Guillotine Tattoos:

For those who are unfamiliar, the guillotine is a device made for execution by beheading. The structure consists of a tall wooden frame from which a razor sharp and heavy blade hangs ready to fall on its victim who is placed in a stock of sorts, leaving the neck exposed and ready to be separated from its body.

Bloody guillotine by Larry Coffins at Toronto Ink
Woodblock print style guillotine done by Baynez Graff at Pinecone Gallery Tattoo

The guillotine as we know it was allegedly invented by Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin as a more humane way to execute people. It was significantly quicker than even regular beheading by axe which could be easily botched and would often take two or more swings to finally kill the victim. This specific name “guillotine” dates back to 1789, France, but similar devices with different structural designs existed for centuries before; such as the “planke” in Germany and Flanders dating back to the Middle Ages, and the “Halifax Gibbet” in England which may have been used as far back as antiquity. But the French guillotine design was specifically based off of two other existing execution devices; the “mannaia” from Italy during the Renaissance, and the “Scottish Maiden” from Scotland which was used from the 16th to 18th centuries.

Bold heavy black and dark red guillotine done by Hudson at Lock and Key Tattoo in the UK
Bright and colourful American traditional guillotine on fire with skulls done by Chin at Common Ground Tattoo in Bangkok

Dr. Guillotin was apparently horrified when the device was named after him, and his family even tried (and failed) to have the name changed in the early 19th century. The French Guillotine claimed its first victim in April 1972, and its last use was in France in 1977 where it was still the main method of execution until capital punishment was stopped in 1981. While hundreds of thousands of people met their bloody end underneath the glinting blade of a guillotine, the most infamous time of its usage was during the French Revolution which took place from September 1793 – July 1794. During this relatively short time a shocking 16,594 people were executed by the guillotine in France, with 2,639 in Paris alone.

American traditional guillotine with demon and skulls done by Chris Spriggs at Iron and Gold Tattoo
Black and grey traditional guillotine with flower done by Lizzy Michelle at Pacific Tattoos in Eindhoven, Netherlands

Public beheadings existed from the beginning of the French Revolution until 1939 in France, but during the Revolution it was extremely popular for anyone, including families to check out an execution and even grab a bite to eat at the famous  “Cabaret de la Guillotine” before watching the bloodbath. There was even a well known trio of women called the “Tricoteuses,” who used to sit next to the guillotine and knitted in between executions. Theatrics even became popular for those being executed with some dancing on their way up the steps, and others offering jokes and sarcastic remarks before their heads rolled away.

Black and grey guillotine on fire done by Mike Marion at Grizzly Tattoo in Port’s End, OR
Broken blackwork guillotine done by @phil_bomb_ in Seoul

As tattoos, guillotines are popular with those interested in the darker side of life and history buffs alike. They are easily recognizable and can be done in many styles including American traditional, neo-traditional, black and grey, blackwork, and woodblock print styles. They are often accompanied by decapitated heads, skulls, flowers, flames, and blood.

Blackwork guillotine and head done by Laura Alice Westover
“Keep your head up” and guillotine done by Luke Nicou at Lucky Luke’s Traditional Tattooing, Port Elizabeth/Gqeberha, South Africa

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Witch Tattoos:

Witches have been around for hundreds and hundreds of years, and span across all cultures in various forms and with different names, but we’re all familiar with them, and they’re more popular than ever (in Western culture at least).

A witch being burned at the stake done by Uncle Phil at Wolf and Dagger tattoo, UK
A witch and her staff done by Moira Ramone Rotterdam, Netherlands

Witches and witchcraft have had many different meanings over the years, but traditionally it refers to women (often portrayed as old crones) practicing some kind of dark magic that often involves spirits and/or satan himself. Throw in some cannibalism, a pet familiar, and other ghosts and ghouls and you’ve got yourself a party.

A neo-traditonal witch being burned at the stake done by Renae Haak at Diabolik Tattoo in Newcastle, Australia
A witch being burned at the stake by Bex Priest Tattoos

Wicca is a predominantly western movement whose followers “worship” nature, and base the religion upon pre-Christian traditions of mainly Northern and Eastern Europe. Some important celebrations for Wiccans include Halloween, the summer solstice, winter solstice, and vernal equinox.

