Snake Lady Tattoos: From Myth to Your Skin

Snake ladies have been around for centuries, and we’re still fascinated with their beauty and danger. We know they exist as towering Greek statues, paintings on Japanese woodblock carvings, medieval paintings in France and throughout Europe, words and paintings in ancient Chinese texts, and of course, as beautiful tattoos. The four snake ladies we’re going to take a look at today are Medusa, Nure-Onna, Bái Sùzhēn, and Mélusine, though more cultures have their own as well. For many modern feminists, snake lady tattoos have become a common motif, which is not surprising given their subject matter. These mythological snake ladies all have their own beauty, and danger, and that danger is aimed towards those who would harm them.

Left to right, Mélusine by Julius Hübner, Nure-Onna artist unknown, Medusa by Luciano Garbati, and Bái Sùzhēn artist unknown

According to research by Max Plank, humans have an automatic fear of snakes, dating back to our cavemen ancestors for pretty obvious reasons. Stay away from things that bite you! But snakes in the myths of many cultures are not just evil creatures, they are also symbols of fertility, hence why we have so many snake “ladies” throughout history. Granted many snake ladies are also described as twisted and horrible monsters, but they are almost always wronged by men in some way, and are just trying to live their best lives, even if it means killing and/or eating the occasional man (relatable though, right?). Even the Christians jumped on the snake lady bandwagon when Michelangelo depicted Satan not as a man in his painting “Fall and Expulsion of Adam and Eve” in the Sistine Chapel in the 1500’s, but as a snake with the torso of a woman. So why do people keep getting these snake lady tattoos if they’re often depicted negatively?

Michelangelo’s Fall and Expulsion of Adam and Eve.

Let’s have a look at our first snake lady Medusa, and why people might get snake lady tattoos of her. Medusa is immediately recognizable and is seen in all kinds of pop culture. At a glance, Medusa looks like a terrifying monster, but her character is much more complicated than that. According to Ovin’s Metamorphoses, Medusa wasn’t always the monster that she’s usually seen as. Medusa, one of the three Gorgon sisters, and the only mortal one, was extremely beautiful. So beautiful in fact, that she caught the eye of the god of sea, earthquakes, and horses, Poseidon. Turns out Poseidon was a real scum bag and actually raped Medusa in the temple of Athena. When Athena found out what had happened in her temple, she got angry at the wrong person and cursed Medusa for desecrating her holy space. 

Medusa head by Ian Saunders
Medusa head by Frederico Rems
Full Medusa back piece by Zhuo Dan Ting

This curse turned Medusa’s hair into snakes, making her so horrible to look at that any who did would be instantly turned to stone. Medusa went from being written about like this, “Medusa once had charms; to gain her love. A rival crowd of envious lovers strove. They, who have seen her, own, they ne’er did trace. More moving features in a sweeter face. Yet above all, her length of hair, they own, in golden ringlets wav’d, and graceful shone.” To this, “In the middle is the Gorgon Medusa, an enormous monster about whom snaky locks twist their hissing mouths; her eyes stare malevolently, and under the base of her chin the tail-ends of serpents have tied knots.” So Medusa was forever transformed into a monster, one that could even get a hero some street cred if they were to slay her. Enter, Perseus. Perseus was the son of Danae, a mortal princess, and Zeus, mightiest of the gods. When Perseus grew up he was sent on a quest by King Polydectes, to bring him the head of Medusa. This was a trick though, as old King Poly really just wanted to sleep with Perseus’ mother, and was expecting Perseus to be killed by Medusa. But Perseus is the son of a god, so of course he’s not going to fight a monster empty handed and without a few tricks up his toga. He was given an invisibility cap from his uncle Hades, a pair of winged sandals from Hermes, a reflective bronze shield from Athena, and a new sword from Hephaestus. Our story of the poor cursed Medusa ends here, as Perseus was triumphant and snuck up on her while she was sleeping and chopped her head off. 

Realistic Medusa half sleeve by Loren Miller
Black and grey Medusa head by Marisol Teran
Neo traditional Medusa head done by Claudio Erzi

For many people, Medusa is a relatable character, so it’s no surprise that when you search for snake lady tattoos, she’s going to be one of the first examples you see. Medusa was wronged by someone more powerful than her, but was then given the power in the form of a curse to keep people from hurting her (unless you’re Perseus). Medusa tattoos can be seen as a kind of armour, as Medusa turned people to stone with her gaze. If you rock a Medusa tattoo, she can handle glaring at that weirdo on the bus for you. 

