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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Sun Dancer Tattoos:

The Sun Dancer tattoo is an easily recognizable American traditional design, first painted by Bert Grimm, a pioneer of American traditional tattooing who worked from around 1916-1970. An important part of Indigenous history and culture, the Sun Dance is a spiritual ceremony that was and is still very important to different groups, primarily to those of the plains cultures in America and Canada.

Sun Dancer with eagle and heads by Fabio Onorini.
Blackwork back done by Clemens Hahn.

The ceremony is a gruelling but important one, primarily (though not entirely) performed by males. The dancer fasts, going without both food and drink for days at a time, while dancing around a sacred fire and traditional pole meant to represent the sun. Others drum and sing prayers while the dancer dances until exhausted.

Sun Dancer true to Bert Grimm by Kim-Anh.
Backpiece true to Bert Grimm by Gustavo Silvano.

As part of the ceremony, piercing and suspension is also common. This involves a leader piercing rods into the chest or back of the dancer, while they drag a bison head until the skin rips. Other variations involve horses pulling at the rods, or the dancer being suspended from the pole by the rods in their skin. This inspired modern suspension.

Blackwork interpretation by Flurick Ruslan.
Cute foot Sun Dancer by Heath Arnolde.

Often times the dancer would become delirious and hallucinate both from the physical and mental exertion, topped with dehydration and extreme hunger. Unfortunately the ceremony was banned in Canada in 1885 under the Indian Act, but the ban was dropped in 1951, though Indigenous people continue(d) to be treated unfairly. Today the Sun Dance is still performed by some communities.

Sun Dancer with dragon in this piece by Florian Santus.
Big thigh Sun Dancer done by Nick Griffiths.

One of the first examples of this ceremony being painted is Bert Grimm’s Sun Dancer flash and tattoo. The original painting depicts a girl dancing with her left knee raised, right hand holding a spear, with a shield depicting a bald eagle in her left hand. A red sun and traditional roses make up the background.

Sun Dancer and dragon by Rich Hadley.
Skeletal Sun Dancer by Roger Oliveira.

As the design was first made by a pioneer of American traditional tattooing, it is mainly tattooed today in the same style. Though people do take artistic liberties, sometimes including animals or other flowers, and even changing the subject of the tattoo. It is often done as a back tattoo, but can also be seen on arms and legs, usually as still large pieces, though through adaptation artists have created smaller pieces as well.

Punk interpretation in a painting by Miguel Neils.
A more neo traditional animal version of the Sun Dance by Robson Nagata.

To read more about the Sun Dance please check out https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/sun-dance

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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.

Hand of Glory Tattoos:

The Hand of Glory was a particularly grotesque tool used by criminals, particularly thieves, to aid in robberies. The legend dates back to the 15th century, and there are numerous accounts of people using them throughout history.

American traditional Hand of Glory done by Cassie Lynn O’Neal at Floating World Tattoos.
A lit Hand of Glory with an eye and a snake done by Oskar Gurbada.

The name reportedly comes from the French, “main de glorie”, which in turn got its name from the magical mandrake root.

A more realistic and black and grey Hand of Glory done by Alex Pea at Drop of Ink in Pennsylvania.
A very magical Hand of Glory done by Pa Dundon, done at Sands of Time Tattoo in Ireland.

According to legend, mandrakes grow under gallows from the seed of a hanged man, and they were believed to shine like lamps at night, also in roughly the shape of a hand.

Another American traditional Hand of Glory with wings done by Emil Dz at Philadelphia Eddies Tattoo.
Hand of Glory radiating light for this wearer, done by Sam at Westside Tattoo in Brisbane.

