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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Battle Royale Tattoos:

The Battle Royale is an old school design that consists of an eagle, a snake, and a dragon, all battling it out to be number one (sometimes it is depicted as an eagle vs a snake, or even other animals fighting).

A more neo-traditional take on the Battle Royale by Sergio Latorre at Octopus Tattoo
Classic colours in this Battle Royale by Tim Pausinger at Pearl Harbor Gift Shop

This design has been passed down for generations through tattooers and tattoo collectors, usually as quite a large design like a full back piece, chest, or stomach, but also as smaller work on arms and legs. 

Black work Battle Royale by Nico at El Furgón Tattoo Parlour
Colour Battle Royale by Rudi Ridgewell in Worthing, England

This most famous design was tattooed on D.C (Dave) Paul by Huck Spaulding and Paul Rogers, though there are a few older designs that are bit different. One was tattooed by George Burchett when he was working with Japanese artist Hori Uno in his shop in London, and the other by Percy Waters in Detroit. Ben Corday’s version is also quite popular.

Black work Battle Royale by Gil Guerra at Heart of Oak Tattoo in Belgium
A more neo-traditional Battle Royale by Erich XXX in Buffalo, NY

The Battle Royale is an American traditional design that has clear roots in Japanese tattooing as well as American. It was designed to represent the eternal struggle of keeping balance, particularly between the East and West, but life in general as well. Everything in life requires balance and hardship. This is a battle that will never be won.

Bold and colourful Battle Royale by JF Bourbon
Spaulding and Rogers version by Leonardo Maria Cardinali at Fat Cat Studio in Viterbo Italy

Most people choose to get this piece in full colour as the first wearers of the tattoo would have, but it also looks great without colour, or as a more neo-traditional piece. 

Black work Battle Royale by Alban at Lig Neverte Tattoo in Montréal
A very bright Battle Royale done by Alfy Iglesias at Old Ironside Tattoo in Honolulu, Hawaii
Ben Corday’s Battle Royale by Rich Hardy

Edited by Harrison R.

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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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Artist of the Month: Tony Torvis

Tony Torvis is the owner of Mortem Tattoo in Montréal, Canada. His work consists of traditional old school designs without colour, making his clients look like the brilliant black and white photographs of days long past.

Full sleeve with hand
Battle Royale on the stomach

Tony’s work is reminiscent of the great tattooers of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s but is still recognizable as a Tony Torvis piece. 

Full back featuring a dragon and ladies
Beautiful chest piece

Expect crisp clean lines and bold, powerful motifs such as dragons, snakes, lady heads, portraits, and flowers. There is original flash in the shop to choose from, or you can bring your own idea to him, or re-create an old piece of historical flash.

Pharaohs cats as part of a back piece
Angelic ladies

Tony’s Instagram page is full of both large and small scale work, from chest pieces to full backs, sleeves, and little filler pieces.

Full front torso, some healed some fresh
Bert Grimm sintered chest piece

You’ll also notice from his Instagram page that the majority of clients are repeat customers. Tony’s tattoos are kind of like chips, you just can’t stop at one! Mortem tattoo is a must visit shop if you’re in the area, and there are other brilliant artists working there as well.

Two sleeves in progress
Full back featuring ladies

Edited by Harrison R.

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Winnipeg Artist 13: Rich Handford

Rich Handford is a tattoo artist working out of Kapala Tattoo in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He has owned the shop since 2003 and has a great team working at the shop, and his own experience as a tattooer dates back to 1999.

Sleeve featuring a Hannya mask and chrysanthemum
A tiger and snake back piece

Rich specializes in Japanese but also does great neo-traditional and occasional American traditional work. On his Instagram page you’ll find mainly colour work, but if you’re in the market for a piece without colour Rich can handle that for you as well.

An American traditional swallow and flowers
Neo-traditional panther, flowers, and jewel

Rich’s portfolio is full of mainly large scale work such as sleeves and back pieces, but if you’re looking for something smaller he can take care of it.

Koi fish sleeve and cherry blossoms
Bright Mahakala and cherry blossoms

In addition to owning and operating Kapala Tattoo, Rich has been instrumental in getting the Red River Exhibition Park Tattoo Convention up and running, taking place every summer.

Kitsune and cherry blossoms
Dragon and hannya sleeve

If you’re in the area or are passing through Winnipeg Rich is a must-see artist at a great shop.

Foo dog and peony back piece
Healed snake and crane back piece

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Artist of the Month: Ryan Cooper Thompson

Ryan Cooper Thompson is a well-known tattoo artist based in Portland, Oregon. His work is a highly recognizable take on classic American traditional, using only black, red, and green in his colour palette, and taking direct inspiration from greats such as Percy Waters, Bob Wicks, and George Burchett. 

A beautiful rose/butterfly lady
A bold back of the head lady head

Ryan’s lady portraits in particular are highly sought after, and his instagram feed is full of them for good reason; his ladies range from heads to full bodied nudes to butterfly ladies, and are wonderful to look at whether they’re palm sized or full backs. 

Dragon lady thigh piece
A bold knee design

If you’re getting your own RCT piece you can choose to have something custom designed, a piece of flash made by Ryan, or a flash piece based on older artists work that often date back to the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. 

A beautiful nude portrait and some butterflies
A gorgeous dragon lady back featuring butterflies

Along with ladies you’ll find lots of flowers, dragons, butterflies, and other animals in his portfolio and on the walls of his shop. 

A bright and bold peacock
A classic panther and rose

Ryan tattoos everything from hands to backs, large and small, one session to multiples. So whether you live nearby or are just passing through you’ll be able to get yourself a timeless piece. (Though he is only tattooing people in the Oregon and Washington area during pandemic times). If you can’t make the trip to get a tattoo you can also buy prints of his here.

Lady and the moon
A beautiful vase of flowers

Edited by Harrison R.

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Tattoo History 12: Hong Kong

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).

Tattooist James Ho, Hong Kong, 1961. Photo by Burt Glinn from vintage tattoo archive.
U.S. Navy officer getting a dragon tattoo at Ho Gee tattoo shop near Fenwick Pier, Hong Kong, September, 1957. Photo by Hank Walker from vintage tattoo archive.

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.

A full back piece done by Jimmy Ho.
Jimmy Ho still tattooing, from 2016.

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.

Marcus Yuen dragon on the left, based on Ricky’s design on the right.
A Ricky chest piece from the 1970’s. Photo from Marcus Yuen.

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.

Unfinished eagle around 1975 Ricky and Pinky’s shop, picture from Marcus Yuen.
An old sign from Rose Tattoo. Photo from Marcus Yuen.

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.

A Hong Kong protestor piece done by Samantha Fung.
Rose Tattoo that unfortunately no longer exists. The area is now all shopping malls. photo from Marcus Yuen.

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.

A dragon by Dave Ryo Lau.
A dragon done by Samantha Fung.

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.

An eagle by Dave Ryo Lau.
A tiger done by Marcus Yuen.

Have you been tattooed in Hong Kong yet?

To read more about Hong Kong’s tattoo history check out https://zolimacitymag.com/not-just-for-triads-hong-kongs-unique-style-of-tattoos/ and https://www.the4thwall.net/blog/2016/8/13/hong-kong, where a lot of my information came from. Special thanks also to Marcus Yuen for sharing information and photos and to Samantha Fung for pointing me in his direction.

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