Angry snake lady by Adam Ruff

Our second snake lady and corresponding snake lady tattoos, Nure-Onna, comes from Japan. The name Nure-Onna means, “wet woman.” As such, I’ll give you three guesses as to where she lives, and the first two don’t count. Quite simply, the water; coasts, rivers, and lakes. Really any body of natural water that can fit a giant snake lady. Traditionally she is native to Kyushu, Japan’s south-westernmost of the main island’s. But she can also be found as far north as Niigata and farther east in infamous Fukushima. Now unlike Medusa, Nure-Onna was never human, she’s pure creature, though not necessarily “evil.” She’s described as being large enough to flatten trees with her tail, strong enough to overpower men and eat them, and is quite a fast swimmer. In some legends she has arms like a human, and in others the only human thing about her is her head, plopped on top of a snakes body. Though all legends describe her face as quite snake-like, forked tongue and all. According to some legends, she really just wants to be left alone as she’s quite solitary and goal oriented. Usually coming ashore to wash her hair and eat. Her diet consists of both blood and entrails (delicious), but not specifically human blood and entrails, though don’t piss her off and test that. Now even though she’s way stronger than you or me, she doesn’t like to rely on brute strength when she is in the mood for some man meat. She’s smart and tricky. Nure-Onna uses magic to disguise herself as a distressed woman carrying a crying baby. She herself cries out for help from passing fishermen, sailors, or anyone unlucky enough to be passing by. If someone does stop to help her, she convinces them to take the baby, just for a moment, to let her rest. If she gets that far, the fake baby magically becomes extremely heavy, and she changes back into a snake lady, drains their blood, and eats their guts. 

Nure-Onna snake lady tattoos are another design that can be worn as a kind of armour, as we now know Nure-Onna is a force to be reckoned with! She’s also more creepy looking than Medusa, so for horror aficionados she’s a cool choice. For those who also enjoy Japanese tattooing, Nure-Onna can be paired with Japanese flowers, and background such as waves or clouds as she is a creature from the sea. 

Nure-Onna back piece by Lesha Sbitnev
Nure-Onna leg sleeve by Harriet Street
Nure-Onna rib piece by Giorgio Gun

Our third snake lady and her tattooed form is more of a romantic one than our first two. Bái Sùzhēn is a snake spirit from The Legend of the White Snake, one of Four Classic Folktales from China. These are old written works of historic and literary significance. Bái Sùzhēn was born as a magical sea snake that, after practicing Daoist magic, learned how to transform herself into a human. So, still a snake lady. This story takes place in beautiful Hangzhou, and begins with a boy named Xǔ Xiān, who accidentally purchases immortality pills that make him sick. He’s so sick that he throws up the pills into the lake. Bái Sùzhēn just happens to be swimming in the lake and swallows the immortality pills, but because she’s a spirit, she’s able to digest them. She is so happy and gracious that she immediately falls in love with Xǔ Xiān. 

Bái Sùzhēn by Ssab
Bái Sùzhēn by Weber Duan
Bái Sùzhēn by Jason Eisenberg

Bái Sùzhēn acquires a sidekick of sorts while traveling in human form. She sees a green snake being hurt by a man, and saves her by transforming her into a human as well. The green snake, now named, Xiǎo Qīng, swears to follow Bái Sùzhēn until the end of time. By huge coincidence, the two snake ladies come across Xǔ Xiān again, and shortly after their chance encounter, they get married. Years after their marriage, a jealous turtle spirit also turned human named Fa Hai, sabotages the marriage by telling Xǔ Xiān that his wife should try realgar wine during a festival. This wine repels spirits and and harmful creatures, and as soon as she drinks it, she is transformed back into a giant snake, giving her husband a heart attack that leads to his death. Loyal as ever, Xiǎo Qīng helps Bái Sùzhēn take Xǔ Xiān’s body to a sacred place to revive him. So happy to be revived he declares his love for his wife again, not caring that she’s a snake lady. Fa Hai of course finds out that his plan didn’t work, and he ends up, after various unsuccessful attempts to capture or kill the trio, manages to trap Bái Sùzhēn in the Leifeng Pagoda after her and Xǔ Xiān’s son Xǔ Mèngjiāo is born. Many years later, Xǔ Mèngjiāo passes the extremely difficult and competitive imperial exams with flying colours. He returns home with the title of top scholar, and is now a pious Confucian. He visits the Pagoda where his mother is trapped, to pay his respects. The heavens are so touched with his filial devotion that they finally free Bái Sùzhēn and allow the family to reunite. Another story featuring a bunch of men trying to bring a snake lady down.