A witchy woman done by Ryan Murray at Black Veil Tattoo in Salem MA
A witchy woman done by Matthew Murray at Black Veil Tattoo in Salem MA

Witchcraft and witches have become so mainstream today that even businesses such as Sephora, Urban Outfitters, and others sell products like tarot cards, witch-themed makeup, Ouija boards, crystals, and more.

A witch being burned done by Nikos Tsakiris at the Golden Goat Tattoo
A more American traditional witch done by Alice Burke at Highwater Gallery in Swansea, UK

As a tattoo, many people choose the more “classic” witch look; pointy hat and all. Blackwork, American traditional and black and grey are some of the more popular styles for witches, and many folks choose to get witch burning tattoos, witches haunting places, or witches with their broomsticks or familiars.

An adorable witch head done by Amanda LaForest at Momentum Tattoo Florida
Black and grey witch/plague doctor done by Julianna Menna at Gristle Tattoo in Brooklen, NY

Do you have a witch tattoo?

Cthulhu Tattoos:

Cthulhu is a fictional entity that was created by horror-fantasy writer H.P. Lovecraft and was first seen in 1928 in his story The Call of Cthulhu. Its physical appearance is supposed to be so horrible that it destroys the sanity of anyone who looks at it. It is described as “a monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore feet, and long, narrow wings behind.”

Mostly black and grey piece done by Chloe Smith Tattoo
Cool Cthulhu done by María Roca in Madrid

Cthulhu is a priest or leader for “the Old Ones” who are a species that came to earth from space well before humans came to be. The Old Ones lay dormant and their city was buried under the earth’s crust, beneath the Pacific Ocean. They were more or less forgotten about by the majority of humans, except for certain “uncivilized” groups of people who remembered Cthulhu and the Old Ones and worshipped them in horrible rites and rituals.

Black and grey piece by Sarah Walsworth
Cthulhu and the moon done by Lucy Harrington in Dublin, Ireland

H.P. Lovecraft is regarded as one of the most influential and well-known horror-fantasy writers, having influenced modern horror writers and directors such as Stephen King, Guillermo del Toro, Junji Ito, Matt and Ross Duffer, Matt Ruff, Misha Green, and countless others. He is also known as the creator of the sub-genre of horror known as “Cosmic Horror”. 

A more neo-traditional piece done by Kelly Gormley
Super cute new school Cthulhu by Mychaela at The great Wilderness Tattoo

Despite Lovecraft’s wide reach, he was also extremely racist, and people like Matt Ruff and Misha Green (Lovecraft Country) have worked to expose that while still recognizing the cultural relevance, particularly of Cthulhu and other creatures. By the early 1930’s he was defending white Lynch mobs and praising Hitler in letters to friends, and short stories such as “The Shadow over Innsmouth”, and “The Horror of Red Hook” made non-white folks out to be primitive and less than human. 

To be or not to be, that is the question Cthulhu asked… Done by Jack Vegas in Lviv, Ukraine
Creepy black and grey piece by Anubis Lok at Phycho Pomp Tattoo in Hong Kong

As a tattoo, many people choose to get Cthulhu in a more realistic style, although neo-traditional and new school are also popular. What is your favourite story featuring Cthulhu?

Dotwork piece by Mammoth Tattoo
Terrifying black work piece by Markus Blanchard in Salem MA

Edited by Harrison R.

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Artist of the Month: Christoffer Woien

Christoffer Woien is co-owner and tattooer at Blue Arms Tattoo located in Oslo, Norway.

Nure-Onna on the ribs
Dragon on the thigh

Chris is known for his notable work in two main styles, Japanese and traditional old school, with some black and grey or black work versions of both styles thrown into the mix.

Hannya and snake back piece
Black American traditional torso

Chris’ Instagram is full of both large and small scale work, including back pieces, full sleeves, one-offs, and job stoppers.

