Tattoo History 10: George Burchett

Referred to as the “king of tattooists” by himself and others, George Burchett- (Davis) was one of the most famous tattoo artists of his age, particularly in the UK. Notably tattooing in London, marking both the social elite and the hard working class, and even members of the Royal family.

George working on a forearm piece. (photo colourized)
Burchett Devil by Quinn Jordan Campbell.

In Burchett’s “Memoirs of a Tattooist” he states that “I have tattooed the subjects of six sovereigns, starting with portraits of Queen Victoria. The tradition has been maintained and still seemed to be strong when I prepared the designs for the coronation of 1953.” He also reminisces about tattooing The Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, one of Queen Victoria’s favorite nephews, Prince Christian Victor, a grandson of Queen Victoria, and King GeorgeV. Along with English royalty he also tattooed King Alfonso XIII of Spain, and King Frederick IX of Denmark.

Burchett was born in Brighton in 1872, and had a very early introduction to tattooing. He practiced tattooing on his five year old brother, Charles, who apparently traded candy for some scratched designs in his skin. George also tattooed his classmates until he was expelled for doing so at the age of twelve.

Burchett doing a full back. Found thanks to vintage tattoo archive, linked at the end of article.
Burchett tiger head done by Mike C Davies.

After being expelled, George joined the Royal Navy and sailed as a deckhand all over the British Empire, including stops in the West Indies, the Mediterranean, Africa, India, and East Asia. This was also where he fell farther in love with tattooing, as he was able to see marvellous styles and designs from all over the world. He was able to develop his own skill and style by tattooing other sailors.

Life at sea proved to not be for George, so he left the navy while on leave in Israel, and set up his first shop in Jerusalem. This only lasted a short time as he feared being caught by authorities for deserting the navy. This led to him boarding a Spanish merchant ship. He was able to avoid persecution for twelve years, but missed England. It was at this point that he dropped the “Davis” in his last name to make it harder to catch him, and set up shop in London, but this time as a cobbler. Though he did continue to tattoo on the side whenever the opportunity arose. During this time he was fortunate enough to meet two other legendary artists, Tom Riley and Sutherland MacDonald. MacDonald took George under his wing and taught him more about techniques and designs of tattooing.

Burchett black trad design by Coque Sin Amo.
George’s shop. Found on vintage tattoo archive.

During his time as a cobbler/tattooer he grew more and more popular with the working class as a top tattoo artist, working mainly on sailors, dock workers, and transients that happened through London from all around the world. In 1900 George was able to start tattooing full time and give up cobbling. He opened a proper shop on Mile End Road where he could easily catch soldiers on their way to the front lines in World War One.

As his shop grew in clientele, so did his reputation, leading him to tattoo more wealthy Londoners, and even royals. Though Riley and MacDonald tattooed more royals than he.

King Frederick IX of Denmark, dragon on the chest tattooed by Burchett in London.
George tattooing “The Great Omi.”

Another of his more famous clients was “The Great Omi,” (Horace Ridler) who was a well known circus performer. George was paid several thousand dollars to tattoo a full body suit that turned The Great Omi into a human zebra.

George is also one of (if not the) first artists to use tattooing as a cosmetic procedure, tattooing women lips and eyebrows (though he also tattooed many flowers and lovers initials on his female clientele).

George tattooing a woman’s eyebrows.
Colourized photo of Burchett tattooing a woman’s leg.

George Burchett was undeniable a classic American traditional artist, though like many historical and modern tattooers, drew influence from African and Asian art that he had the good fortune to see during his travels at sea.

He tried to retire at the age of 70 in 1942, but because of World War Two, tattoos were at an all time high demand, essentially forcing him and his two sons to tattoo the immense amount of soldiers and sailors walking through the door.

Another shot of “The Great Omi.”
Burchett battle piece done by Nick Roses.

Because he never retired, George worked until Good Friday of 1953 when he died suddenly at the age of 81. His work is still highly influential today with people still getting his designs, or variations of them, tattooed in large numbers.

To read more on Burchett’s life and legacy check out the links below: https://www.tattoolife.com/tattoo-portraits-george-burchett-king-tattooists/

https://www.tattooarchive.com/history/burchett_george_charles.php

As well as the books “King of Tattooists: The Life and Work of George Burchett” and “Memoirs of a Tattooist

Check out https://www.instagram.com/vintagetattoophotoarchive/ for more vintage tattoo photos

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Artist of the Month: Bert Krak

Bert Krak is a tattoo artist working out of Smith Street Tattoo in New York City.