Nude snake lady on the ribs by Clare Von Stitch

Snake lady tattoos aren’t just for those who love the gritty and gruesome stories, they can also be for romantics. Though Bái Sùzhēn is a snake lady, she’s also a true romantic, falling in love Disney style (ridiculously fast), and fighting for her family. If you’re wanting a snake lady tattoo with a bit of a romantic flair, but still has a strong fighting spirit, you can’t go wrong with her. 

American traditional snake lady head by Matt van Herten
Full bodied snake lady by Dawn Smith
Witchy snake lady head by Tyler Howard

Our fourth and final snake lady is another familiar one to all, though you may not know it. Her name is Mélusine, and while she is often described as a snake lady, she’s also sometimes more like a mermaid, but with two tails. If you’re starting to get an image in your mind, you might think of one of the most well-known coffee logos in the world. Starbucks uses the effigy of Mélusine on their cups, a smiling two tailed mermaid, or snake lady. In some myths she is described as a witch, but in many she’s more of a fairy. Mélusine was a French mythological creature coming out of the late 1300’s in France. She is the daughter of the fairy Pressyne and King Elynas of Albany. 

Mélusine done at La Rose de Jericho
Mélusine by Mel Mauthe
Mélusine by Pcla Ink

Now Mélusine was perfectly normal in appearance, despite being part fairy, except on Saturday’s. On these days she unwillingly transformed into, you guessed it, a snake lady, usually described with the two tails and a bit more fishy than strictly serpentine. One day Mélusine met a young man named Raymond in the forest nearby. As most fairytales go, they were married extremely quickly, in this instance, by morning. But Mélusine had one condition, Raymond was not to see her on Saturdays. The couple had many children, but each child was born with a different deformity, including mismatched eye colours, an ear larger than the other, only one eye, and even a son who was born with a lion’s foot growing out of his cheek and another with a great tooth. This was of course because of her fairy blood, but Raymond didn’t know that. One day Raymond’s brother visited, and made him suspicious of his wife’s lonely Saturday’s. So of course Raymond betrayed his wife’s trust and spied on her the next Saturday, and though he was horrified at seeing her in the bath with her two serpentine tails, he didn’t say anything. Until their one son with the great tooth attacked a monastery seemingly unprovoked, and killed one hundred monks. Raymond then accused Mélusine of passing on her serpentine blood to their children, and of course alerting her to the fact that he had betrayed her trust. So distraught, Mélusine turns into a 15 foot snake, circles the castle three times, wailing loudly, before flying away. She continued to visit her children, but only at night. 

Snake lady head done by Mark Cosgrove
Traditional snake lady head done by Capilli Tupou
Huge neo traditional stomach snake lady done by Timmy Howe

This story has something for everyone, as Mélusine is also a romantic, but her child is also a murderer, and she’s still a giant snake lady.  As a snake lady tattoo, we can see she often looks more like a mermaid then a snake, but 3/4 of these stories feature water as a common theme, so that’s not too surprising. Mélusine also makes a great snake lady tattoo if you’re a fan of Starbucks, but you don’t want that classic “death before decaf” piece! She’s a bit more subtle than that, and only true Starbucks fans (and anyone who reads this) will know who she is. 

American traditional snake lady head done by Frank Ball Jr
Black and grey realism meets red neo traditional snake lady by Jared Bent
Colourful neo traditional snake lady done by Jamie Santos

While these snake ladies might seem like monsters, they’re really just women wronged by men, and stories of feminist power. So guys, don’t be assholes! And when in doubt, get yourself a snake lady tattoo. They look badass, and they might just protect you from unwanted advances if they’re scary enough. 

American traditional snake lady head done by Brad Andrew Snow
Neo traditional snake lady head done by Jason Reed Brownless
Snake lady back piece by Devx Ruiz
Black work snake lady done by Giulia Luconi
Realistic full sleeve of a snake lady with her pet done by Tophe Tattoo
Subdued colours in this neo traditional snake lady head done by Javier Franco

Which snake woman is your favourite?

