The Grim Reaper is a sign of death in many cultures. In Western culture it is often seen as a skeleton in a cloak, with a scythe or a noose, usually a male. He is usually seen as frightening, but in myth does not actually kill people, he merely guides you to the afterlife. This version of the reaper is based off of Charon, from Greek mythology, who steers the boat across the River Styx, carrying the dead across to the underworld.
Reaper tattoos are usually done in American traditional style, but are also often done in black and grey, neo traditional, dotwork, and realism.
The reaper is often shown in tattoo form as just a hood and skull,with its scythe, but is also often seen in full body form.
Apro Lee is a tattoo artist from South Korea. He tattoos in Seoul in a private studio called Black Mark It. He has been tattooing since 2005, and doing only blackwork since 2007.
Tattooing in South Korea is still illegal, making it difficult as you can imagine for someone to make a living as a tattoo artist. Only a person with a doctor’s license can be a tattoo artist. Police don’t bother artists unless someone actually reports them. People who usually do the reporting are often other tattoo artists looking to get rid of competition, or neighborhood gangs. If an artist is reported and apprehended, they usually have to pay a fine as well as have all their equipment taken from them, but they can also face months of prison time. Despite tattooing being a crime, it is estimated that there are at least 20,000 tattoo artists working in illegal studios throughout South Korea.
Apro Lee decided to become a tattoo artist while serving his mandatory military time. He saw a portrait of Kurt Cobain on the internet, and it amazed him that tattoos could be something other than tribal or dragons and other iconic Japanese pieces, for gangsters. Apro has loved drawing and art since he was a child, and found that tattoos were the right fit for him.
Since tattooing for all intents and purposes is still illegal in Korea, Apro learned how to tattoo online in 2005 from someone who was willing to teach Apro and a few others through the internet. After that Apro went to work in Westside Tattoo in Brisbane, Australia, learning from owner Matt Cunnington.
Apro started by doing realistic black and grey pieces, but now almost solely does bold blackwork. One of Apro’s signature designs is the Korean tiger, which features hard bold black lines, and intricate dotwork to create a stunning tiger in the Korean style. The contorted tiger represents government, and is usually featured with a magpie which represents a person laughing in its face.
Apro wanted to show people that Korea has their own art style, as Chinese and Japanese art largely dominates Western ideas of what Asian art is. Apro has been a guest tattooer in Europe, Australia, America, and all over Asia, spreading the Korean style of tattooing. Apro always tells people the meaning of the tattoos he is giving people, and wants to spread Korean culture as much as possible.
Apro also tattoos many nooses on his clients, and has one on himself as well. The noose on himself signifies the fact that in his country he is technically a criminal, but the part where the noose is cut means that he has survived, or that he will survive it. On clients this can stand for many things throughout a life that has been tough.
Horiyoshi the third (Nakano Yoshihito) is a tattoo artist from the Yokohama area of Japan. He is a legend to many in the tattoo world, as well as an intelligent, thoughtful, and charming man.
His interest in the art of tattoos first started when he was 11 years old after seeing a tattooed man at the public bath, and developed further when as a high school student he found a book with illustrations and engravings of tattooed men.
At age 22 he got his first tattoo, a full back piece, from the great Horiyoshi II. He later became a pupil under Horiyoshi II at age 25, as he needed to learn more about the art in order to become a tattoo artist.
Horiyoshi III is not only an amazing artist, but has a full body suit done in traditional Japanese style, which took 12-13 years to complete. His tattooing is also large scale pieces, often full body suits, back pieces, or leg or arm sleeves.
Irezumi, or traditional Japanese tattoos are often associated with the yakuza (Japanese mafia), because members used to have intricate body suits to show their status. Horiyoshi III used to tattoo many yakuza members, back when tattooing was much less common than it is now, but says about 10% of his clients are still yakuza members. Yakuza members have actually started lasering off their tattoos, or hiding them more, as well as not encouraging new members to get visible pieces, because it is such an easy way to identify someone. Instead, Japan is slowly moving towards tattoos being more accepted and about the art again.
