a arm or leg sleeve.

reuben-4
Japanese dragon 3/4 sleeve with fire.
reuben-5
Full Japanese leg sleeve with koi, waves, and leaves.
reuben-8
Japanese snake sleeve with waves.

Reuben is a must see artist for your traditional or Japanese tattoo needs.