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Tattoo History 11: Tattooed Ladies

Pictures courtesy of Vintage Tattoo Photo Archive.

For over 100 years, “The Tattooed Lady” was an attraction not to be missed at circuses, carnivals, and freak shows all around the world. While men also performed and showed off their tattooed bodies, women were what people wanted to see. Pick a time in history, or modern day, and sex and danger sells. Thus, tattooed women sold tickets wherever they went, and attracted tourists and locals alike.

Some of the most famous tattooed ladies of the 1800’s and 1900’s also had fabricated back stories to make themselves seem more interesting. What’s more interesting (especially given the times); “woman tattooed by force after capture by ‘savages'”, or “woman gets tattooed by her common-law partner?” This was part of the fabrication and later true story of Nora Hildebrandt.

Betty Broadbent April 4th 1938, Australia

Nora Hildebrandt is known as the first professional tattooed lady. She was tattooed by her common-law partner, Martin Hildebrandt (some people refer to them as father and daughter but more evidence points to them being romantic partners rather than father and daughter). Martin Hildebrandt is a hard person to pin down due to the amount of traveling he did. But according to numerous reports it looks like he eventually settled in New York in the 1850’s. Nora Hildebrandt began performing at sideshows in 1882, with over 365 tattoos all over her body. This number helped her fake back story of being captured by “Indian savages” and forcibly tattooed one per day for a year (which she later admitted was false and just helped sell tickets). Nora most famously performed with Barnum and Bailey’s circus in the 1890’s as their main tattooed lady.

Nora Hildebrandt 1880’s

Artoria (Anne) Gibbons is another well known tattooed lady. She worked for over 30 years in circuses and sideshows in the early 1900’s including Barnum and Bailey’s, the Ringling Brothers, and others. She met Charles “Red” Gibbons, an already well known tattooer, and the two eventually married. After being married for 4-5 years, Red started tattooing Anne, and she became almost like a business card or canvas to showcase his work. She was apparently so beautiful, and the tattoos on her body so well done, that she stole the show wherever she went. In an interview in 1934, Anne said that she was often asked if she was born that way (seriously). From medieval times to the mid 1900’s many people believed in the “mark of impression,” that something the mother had done or seen would leave a physical mark on the baby. Doctors legitimately thought that her mother had watched too many movies while she was pregnant with Anne and that’s why she was covered in images.

Artoria Gibbons and her famous last supper tattoo in 1920

A third well known tattooed lady was Betty Broadbent. She was born in the early 1900’s and at the age of 14 went to work for a wealthy family in Atlantic City as a nanny. It was there that she came across the heavily tattooed man, Jack Red Cloud on the famous Atlantic City Boardwalk. He was performing as a Tattooed Man and was happy to talk to her about tattoos and art. Betty started her body suit after being introduced to Jack’s friend, the famous Charlie Wagner. She spent her life savings tot ravel to New York City to and start being tattooed by Wagner. She was also tattooed by another New York artist named Joe Van Hart, and eventually collected pieces from Tony Rhineagear and Red Gibbons. The process took about two years and included 365 individual pieces, varying in theme. They covered her arms, legs, back, and chest. Pieces included historical figures such as Queen Victoria, religious figures such as the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus. Though one of her most notable pieces is a huge eagle that spreads from shoulder to shoulder. When asked about it she reportedly said “it hurt something awful, but it was worth it.”She joined the circus in 1927, working with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey’s. Betty was also one of the few well known Tattooed Ladies who didn’t use a fabricated story about her tattoos.

Betty Broadbent, April 4th in38, Australia

The last Tattooed Lady I looked at is Maud Wagner. Along with being a Tattooed Lady, Maud also performed aerial acrobatics and was an accomplished contortionist who travelled with multiple circuses. She was born in 1877 in Kansas. Maud met her husband, Gus Wagner at the Louisiana World’s fair in 1904, and learned how to do hand-poked tattoos from him. She would become America’s first known female tattooer, along with her work as a performer in the circus industry. The couple had a daughter, Lotteva, who learned the family trade at the age of 9 and continued tattooing throughout her life. Maud’s tattoos included patriotic art, and animals mainly.