Full back done on model Cat Mcneil.
An Ed Hardy inspired full front piece.

Bert is a highly sought after tattooer for collectors of classic American traditional tattoos.

Panther and stars by Bert. Butterfly and dice by Chad Koeplinger.
Full dragon back piece.

In addition to tattooing, Bert also makes finely crafted tattoo machines.

Back of the head banger.

He has been collecting antique tattoo flash since he started tattooing, and uses these pieces of history to influence his own designs.

Healed chest and fresh butterfly.
Classic battle Royale back piece.

While sticking close to traditional iconography, Bert still has a distinct style in terms of colour palette and heavy lines.

Tiger head on the hand.
Matching peacock calf pieces.

If you’re passing through New York, or live nearby, be sure to set up an appointment with him. You can check out his work at his Instagram here.

Healed eagle, wolf, and panther. With a fresh Polito cowboy.

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Winnipeg Artist 13: Mathew Machado

Classic panther and snake going at it.
What’s a more classic elbow tattoo?

Mathew is a tattooer at Rebel Waltz Tattoos in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Mathew does crisp American traditional tattoos the way they were meant to be made. Bold as hell!

A small, classic eagle.
“Working class” skull piece.

If you take a look through Mathew’s work, either online or in person, you’ll see he really does the classics. His Instagram is full of eagles, pinups, sailors and pirates, skulls, snakes, and more.

An all black, classic Japanese/American dragon head.
Another classic old school piece. The Rock of Ages.

If you’re looking for a bit of a Japanese twist to an American style, Mathew is also your guy. He’s done both dragon heads and full bodied dragons, and Japanese flowers.

A more Japanese styled chrysanthemum flower.
Crisp lines on this rose and cross.

Mathew mentored under Don Ritson, the owner of Rebel Waltz, and you can certainly see Don’s influence in Mathews work. Both artists stick to a very traditional colour palette of mainly black, red, some green, and small amounts of yellow to make pieces pop.

Skull butterfly for a small filler piece.

Check out his work on Instagram @mathew.machado where you’ll find his email for making appointments. You can also watch Rebel Waltz’ Instagram to see when Mathew and the other artists there are doing walk-ins.

Beautiful pirate lady portrait, done as quite a large thigh piece.

Artist of the Month: Jacob Doney

Jacob Doney is the owner of Envision Tattoo Studio in Grand Terrace, California.

bold dagger and rose with popping reds and yellow against a strong black
painful scorpion on the noggin

Jacob tattoos in American traditional style with popping colours and lines that are bold as hell.

pin-up girl
two way burning candle

Though his main style is American traditional, he will make tattoos with a more Neo-traditional look as well. That being said, his themes are strongly American traditional, taking inspiration from old school motifs and keeping the true spirit of a traditional tattoo alive.

brilliant back piece featuring Jesus Christ

Jacob does both large and small pieces; everything from gap fillers to massive back pieces.

classic American eagle

His line work is crisp and clean and his colours are mainly classic traditional, black, red, green, and yellow.

mean looking snake head

If you want to reach Jacob you can find his instagram @jacobdoneytattoo

black and grey nautical chest piece

Make sure to reach out well in advance if you’re going to be in California and get yourself something cool!

bold anchor on the hand

Artist of the Month: Kelly Smith

Kelly Smith works out of Cry Baby Tattoo in Sheffield, England. Kelly mainly does American traditional pieces, but also works in black work and Japanese styles.

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Bloody panther head and a deadly looking snake.
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Some gorgeous pink peony’s paired with solid black filler in a forearm half sleeve.
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Some old school flowers for a bold neck piece.
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Badass scorpion ready to sting for this side neck piece.
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Japanese kitsune, or fox spirit.

Kelly’s work is bright and bold as hell, mixing the traditional themes of Americana and Japan with the bright colours of a Neo-traditional style.

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Some classic clasped hands and trad flowers on the collar bone.
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Traditional geisha wearing a beautiful kimono.
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Anchor featuring Neck Deep lyrics.
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Good luck horseshoe and some mountains done in blackwork style.
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Badass Sailor Jerry inspired piece.

If you’re looking for a banging one off then Kelly is the one to see, but don’t be shy about getting a big piece! A back or torso design will be a brilliant addition to your collection.

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Toad getting that zen life.
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Lots of green in this gorgeous back piece featuring Eve and Lucifer with that dratted apple.
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A painful spot for a mean looking eagle.
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Wicked snake head with some bright colours.
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Very painful looking old school piece featuring a tiger and a snake battling it out.

