Moon Cheon is a tattoo artist working out of Kodzunak in Seoul, South Korea. Cheon, tattoos traditional Korean motifs in various styles.
Most of Cheon’s work is done freehand in a more loose style that closely resembles an ancient Chinese style of painting called “Xieyi” or “写意.” This is mostly used for landscape paintings, and Cheon follows this style by applying this technique to land and waterscape tattoos, often including free flowing rivers and flowers.
Cheon also does delicate black and grey tattoos of Korean and East Asian animals, mythical creatures, and Gods and Goddesses.
While much of his work is delicate and beautiful, he also doesn’t shy away from blood, gore, and violence, in the form of severed heads, and Japanese ghosts and demons (yōkai and yūrei).
If you live near Seoul or are passing through, Moon Cheon is a must-see artist.
Kewpie dolls have been seen on old school flash sheets since the early 1900’s, and have gone through fazes of popularity. The original creator of these cuties was Rose O’Neill, an American poet and artist who was famous for being the best-known and highest paid female commercial illustrator in the US at the time. The original designs were made for Ladies Home Journal in 1909 as cupid dolls, with “Kewpie” being a fun variation of the word “Cupid.” They were then put into comic strips also written and Illustrated by Rose O’Neill, and were also used in multiple advertisements such as Jell-O and Kellogg’s corn flakes, among others.
Some notable tattoo artists that first started putting Kewpies in tattoo flash were Percy Waters, Milton Zeis, and Bill Moore. They were very popular designs in the early 1900’s, but faded in popularity in the 1950’s.
It was tattooer Mike “Rollo” Malone that brought Kewpie tattoos back into popularity, drawing many variations of the Kewpie to suit all sorts of tattoo collectors.
Kewpies were also made into the famous dolls we know now, also originally designed by Rose O’Neill. Some notable features of Kewpies as dolls, drawings, and tattoos include a (usually) nude Cupid-like child with a chubby belly, a kind of topknot hairdo, and originally, a red heart and blue wings painted on the chest and back. Rosie cheeks and a mischievous smile were/are also key elements. These dolls were made of many materials including hard plastic, vinyl, cloth, and more. The original dolls are still recognizable with Rose O’Neills name on the bottom of their feet, and are often worth quite a lot.
While most Kewpies were nude, in the 1920’s they started being made with clothing and uniforms such as firemen, cowboys, soldiers, musicians, and more. Today, as tattoos these impish characters are usually still done in an old school American traditional style, and feature most of the same original features previously listed. Many artists get creative and turn famous celebrities or characters into Kewpies, or make them a bit darker by giving them weapons or even making them into horror icons.
Hong Kong, a fascinating city with an equally fascinating history and culture. Tattoos are becoming more and more popular as they enter into the mainstream, making it hard to walk around the downtown area without spotting a tattoo either on a tourist or a local. But for a long time tattoos were seen as something only for criminals, mainly the triads (the Chinese mafia that also operates in Hong Kong and Taiwan among other places).
While tattoos of course existed in the area long before the 1940’s, the first official tattoo shop wasn’t opened until 1946 by the famous James Ho (father of Jimmy Ho). James Ho was a Shanghainese marine engineer in the navy in 1940 and was sailing on a ship in the Indian Ocean when it was hit by a Japanese torpedo. James was lucky and survived by clinging to wreckage and was picked up by an American warship and brought to Calcutta where he first came in contact with tattoos; hand poked tattoos to be specific. James brought his new passion home to Shanghai where he made a machine from bike chains and other spare parts. He fled Shanghai towards the end of WW11 because of political conflict and went to Hong Kong, where he opened the first shop; Rose Tattoo Studio. James had seen mainly old school tattoos on sailors, so that’s what he brought back both to Shanghai and Hong Kong, and why old school Hong Kong tattoos follow similar tropes of hearts, flags, pin-ups and more, all with thick bold lines and vibrant colours. The shop did very well, mainly working on those in the Navy during the Korean and Vietnam wars. Along with these American designs, tattooers in Asia were adding imagery such as dragons, koi, and tigers, among other culturally significant iconography.