Maud Wagner 1907

It is often assumed that men dominated the tattoo world, but through research it’s clear to see that women have been just as important in shaping tattoo culture. Tattooed Ladies brought tattoos to the forefront of underground society, and helped make them “more acceptable.” Tattooed Ladies were able to make a name and living for themselves for over 100 years, from the late 1800’s to mid 1990’s through circuses and carnivals, and now are able to through websites and magazines.

Who is your favourite historical tattooed lady?

https://www.cloakanddaggerlondon.co.uk/history-tattooed-attraction-betty-broadbent/

https://www.thevintagenews.com/2017/05/05/maud-wagner-known-as-the-inked-woman-was-the-first-female-tattoo-artist-in-america/

https://www.tattooarchive.com/history/gibbons_artoria.php

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10 Black Tattoo Artists to Support:

There is unfortunately still quite a bit of subtle (and not-so-subtle) racism in the tattoo industry. It’s often believed that customers with darker skin are harder to tattoo, but that’s certainly not the case. Especially as body modification is such an important part of all cultures and histories, not just white ones.

Tony at West 4 Tattoos in NYC. Specializing in fine line and micro tattoos.https://www.instagram.com/anthologytattoos/?hl=en
Another by Tony. From A Tribe Called Red album cover.
Kandace Layne in Atlanta. Specializing in line and dot work https://www.instagram.com/kandacelayne/
Chest done by Kandace.

Black ink is also not the only ink that has to be used on dark skin, contrary to what many believe. Darker skin can still feature bright and colourful pieces. you just have to know what you’re doing with that tattoo machine.

Jaz Paulino with a piece inspired by Frida Kahlo. https://www.instagram.com/gentle_jaz/
Berry’s by Jaz.
Coverup by Kat in California who does lots of realism and gothic work. https://www.instagram.com/kattatgirl/?hl=en
Unfinished black history leg piece by Kat. Featuring Rosa Parks and Malcolm X.

More tattoo artists should push themselves to learn how to tattoo different skin types, including darker skin, as the subculture of tattooing isn’t so “sub” anymore. It can be disheartening for black or tanned customers walking into a tattoo shop when all they see is flash painted on white paper, and portfolios filled with white skin, or only very dark tattoos on darker skin.

Dark Mark by Brittany in Toronto. Specializing in line work. https://www.instagram.com/humblebeetattoo/
Delicate fingers by Brittany.
Miryam Lumpini in LA with a neo traditional scar coverup. https://www.instagram.com/miryamlumpini/
Cute neo traditional red panda by Miryam.

(June 2020) With the world finally rallying beside our black brothers and sisters it’s more important than ever to support black businesses, including tattoo artists.

Craig Foster at Skinwerks. Specializing in new school. https://www.instagram.com/skinwerks/?hl=en
New school pizza coming at you from Craig.
Tee J Poole. Specializing in surrealistic tattoos.https://www.instagram.com/teejpoole/?hl=en
J. Cole portrait by Tee J.

Feel free to leave more links to black tattoo artists below!

Healed plants by Doreen Garner in NYC Specializing in black work and fine line tattoos. https://www.instagram.com/flesh_and_fluid/?hl=en
Tiger by Doreen.
Melody Mitchell who does lots of black and grey and water colour pieces.https://www.instagram.com/melodytattoos/?hl=en
Mandala by Melody.

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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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Ghost Tattoos:

Who doesn’t love a good ghost story this time of year?

Black and grey/pointillism piece done by Angelo Parente at Black Casket Tattoo.

People have always had a fascination with death and dying, and with that fascination comes story telling. Some of my favourite books are ghost stories (or related). Here’s a short list of some of my favourites, and some great tattoos to go with them!

Heavy on the black, spooky sheet ghost done by Shannon McFarlene at Iron Lotus Tattoo in Winnipeg, Canada.

Hell House, by Richard Matheson.

American traditional ghosts around a fire done by Grace LaMorte at Spring Street Tattoo in Jeffersonville, Indiana.

The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson.

Cute American traditional Casper tattoo done by Jackpot the needles in Seoul, South Korea.

The Taxidermists Daughter, by Kate Mosse.

A traditional Japanese ghost done by Rob Mopar at Sacred Monkey Tattoo.

The Woman in Black, by Susan Hill.

Super cute fall tattoo including a spooky lil ghost, done by Kassidy Autumn at Cincinnati Tattoo Studio.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, by Alvin Schwartz.

Terrifying sheet ghost done by Ryan Murray at Black Veil Tattoo in Salem, MA.

The Amityville Horror, by Jay Anson.