If you happen to find yourself in the Sheffield area Kelly is one to visit. I know I will!

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Blackwork lady and rose.
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Namakubi hand banger. Gorgeous blue tones in that bloody head.
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Another peony, featuring a cute old school butterfly.
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More pink peony’s and solid black. These pieces are great for some heavy contrast.
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Sick traditional dragon looking ready to get into some mischief.

You can find Kelly on Instagram at @kellysmithtattoos

Artist of the Month: Jimmy Ho

Jimmy Ho is a tattoo artist in Hong Kong. Jimmy has had his own shop since he was 14, and was tattooing before that, thanks to his father, James. His father opened Hong Kong’s first tattoo shop in 1946 called “The Rose Tattoo”, and by 1950 the shop was working non-stop to fill the demands of American soldiers getting tattooed. Jimmy has had his own shop since 1958.

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An in progress pic of chest panels and half sleeves done in traditional Chinese style.
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Jimmy tattooing a dragon onto Chinese movie star Michael Chan in the 1970’s.

Jimmy started tattooing sailors at night before he was 14, when his fathers shop was technically closed. He wanted to help out and make some money so he started doing them himself, and has been tattooing ever since.

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Three Chinese dragons.
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Tiger flash from 1983

During the Korean war he and the other artists at his father’s shop would tattoo 30-40 men per day due to the high demand. Jimmy would tattoo soldiers everyday from 11am until 4am, non stop.

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Chinese dragon as a full back piece.
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Raijin and dragons done in 1984 or 85.

Jimmy has his own style, modelled after his fathers. A mix of traditional Chinese and American traditional, but specializing in dragons.

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Dragon and lady done in 1975.
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Beautiful forearm dragon piece.

Jimmy still tattoos, but most of the pictures on his Instagram are from the 70s-90s if you’re trying to find a portfolio.

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Chinese movie star Andy Lau in 1997.
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Sign for Jimmy’s tattoos in Hong Kong.

There are some differences between Chinese and Japanese dragons, as you’ll see in Jimmy’s work. His dragons usually have 4 claws, which was used in ancient Chinese history for high ranking officials and nobility, while the 3 toed dragons were for common people, as well as the Japanese.

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Eagle and mudan flower from 1982 or 83.

If you can’t make it all the way to Hong Kong for a tattoo you can always get some of Jimmy’s flash off of big cartel here.   tattooflash.bigcartel.com

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Jimmy with some of his flash that you can buy on big cartel.

Winnipeg Artist 10: Don Ritson

Don Ritson is the owner of Rebel Waltz in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

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Black and red Japanese dragon.
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Japanese geisha piece with flower kimono.
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Classic American traditional filler rose.
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Demon making off with a woman as a painful stomach piece.
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Japanese Oni demon.
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Healed lil castle and flower.

Don works in mainly in American traditional style, as well as Japanese and some black work. When doing American traditional style, his pieces are heavy on black and red.

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Jesus with the cross.
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Lady head with some spooky skeletal hands.
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Bright red chrysanthemum flower.
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Classy smoking woman.
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Classic design featuring an eagle, skull, and snake.

Don has done two of my own tattoos, both of my forearms which are a gramophone and a design based off of the rose of no mans land. Don is a very friendly guy who makes getting tattooed a genuinely pleasant experience.

arms
My own forearm pieces. Blackwork gramophone and rose of no mans land.
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Bert Grimm’s tiger. Lots of black with some red to make it pop.
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Creepy reaper.
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Traditional wolf. Heavy on the black!
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Rock of ages in a beautiful full back piece.

You’ll find Don taking walk ins on Saturdays, though starting earlier this month (April 2018) the shop will rotate the main artist doing walk ins. You can find Don’s contact info on the Rebel Waltz website.

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Vicious looking dragon head on the inner bicep.
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Asian woman with a wrap around snake.
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Butterfly with woman’s face.
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Statue of Liberty and the Virgin Mary.
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The Forks in Winnipeg.

Don is a must see artist if you are in Winnipeg. He also does guest spots in Canada so watch his Instagram for that as well.

Pharaoh’s Horses Tattoo:

The pharaoh’s horses are an American traditional design that dates back to the early 1900’s when it became a staple as a back and chest tattoo, along with other designs such as the Rock of Ages and The Last Supper.