To keep up with the high demand, James took on four apprentices; Ricky Lo, Pinky Yun, Benny Tsoi, and Swallow, and later eventually his own son, Jimmy. Jimmy started officially working for his father at the age of 14 after already tattooing clients after hours from around the age of 12. His mother didn’t want him working there but he insisted, and when he showed his father James the earnings, he was finally gifted two tattoo machines of his own. Pinky eventually moved to the US in the 70’s and became very popular after first working with Ricky at “Ricky and Pinky Tattoo”, Benny has a shop still in Hong Kong run by an apprentice (his daughter also tattoos and runs her own shop), and Jimmy’s shop is also still being run by an apprentice in Hong Kong.
When business declined for all tattooers in Hong Kong after the Korean and Vietnam wars, tattooers were working more and more with triads. Only a “大佬” or, “boss” could get tattooed then, and some of the main designs included dragons on the arms or back, or eagles on the chest. Now triads are tattooed less and less, similar to the yakuza in Japan. But when they do opt to get tattoos they are more likely to get them in mainland China where they are significantly cheaper.
Apart from gangsters, the most common people getting tattooed from the 70’s-90’s were construction workers and truck drivers. These developed their own kind of style which consisted of only an outline without any shading, often because they would run out of money. As long as you could tell what the design was supposed to be, it was good enough.
Hong Kong style is also compared to Japanese, particularly for full bodied work with backgrounds such as waves and clouds. This is largely due to Japanese tattooers visiting Hong Kong, and vice versa. For example, James’ son, Jimmy Ho was visited numerous times by Horiyoshi in the 1990’s. Jimmy then borrowed Japanese ideas of tattooing but made them his own.
Today, artists such as Marcus Yuen and Samantha Fung, both working out of 59 tattoo alongside other great artists, and Dave Ryo Lau working out of The Company Tattoo, are all keeping Hong Kong style tattoos alive by continuing to tattoo in the unique style. Marcus in particular works hard to keep Hong Kong style tattoos alive by also sharing information about the old legends, and many historic pictures on his Instagram account.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Today ( June 21st 2020) is National Indigenous People’s Day. Indigenous people have a rich history of body modification, including tattooing, which is still being practiced today.
Before colonialism ravaged North America, tattooing and other traditional body modifications such as piercings were practiced widely by different people throughout what is now Canada and The United States.
These tattoos were meant to represent family, clan crests, social rank within a clan, their relationship to a specific territory, and even hunting and fishing rights.
Tattooing and piercing are just two ceremonial practices that were forbidden by colonists in an attempt to stamp out Indigenous culture, and today, many artists are bringing it back.
North American Indigenous designs are similar to those of the Maori people of New Zealand. Geometric patterns using black ink, produced generally by tapping or threading the ink into the skin using a natural rod or thread, also called “hand poked” or “skin stitched” tattoos.
Placement is also similar between the cultures, often placing important tattoos on faces and hands, among other body parts.
Indigenous tattoos traditionally take inspiration from nature, such as animals, plants, and the elements. But of course Indigenous tattooers can and do work in other styles.
Peaky Blinders is the incredibly popular British tv show following a gang called “The Peaky Blinders” in mainly Birmingham, immediately following the First World War.
Every episode is written by Steven Knight, and is loosely based on both historical gangs in England, and a story the writers father used to tell him about his grandfather having him deliver notes to his uncles, the Sheldons, who became the shows “Shelbys.”
The history of the “real” peaky blinders differs from place to place, with some sources saying they died out by the 1890s. While they weren’t the ruling gang in Birmingham by the end of World War I, it looks like they probably still existed, even though the bigger “Birmingham Boys” became the top dogs by 1910. Peaky Blinders also eventually became a term to describe all gangs coming out of the Birmingham area. In both the show and real life, the gang is made up of mainly young unemployed men, looking to gain power and money through robbery, violence, and controlling both legal and illegal gambling. In the show many of the men also fought in World War I.
The name Peaky Blinders comes from the clothes worn by both the real and fictional gangsters. Their signature style includes tailored jackets, overcoats, waistcoats, silk scarves, bell-bottom trousers, and “peaked” caps. In the show, the gang is famous for sewing razorblades into their caps as their signature weapon, but realistically these blades wouldn’t have been affordable at the time and weren’t used until around 1890, when the Peaky Blinders started to lose power.