Halloween themed snow globe done in American traditional style, by Mandee Jane Robinson.

As a tattoo, many people prefer blackwork or black and grey, to maximize the dark feelings that generally come with ghosts. American traditional and realism can also be popular choices for a spooky ghost. Of course not all ghosts are scary, and American traditional ghosts tend not to be. Many American trad ghosts are based on casper the friendly ghost.

Sexy ghost costume done by Samantha Croston at Reign Supreme Tattoo Studio.

Do you prefer scary or fun ghosts?

Wicked pointillism Halloween themed piece done by Tulio Tattoo.

Tattoo Artist Couple: 1

Couples who tattoo together stay together!

Demons and monsters by Osang
Three witches spinning the threads of human destiny done by Sojung

Osang and Sojung are a South Korean couple who tattoo at Hysteric Garden, Seoul, and also do guest spots around the world, including America, Canada, Australia, Europe, and Taiwan.

Burning candle, skull, and magic hand by Osang
A goat and its brides done by Sojung

Both artists specialize in black work that is heavy on detailed lines, and macabre subject matter. As Halloween is right around the corner, they are a perfect pair to get a couple of tattoos from!

Burning church set ablaze by a mischievous demon, done by Osang
A burning witch done by Sojung

You can bring in your own ideas or get an original piece from either of them.

Torture device and a big ole bug done by Osang
Guillotine by Sojung

The couple do lots of specifically occult pieces such as demons, devils, black goats, witches, etc. They are also happy to tattoo more traditional Korean designs such as tigers and ravens if that’s more your style.

A meeting with a demon done by Osang
A dance with the devil by Sojung

If you want a one of a kind, detail oriented black work piece, look no further.

A witchy hanging done by Osang

Anatomical human by Sojung
Traditional Korean tiger done by Osang

Medieval torture by Sojung
Beheading done by Osang
Demonic Angel by Sojung
Gallows and face done by Osang
Vision of the valley of dry bones by Sojung
Gallows in Hell done by Osang
Three eyed goat by Sojung

Keep an eye out on their Instagrams for their travelling guest spots, or pop in while you’re in South Korea. @osangbrutal @goatblackeyed you can find their emails for bookings on their individual Instagram accounts

Getting Tattooed in Hong Kong

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.

Star Crossed tattoo

If you’re getting a tattoo in Hong Kong there’s a good chance you don’t live there and are either 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.

The Company tattoo

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.

The Company tattoo

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.

Myself and Cathy from Star Crossed

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.

A Sailor Jerry re work done by Cathy
Chinese characters from Cathy

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.

James and the finished product on me!
Heavy black work piece on the back of my neck done by James

Plague Doctor Tattoos:

Plague doctors are commonly associated with the 14th Century epidemic, though there is no historical evidence to suggest that the grotesque healers had yet come into play.

Black and grey plague doctor and rose done by Luke Wasser at Sink or Swim Tattoos, Aurora.

Neo traditional smoking doctor and coffin done by Michela Zanni at Skin Cake Tattoo.

The believed inventor of the plague doctor uniform is Charles de l’Orme, the chief physician to Louis VIII. He created it in 1619, and it was used for over 100 years. The terrifying suit was made to look like a bird, with a long leather beak, thick goggles, a black leather coat over top a lighter leather shirt, black goat skin boots, leather gloves, and a black top hat also made of leather to indicate that the wearer was a doctor.

Muted colours in a neo traditional style done by Anderson Escaleira at Maza Tattoo.

Black work doctor with a candle done by Nate Kemr.

Plague doctors would stuff the end of the beak with herbs and spices such as mint, cloves, garlic, and myrrh to battle the noxious smells coming from the plague victims. Sometimes these herbs were set aflame so that the smoke would also protect the doctor. The smoke would then trickle out of the beak, making the doctor appear even more demonic and reaper-like.

American traditional doctor and flower done by Charlotte Louise at Lucky Cat Tattoo Parlour in Glasgow.

American traditional doctor and “memento more” done by Nicholas Chaney at Electric Chair Tattoo in South Wales.

Along with the uniform, many plague doctors would carry a long staff used for examining patients, as well as beating back some of the more aggressive ones. Some patients also believed they had been given the plague by God as some sort of punishment, and thus would occasionally ask the doctor to beat them with their canes as a form of repentance.

Gorgeous neo traditional half sleeve done by Francesco Garbuggino.