The process of making a hand of glory is quite particular, and adds to the macabre nature of the thing. Sabine Baring-Gould wrote in his book, Curious Myths of the Middle Ages: “The Hand of Glory .. is the hand of a man who has been hung, and it is prepared in the following manner: Wrap the hand in a piece of winding-sheet, drawing it tight, so as to squeeze out the little blood which may remain; then place it in an earthenware vessel with saltpeter, salt, and long pepper, all carefully and thoroughly powdered. Let it remain a fortnight in this pickle till it is well dried, then expose it to the sun in the dog-days, till it is completely parched, or, if the sun be not powerful enough, dry it in an oven heated with vervain and fern. Next make a candle with the fat of a hung man, virgin-wax, and Lapland sesame.” (1873)

A more colourful and stylized American traditional Hand of Glory done by Jon Harper at Black Friars Tattoo.

The people who used hands of glory had different beliefs. Some believed it could give light only to them, leaving others in darkness, some believed it could make them invisible, many thought it could burn forever and could only be put out if the user so desired, others believed and hoped it could render any nearby person motionless or put occupants of a residence to sleep. All tales of the hand of glory seem to show the belief that the hand could open any nearby lock, making it an even more useful tool for those wishing to take something that does not belong to them.

A bleeding American traditional Hand of Glory done by JP Farias at Atlantico Tattoo.

Open, lock, 
To the Dead Man’s knock! 
Fly, bolt, and bar, and band! 
Nor move, nor swerve, 
Joint, muscle, or nerve,  
At the spell of the Dead Man’s hand!  
Sleep, all who sleep! — Wake, all who wake!  
But be as the dead for the Dead Man’s sake! 

Now lock, nor bolt, nor bar avails, 
Nor stout oak panel thick-studded with nails. 
Heavy and harsh the hinges creak,  
Though they had been oil’d in the course of the week.  
The door opens wide as wide may be,  
And there they stand,  
That murderous band,  
Lit by the light of the Glorious Hand,  
By one! — by two! — by three! By Thomas Ingoldsby

Black and grey Hand of Glory with an eye done by Lindsay K at Urge Studios in Victoria, Canada.

And of course fans of Harry Potter will be familiar with the Hand of Glory from Mr. Borgin and Burkes’ store when young Mr. Malfoy takes a fancy to it. “Ah, the Hand of Glory!” said Mr. Borgin, abandoning Mr. Malfoy’s list and scurrying over to Draco. “Insert a candle and it gives light only to the holder! Best friend of thieves and plunderers! Your son has fine taste, sir.” 

A solid linework Hand of Glory with burned out candles and an eye done by Nevada Buckley at Firefly Tattoo Collective.

Which gruesome hand is your favourite and why? Let me know in the comments and remember to check out any of the artists if you liked their work.

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

Krampus Christmas Tattoos:

You’d better watch out, you’d better not cry… Krampus is coming and he’s much less forgiving than jolly old St. Nicholas.

Done byA dam Hathorn at Big Troube Tattoo in North Park San Diego.
Done by Erin Mealing at Golden Rule Tattoo in Arizona.
Done by Moira Ramone, at 25 To Life Tattoo in the Netherlands.

Krampus is the demonic, German counterpart to St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas is the original Santa Claus; the patron saint of children. European cultures did (and to some degree still do) celebrate(d) St. Nicholas early in December every year. But equally fear(ed) Krampus; the Christmas demon who punishes children. He is usually seen as a massive beast, similar to a Greek satyr or faun, but much more menacing.

Done by Adam Rosenthal in Littleton CO.
Done by Mark Heggie
Done by Morg Armeni Lacrimanera Tattoo Saloon in Firenze.

Krampus stands anywhere from six to eight feet tall, has dark fur with matching long dark hair, huge sharp horns, a long forked tongue, and large hooves.

Done by Ally Liddle Tattoos Newcastle.
Done by Matthew R. Macri

Similar to Santa, Krampus also carries bells, lulling children into a false sense of security. He also carries a bundle of long birch sticks so he can beat children.

Done by Chong Tramontana
Done by Rodney Davis at Westside Tattoo Company.