Many people are drawn to the show for its style, and that translates into the tattoos we see being made. Most Peaky Blinders tattoos are done in a classic traditional style, keeping it bold and classy, just like the show. Other styles include neo traditional, black work, and realism. Most of the tattoos I found are of Tommy, but the other Shelby brothers also make fine pieces.
Hong Kong is probably the most interesting city I’ve ever been to. It’s by far the most multicultural, and it’s full of rich and interesting history.
Hong Kong also has a fantastic art scene with artists from around the world finding their style and inspiration in and among Hong Kong’s towering skyscrapers and narrow, winding streets filled with irreplaceable noodle shops, the all-important umbrella repair store, and a thriving tattoo scene.
Arguably some of the best artists in the world reside in Hong Kong, at some of the best and most interesting tattoo shops I have been to yet. This past month I received three different tattoos from two different artists at two different shops in Hong Kong.
If you’re getting a tattoo in Hong Kong there’s a good chance you don’t live there and are 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.
Alternatively you can google tattoo artists or shops in Hong Kong and you’ll have similar results. There are a number of artists and shops that will appear first in your searches such as Star Crossed, The Company, Freedom Tattoo, MoFo Tattoo, and Blackout, to name a few. For my own tattoos I chose Star Crossed and The Company.
If you prefer to find your shop one of the old school ways you can also wander through the streets and find ones to walk into, but there’s no guarantee artists will be available as Hong Kong is a bustling place. If you want to find yours by walking then your best bet is taking the metro into Kowloon or Central and starting from there.
Once you find your shop and artist send them an Instagram message or email if they prefer and find out if you need a consultation or if you can start talking designs and prices straight away. If you are coming from outside of Hong Kong there is a good chance you’ll have to pay your deposit through PayPal, and this is common practice. I did so for my tattoo on Japan and Hong Kong, both.
Tattoo day has come finally and you’re excited, and possibly nervous if it’s your first tattoo. If you are getting your first tattoo and it’s in Hong Kong I have a few tips for you. 1. If you are like myself and not used to blistering heat then you’re going to want to drink a fair amount of water before your tattoo, and bring a cold drink with you as even with AC some places in Hong Kong can be pretty hot. 2. Sanitation in parts of Asia, including Hong Kong, are a little different compared to Western cities, so you’ll want to make sure the shop has hygienic practices, and afterwards you’ll want to do a good job washing your tattoo with soap and hot water. 3. This one is again to do with the heat. If you’re a sweater then you’ll really want to make sure you clean your tattoo twice a day to make sure it’s not getting caked in sweat while it’s trying to heal.
At Star Crossed Tattoo I was tattooed by their resident apprentice and local Hong Konger, Cathy (as of July 2019). Cathy tattoos in an American traditional style with an HK twist. I got some script and a good luck piece from Sailor Jerry’s Hong Kong flash that Cathy updated a bit and made her own. If you’re going to get a Chinese character tattoo, make sure you can read it, or get it from an artist who fluently reads and writes the language (that goes for getting a tattoo in any language you don’t actually speak). And this goes both ways, I have also seen people in China with English words tattooed on them that make absolutely no sense. Don’t be that person. The script I got reads jiāyóu, which literally means “add oil”, but is used to say “you got this” or, “keep fighting”. Cathy’s work is often inspired by punk music, and she has many punk rock pin-up ladies you can choose from to get tattooed on you. She mixes old school motifs with a bit of a Neo-traditional colour scheme. Meaning my Sailor Jerry piece has some popping blue and green in there in addition to the black, red, and yellow. Cathy is extremely friendly and Star Crossed has an open and inviting atmosphere. I highly recommend checking it out.
The next shop I visited was The Company. I was tattooed by black work artist James Lau, another Hong Konger, born and raised. James tattoos in a heavy black work style, using thick, bold lines and dark shading to create stunning original pieces. James is known for tattooing finger and palm pieces that really last. James is also a very friendly guy, joking and inviting as soon as the door of the shop opens. The Company has a similar open-floor plan to Star Crossed, so the whole place is very free and open feeling. The Company is also a must visit shop in Hong Kong.