Hyper realistic doctor and cemetery done by Paul Vaughan at Rendition Tattoo Studio.

This suit was created because it was believed that the bubonic plague was spread through “foul air”, though in fact we now know that the plague was really spread through sharing bodily fluids, as well as pests such as rats and fleas.

Great contrast in the dark browns and blacks and red flowers. Done by Friedrich Uber.

Gruesome black and grey plague sleeve done by Róbert A Borbás.

The suit would have helped to protect the wearer from the plague to some degree, but not enough to stop the doctors from contracting the deadly sickness. This was in part due to air holes at the end of the beak, where bodily fluids such as blood and pus would enter when the doctor would perform bloodletting and lancing on the unfortunate victims (bursting the large pus-filled cysts).

American traditional plague doctor done by Gordie at Rebel Waltz Tattoo in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

American traditional style smoking doctor and rat done by Shawn Beatty at Soul Survivor Body Art in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Because the majority of these doctors were inexperienced or even completely unqualified, the treatments were often cruel and unusual, performed with no scientific or medical reasoning. Treatments included the fore mentioned bloodletting and lancing, covering the open and festering cysts with human excrement, and even pouring hot mercury on the cysts and then putting the patient into a large oven to burn the cysts off. These methods often just accelerated an already painful death.

Realistic black and grey doctor done by Jordan Croke at Second Skin Tattoo in Derby, UK.

Trash polka style doctor done in black and red by Thorant at The Scarlett Tattoo Studio in Bedford UK.

As a tattoo, plague doctors are often done in a heavy black work style (due to the nature of the uniform). They are also popular in realism, American traditional, neo traditional, and black and grey.

Horrifying black work bird/doctor done by Merry Morgan at Northgate Tattoo in Bath, Somerset.

Colourful neo traditional piece done by Tim Stafford Violet Crown Tattoo in Austin Texas.

Which morbid piece is your favourite?

Tattoo History 9: Lyle Tuttle

Lyle Tuttle was known as the father of modern tattooing, working in the industry from the late 1940’s until his death ( March 2019).

Lyle outside his San Francisco shop

He got his first tattoo at the young age of 14 for the cheap price of $3.50 and was hooked immediately.

Lyle’s front done by Bert Grimm

Lyle’s most well known tattoos on himself were done by the famous Bert Grimm back in 1957 and 1958 at the very shop he would then work at for a number of years, known affectionately as “The Pike”.

Lyle’s back done by Bert Grimm

After working for Bert Grimm, and a couple of smaller shops, Lyle opened his own shop in San Fransisco in 1960. He worked at the shop for 29 years before an earthquake damaged it. After tattooing for years he officially retired in the 90’s, but did small pieces for friends and dedicated fans. He also taught courses on building proper tattoo machines and tattoo etiquette and hygiene.

Lyle tattooing a customer

Lyle was one of the most outspoken male tattoo artists who were pro tattooing women, and women becoming tattoo artists. When asked about what helped tattooing gain such rapid popularity he said “Women’s liberation! One hundred percent women’s liberation! That put tattooing back on the map. With women getting a new found freedom, they could get tattooed if they so desired. It increased and opened the market by 50% of the population — half of the human race! For three years, I tattooed almost nothing but women. Most women got tattooed for the entertainment value…circus side show attractions and so forth. Self-made freaks, that sort of stuff. The women made tattooing a softer and kinder art form.”

Lyle was also a huge advocate for the normalization of tattooing and is famous for saying “Tattoos aren’t meant for everybody, and they’re too goddamn good for some people.”

Lyle’s famous business card

Another of my favourite quotes of his reads thus, “Tattoos are travel marks, stickers on your luggage. Tattoos are special, you have to go off and earn them. You can go into a jewelry store and buy a big diamond and slip it on your finger and walk out. It’s not like that when you go into a tattoo shop and pick a big tattoo and pay for it. Now you got to sit down and take it.”

Old school Lyle flash

This is something I strongly believe in. When people ask me why I get them if they hurt so much, I say it’s part of the experience. And if someone says “just use a numbing cream”, I say you have to earn that tattoo. If you can’t take it, don’t get one.

Old school Lyle flash

Lyle will be greatly missed by his friends, family, and those in the tattoo community. Do yourself a favour and get yourself a piece from his flash in the near future to keep his work alive.

Old school Lyle flash