He saves the worst punishment for the naughtiest children though. Children who are particularly bad get dragged down into the underworld in his large sack to be tortured. Just a bit worse than a lump of coal!

Done by Cody Reed at High Caliber Custom Tattoos in NC.
Done by Rylee West Anderson at Neon Dragon Tattoo in Cedar Rapids.

Krampus arrives on December fifth, which is also known as Krampusnacht. The next day is when St. Nicholas arrives and rewards all the good children.

Done by Debora Cherrys.
Done by Elliot Wells

Krampus is becoming more and more popular thanks to movies and tv episodes dedicated to the beastly Christmas character. People are always looking for a new way to celebrate Christmas, and for those who like the darker side of life, Krampus has become their own Santa Claus.

Done by Anthony Burkhead
Done by Jack Quadri

As a tattoo, Krampus is often done in blackwork style to emphasize how dark and menacing he is. Though American and Neo traditional styles are also quite popular. Krampus is also usually just depicted as a head, but is sometimes seen full-bodied and carrying children in his sack.

Done by Beebo at Rick Walter’s World Famous Tattoo.
Done by Matt Nemeth in Richmond VA.

Who will you be hoping to see this Christmas season; Santa, or Krampus?

Tattoo History 8: Myanmar’s Tattooed Chin Women

All pictures are by Eric Lafforgue, not myself.

There are 135 different ethnic groups in Myanmar. One of them is called Chin, after the Chin state that they live in. Each of these groups has rich cultural traditions. The Chin people are known for their remarkable face tattoos. The women of Chin state have been getting face tattoos since the eleventh century according to legend.

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The tradition of tattooing the faces of girls started when a Burmese king visited the area. Becoming enthralled with the young women he kidnapped one young girl to be his bride. The elders then decided to tattoo their young girls faces to dissuade other men from stealing them. It is also said to make them more beautiful, and to be able to tell them apart from the women in other tribes. The third legend of the beginning of face tattooing is that local pastors told them only those with face tattoos would get into heaven. This being after the area was colonized by British missionaries.

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There are different tattoo patterns for different groups within the Chin state. For example, the M’uun women have more sloping, curved shapes, the Yin Du have long vertical lines that cross the entire face, and the Uppriu have their entire face tattooed full of dots.

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As with most of these ancient tattoo traditions, it is extremely painful to get them done. The tattoos are made using leaves, grass, and soot. The leaves are used to make colour, the soot is sued as a disinfectant and binding agent, and the grass shoots are later used to wrap the tattoo, giving a natural bandage. The tattoo is given using long, sharp cane thorns. The face would stay swollen for 5-7 days, but it was all worth it for the beauty and tradition!

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The government banned getting these tattoos in the 60’s, but some women still practise this ancient tradition since they are so far from the capital.

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The women who still have their face tattoos love them and see them as a beautiful addition to their bodies. The younger generations don’t seem to like how they look for the most part, but the older women stick together and still admire each others art.

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Artist of the Month: Jimmy Ho

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.

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An in progress pic of chest panels and half sleeves done in traditional Chinese style.
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Jimmy tattooing a dragon onto Chinese movie star Michael Chan in the 1970’s.

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.

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Three Chinese dragons.
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Tiger flash from 1983

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.

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Chinese dragon as a full back piece.
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Raijin and dragons done in 1984 or 85.

Jimmy has his own style, modelled after his fathers. A mix of traditional Chinese and American traditional, but specializing in dragons.

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Dragon and lady done in 1975.
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Beautiful forearm dragon piece.

Jimmy still tattoos, but most of the pictures on his Instagram are from the 70s-90s if you’re trying to find a portfolio.

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Chinese movie star Andy Lau in 1997.
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Sign for Jimmy’s tattoos in Hong Kong.

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.

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Eagle and mudan flower from 1982 or 83.

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

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Jimmy with some of his flash that you can buy on big cartel.