Black out tattoos have been growing in popularity over the last few years, with some people even getting full body suits in this style.
Black out tattoos are exactly what they sound like, large amounts of black ink as the subject, sometimes covering older existing tattoos.
Some black out tattoos also feature some geometric style work mixed in, or white ink over top of the black.
Many black out tattoo collectors do it in part for the experience of getting the tattoo, as a full blackout (especially as a coverup) can be very painful, creating an almost spiritual experience for the person getting tattooed.
Most artists who do black out tattoos specialize in it, as it’s not actually all that easy to make a full sleeve or torso look even in its blackness, especially when the piece is done in multiple sessions.
Combining classic old school portraits of ladies and the wings of butterflies has long been a staple in old school tattooing. Flash from such legends as Bert Grimm, Ben Corday, and others from the 1800’s and 1900’s featured variations of the designs below, and more.
Portraits of women are one of the most popular images in tattooing, as are butterflies. Combining the two beautiful designs makes sense, and can form an elegant tattoo that stands the test of time.
One of the most popular ways for this design to be tattooed is a woman’s head with butterfly wings sprouting from behind, to the left and right.
These butterfly ladies can also be seen more like fairies, with the bodies of women and butterfly wings.
Old school American traditional is the most common style for this design, but black work, black and grey, and Neo-traditional are also popular.
Duncan X is a old school artist whose inspiration comes from early photographs of old school tattoos. These photographs are of course all in black and white, so the tattoos appear black even if they were colourful. This led to Duncan tattooing in only black.
He is one of the most popular artists in London, and he works out of Old Habits Tattoo shop.
Duncan was born and raised in London in the 60’s and was introduced to tattoos through the punk scene. Artist Dennis Cockell taught him tattooing and helped him shape his unique style.
While Duncan uses mainly old school motifs for his source of inspiration, his style resembles medieval wood carvings and is distinctly working class.
To learn more about Duncan and see his own tattoos watch David Penn’s short film here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
You can bring in your own ideas or get an original piece from either of them.
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.
If you want a one of a kind, detail oriented black work piece, look no further.
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
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 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.
You’d better watch out, you’d better not cry… Krampus is coming and he’s much less forgiving than jolly old St. Nicholas.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Who will you be hoping to see this Christmas season; Santa, or Krampus?
So you’re travelling to China, or maybe living there short term like myself, and you want to get a tattoo. This might be a more different experience than you’re used to in Western countries, and it’s good to do your research.
I’m living in Shenzhen, but travelled to Shanghai for a week, where I was tattooed by Kai at Sick Rose Tattoo.
Before getting to Shanghai, I found Sick Rose on Instagram so I could check their quality of work, and I was very happy with what I saw. All of the artists there are professional and do quality work! The shop mainly deals with old school style pieces. Strong bold lines and bright colours that will last a lifetime.
I messaged the shop before arriving and talked to Kai to make sure I could do a walk in. Sometimes you may want to actually schedule an appointment if you have a specific day in mind, but if like me you need to keep your schedule open, then make sure the shop takes walk ins.
If you don’t speak Chinese then it’s also important that the artist you go to can speak some English. Everyone at Sick Rose speaks English and they are all very friendly. Kai was very professional and a soft spoken guy.
I had my ribs tattooed, which took around three hours, and he made it as good an experience as possible, considering the painful placement. I also had one of the shop cats sleeping on me for most of my experience, which was a good distraction. Back in the West cats wouldn’t be allowed into shops, but here in China you come to expect the unexpected. The shop did follow all other health protocols, such as using new needles and ink, and wearing gloves the whole time. This is important to check as I know many shops in China don’t follow Western health standards as closely. Since Sick Rose followed everything else by the book I was able to overlook the shop cats since I had followed them for so long and seen the healed results, with no issues. On day four now and my own piece is healing nicely.
I highly recommend Sick Rose and Kai if you are in Shanghai! Always be sure to thoroughly research a shop before going, especially when visiting another country. Happy tattoo collecting!