Horiyoshi III originally learned tattooing with the tebori method, or “tebori you no nomi”, which means “the hand digging tool”. This is a tool that is shaped like a stick, with needle points at the end, which is then dipped into ink, and jabbed repeatedly into the skin. It is a much slower way of tattooing than the modern machine now, but can still create intricate and detailed pieces of art. Horiyoshi III is also skilled with the tattoo machine, which he learned how to use later in life.
Horiyoshi III says there are four steps to the perfect tattoo. The drawing, outlining, shading, and finally colour. He then compares these steps to life. He says outlining is like planning your life, clarifying your ideas. That tattooing can be compared to life because every needle stroke counts, just like every second counts. That every line must be done with care, that life must be cherished.
Hannya tattoos are an intimidating Japanese design based off masks that date back to Japanese Noh and Bunraku plays from the 14th century. These plays often dealt with the supernatural. These masks were carved from wood and were used to show a character’s state of mind, which from these masks was usually anger, hatred, and sadness. The Hannya in particular represents a woman betrayed by love who is then filled with hate, jealousy, and sadness, turning her into a demon. This image is also a popular design for good luck, as the terrifying demon is supposed to ward off evil spirits.
The Hannya is supposed to show different emotions based on how you’re looking at it. From the front it is supposed to look menacing and full of hatred, but from an angle from the top, it is supposed to appear full of sadness. These mixed emotions are meant to reflect the complexities of humans.
Hannya tattoos are obviously a Japanese design, but don’t necessarily have to be done in the typical Japanese style for tattooing. While the majority are done in Japanese style, they can also be done in a more American Traditional style, neo traditional, or new school design.
Hannya’s are also typically done in a fairly large design. They are often done as a full back piece, or on the stomach, or as part of a full sleeve. They can be done as a smaller tattoo as well, such as on the hand or as a stand alone arm or leg piece.
The Hannya is also often paired with other Japanese designs, such as snakes, warriors, waves, flowers, or dragons, which all have their own meanings and their own roots in Japanese culture.
The colour of a Hannya changes the meaning as well. It is said that the deeper the colour, the more malicious the demon is supposed to be.
The name Rock of Ages comes from a hymn written by Augustus Toplady in the mid to late 1700’s while he found refuge from a violent storm on a rock at sea. The first two lines of the hymn are “Rock of ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in thee.” Rock of ages then became a painting about 100 years later. In the 1860’s Johannes Oertel painted a picture that was first called “Saved, or an Emblematic Representation of Christian Faith” which was later widely reproduced and called “Rock of Ages”.
The image was perfect for tattooing, with its strong, dramatic nautical theme, beautiful woman, and religious symbolism. As a tattoo this piece often also features a sinking ship, multiple women on the rock, skulls, multiple crosses, etc. The image has been recreated as a tattoo for a long time now, and can be traced as a tattoo as far back as the late 19th Century when it was tattooed by Samuel O’Reilly.
It is usually done in old school traditional style, but can also be done in black and grey or realism. The shape and diversity of the piece means it can be done well on many parts of the body. It is most popular on arms or as a full back piece.
The image can have many meanings, but most obvious is that your faith, whatever it is, will keep you safe during troubled times.
Sean Baltzell is a thirty something year old, old school traditional artist working out of Tower Classic Tattooing in St. Louis. Sean is a talented artist who draws inspiration from skateboard graphics and album artwork from his younger days, mixing them with timeless old school designs, such as nautical themes, Japanese style, women, and animals.
A portfolio by Brian Cummings shows clients who have been tattooed, some quite heavily, by Sean Baltzell.
White ink tattoos is a style that is much talked about in the tattoo community. Such a light colour will always fade quite a lot, but the discreteness of this style is also what makes it popular. Some people are also fond of them for the fact that when they are noticed, they look more like a scar than a tattoo, without having to go get scarification done. If done properly, white ink tattoos can look fantastic, and last a reasonably long time. Some people choose to get white ink pieces mixed with light amounts of yellow or brown in order to make them last longer, while others let them run their course and fade naturally. That being said, most of these pieces should last a lifetime, if not being particularly noticeable.
Watson Atkinson is one of the most sought out white ink tattoo artists. His work Below shows what attention to detail he has.
White ink tattoos are often done on top of black pieces to really make them pop.