Hannya job stopper
Kintaro wrestling a wolf

His work is crisp and detailed, and you can tell how much pride he takes in his work by spending only a few minutes looking through his portfolio. Much of his work takes direct influence from woodblock Japanese artists as well as old school tattooers from the 19th-20th centuries.

Kyōsai’s frog
Black and grey Japanese sleeve

If you’re able to make the trip to Norway or are lucky enough to live in Europe where it’s easy to travel between countries, Chris is a must see artist.

Fujin and Raijin chest piece
Tiger 3/4 sleeve

Edited by Harrison R.

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Tattoo History 17: Shanghai Kate

Kate Hellenbrand AKA “Shanghai Kate” AKA “America’s Tattoo Godmother” got started as one of America’s most well known female tattooers in the early 1970’s, and still tattoos now (though she is semi retired). She works out of Holy Work Tattoo in Austin, Texas, and works tattoo conventions with her husband.

Classic rattlesnake
1970’s flash

Kate has worked alongside some of the greatest American tattoo icons of the 1900’s including Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins, Jack Rudy, and Ed hardy, and was also good friends with the late Lyle Tuttle. 

Classic pinup
Black cat and 13 for Friday the 13th

Kate has a background in art and became interested in tattooing when she lived in New York with her partner Michael Malone at a time when tattooing was actually illegal in the city. The two worked out of an apartment and would hand out business cards to anyone they came across who had a visible tattoo. Tattooing was difficult at the time, and they even had to make machines using parts bought at bike shops, or pretend to be nursing students to acquire medical equipment.

Crossed pistols and desert themed florals
1970 Jack Grice, Kate, Thom Devita, Sailor Sid

In 1972 Kate was invited to be one of the seven tattooers at what was the first international tattoo convention in Hawaii that was hosted by Sailor Jerry. This group was called “The Council of the Seven.” This lasted around one week, but when the other tattooers left, Kate stayed behind to work with Jerry for a number of weeks. Sailor Jerry was notoriously protective of tattoo culture and disliked most newcomers to the industry particularly women, but Kate seemed to be an exception and was welcomed wholeheartedly and taught a lot.

Bright and bold dragon
Fortune Teller

As well as still occasionally tattooing, Kate also sells tattoo memorabilia including old flash from the greats, tattoo books, and also gives talks at tattoo conventions around the US. 

Kate’s signature added to an old back piece by Sailor Jerry
Kate tattooing that same signature

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Artist of the Month: David O’Connor

David O’Connor is a traditional tattoo artist working out of Trophy Tattoo in Hamilton, Ontario. The shop caters specifically to those looking for American traditional tattoos, and all of the artists who work there do fantastic work.

Jesus chest piece
Old school flowers

Davids Instagram is full of classic flash and finished pieces that would have been seen on the walls of tattoo shops throughout the 1900’s and on the bodies of sailors. 

Healed Geisha
Black traditional chest piece

When booking a tattoo with David you can choose from pre-drawn flash or bring your own idea to the table. David and the rest of the shop also take walk-ins.

Tiger vs snake
Classic old school dragon

The majority of his work is done in colour, with the traditional colours of black, red, and green, but if you’re looking for some black traditional work he’s got you covered as well.

Queen of Hearts
matching forearm pieces

Whether you’re looking for a small walk-in piece or a full back, David does it all, with style. If you’re in Hamilton or just passing through he is a must see artist for all your traditional needs.

Battle Royale backpiece
Bert Grimm butterfly lady

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Gap Filler Tattoos:

Gap filler tattoos are exactly what they sound like, small tattoos that fill the gap between other pieces to make a sleeve or torso look more fluid.

Cute bondage Kewpie done by Cobra Kai Tattoo
Frog filler by Tattoo Mozart

Generally when someone says gap filler they’re referring to a more old school style, as the custom with old school tattoos is to collect lots of smaller tattoos that then form a larger piece when it’s all put together.

Flail by Gary Gerhardt at Key City Tattoo
Coffin nails by Hudson at Rose of Mercy in London

Some common gap fillers include centipedes, flowers, butterflies, spider webs, nails, snakes, frogs, etc. Almost anything can be a gap filler if it can be made small enough and can have some diversity in placement to fit those odd angles.

Old school flower by Aaron at FHC Tattoo in Melbourne
A happy little sun by Daniele Delligatti at Sacred Circle Tattoo in Rome

If you’re going for that bodysuit look you’ll probably end up with some gap fillers unless you pre-planned your whole body before you started getting tattoos, or worked with a style like Japanese where gap fillers are less common (though not unheard of).

Pistol and butterfly by Jade Harper at House of the Rising Sun Tattoo in Winnipeg
Floral fillers by atomlenhart

What gap fillers do you have or want?

Mosquito by Dan Coy at Hobart Tattoo Collective in Australia
Dice and floral filler by Eva at Baltimore Ave Tattoo

Edited by Harrison R.

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Kintaro Tattoos:

Kintaro (literally translated as “golden boy”) is Japanese mythology’s equivalent to Hercules.

 

Kintaro vs the giant koi Done by Hide Ichibay at Three Tides Tokyo
Kintaro’s head Done by Diau Yīshēng in Cape Town South Africa

Despite being called golden boy he’s usually depicted as red-skinned. He is also always seen as quite a young boy, very muscular, squat, and usually either naked or covered by only a loincloth type material.

Kintaro side piece Done by Marco Rossettini in Spain
Kintaro sleeve Done by Ryo Niitsuma in Okinawa Japan

According to legend Kintaro was raised by an ogre in the mountains, and his feats of strength are just as well known in Japan as Hercules’ are in most Western countries. Kintaro defeated a bear and an eagle at the same time, uprooted a massive tree to form a bridge over a river, and most famously wrestled a giant koi fish into submission. 

A more old school take on Kintaro vs the koi Done by Kendi at Victory Tattooing in Vancouver, BC
Kintaro vs snake Done by Amar Goucem in the Netherlands

It is this last image of Kintaro wrestling the giant koi that is most often seen in tattoos. Utagawa Kuniyoshi most famously painted that specific image and made it popular for tattoo collectors. 

A bright and bold Kintaro Done by Davide Di Cintio at Cloak and Dagger in London, England
Black and grey Kintaro vs koi back piece Done by the Gioi Tattoo

Though Kintaro is a famous legendary figure, scholars believe he is at the very least based on a real person. The real Kintaro was most likely the son of Sakata Kurando, one of Emperor Suzaku’s bodyguards in the tenth century. Sakata’s wife Yaegiri was apparently a very beautiful woman, but when Sakata committed suicide after losing the Emperor’s favour, she took her son Kintaro to remote Mount Ashigara to raise him among animals, spirits, and mythological creatures. Here he gained powers of strength and was able to communicate with and control animals, and Yaegiri became a sorceress. Kintaro also eventually gained a powerful weapon, the very axe the god of thunder Raijin used. 

Kintaro vs the boar Done by Baki in South Korea
Kintaro head on the foot Done by Ordi at Black Rose Tattoo in Barcelona

Information found in the book “Japanese Tattoos: Meanings, Shapes and Motifs” by Yori Moriarty.

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Artist of the Month: Duan Tattooer

Duan Tattooer is an artist at and the owner of Sick Rose Tattoo Parlour in Shanghai, working alongside great artists in the shop like Kai who tattooed me.

Woman and dragon
Monkey King

Duan specializes in American traditional and single needle styles, seamlessly blending old school American and Asian motifs.

Traditional woman portrait
Knee ditch webs

Whether you’re looking for bright and bold colours, black and grey, or heavy black traditional work, Duan can take care of all your needs. 

Black trad horse
Matching hands

If you check out their Instagram linked above you’ll find plenty of flash to choose from, or you can check out the shop in person and find the perfect tattoo for you.

A classic rose
Super cool cat lady

Whether you’re in the market for a full sleeve or a small filler piece, Duan is a must visit artist in Shanghai for clean and bold tattoos.

Bright and colourful dragon
Fortune teller

Edited by Harrison R.

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