Alexander Tyrrell in Melbourne Australia
Horses with horseshoe and eagle done by Alexander Tyrrell in Melbourne Australia.
Don Ritson Rebel Waltz Winnipeg
Brilliant mix of red and black in this traditional piece done by Don Ritson at Rebel Waltz in Winnipeg.
Hamish Clarke in Bisbane Australia
Traditional blackwork piece done by Hamish Clarke in Brisbane Australia.
Kirk Jones Melbourne Australia
In progress back piece done by Kirk Jones in Melbourne, Australia.
Rich Hadley at Inri Tattoo in Manchester
Very old school looking design by Rich Hadley at Inri Tattoo in Manchester, England.

One of the earliest examples of this design is by Gus Wagner who worked as a tattooer, and circus performer from the late 1800’s until his death in 1941.

Ben McQueen in Indianapolis
Horse, anchor, and roses done by Ben McQueen in Indianapolis.
Done at Wild Rose in Seoul
Full traditional sleeve topped by horses done at Wild Rose tattoo in Seoul, South Korea.
Herb Auerbach in Santa Cruz
Angry looking horses done by Herb Auerbach in Santa Cruz.
Matt Kerley in Ashville
Bold design on the back of a head done by Matt Kerley in Asheville.
Rich Hardy
Gorgeous stomach piece done by Rich Hardy.

The design of the pharaoh’s horses comes from biblical times, when horses were seen as a symbol of wealth, status, warfare, and power. Horses are specifically linked to pharaoh Ramses II who lived more than 3000 years ago. These horses of course portray a sense of power, but there is also an implied reference to Exodus 14 which reads thus. “The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horse-men the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived.” This appears to be a warning of following a singular pursuit without regard to the consequences.

Collin McClain
Chest piece with some nice blue done by Colin McClain at Tide and Tattoo.
Duan Woo Sick Rose Tattoo Parlour in Shanghai
Smaller horse piece done by Duan Woo at Sick Rose Tattoo Parlour in Shanghai, China.
Jason Donahue at Liberty Tattoo in Seattle
Chest piece with classic flowers done by Jason Donahue at Liberty Tattoo in Seattle.
Nick Mayes at North Sea Tattoo in Scarborough, UK
Big stomach piece topped by an eagle done by Nick Mayes at North Sea Tattoo in Scarborough, UK.
Shon Lindauer in Hollywood CA
Heavy black design by Shon Lindauer in Hollywood, CA.

These tattoos are often done as large pieces on backs or chests, but can also be done as larger parts of a sleeve or leg piece. The horses are often accompanied by flowers, horseshoes, chains, and other traditional pieces such as eagles.

Dan Pemble Artist & Owner @ Sacred Tattoo Studio Marquette, MI
Brilliant full front torso as a piece of armour by Dan Pemble at Sacred Tattoo Studio Marquette, MI.
Frank William in Chicago, IL
Large stomach piece full of flowers done by Frank William in Chicago, IL.
Kai Soong at Sick Rose Tattoo Parlour in Shanghai
Chest piece by Kai Soong at Sick Rose Tattoo Parlour in Shanghai, China.
philip yarnell
Traditional blackwork piece done by Philip Yarnell at Skynyard tattoos, UK.
Tammy Kim at The Okey Doke Tattoo Shop
Fantastic back piece featuring an eagle, websm and flowers done by Tammy Kim at The Okey Doke Tattoo Shop in Toronto.

Which is your favourite tattoo?

American Traditional Head Tattoos:

Head tattoos are a bold statement to say the least. Whether you decide to let your hair grow out again, or rock the tattooed head 24/7. For such a bold placement, one needs a bold design.

American traditional tattoos are known for being bold as hell. Check out these trad head tattoos and get inspired!

Alex Snelgrove
Trad blackwork with some classic dice, reaper’s scythe, and chains. Done by Alex Snelgrove.
Bertz at Skingdom Tattoo
Snakey done by Bertz at Skingdom Tattoo.
Chris Anthon at Grand River Tattoo Company in St. Elora Ontario
Snake popping out the back of the neck done by Chris Anthon at Grand River Tattoo Company in St. Elora in Ontario.
Dane Soos 1
Snake and yellow roses done by Dane Soos.
Dane Soos
Blackwork mandala also done by Dane Soos.
David Bruehl in Tampa Florida
Rose and claw done by David Bruehl in Tampa, Florida.
Eugene at Chapel Tattoo
Pristine scorpion done by Eugene at Chapel Tattoo.
Franz Stefanik at The Okey Doke Tattoo Shop
Classic eagle and snake done by Franz Stefanik at The Okey Doke Tattoo Shop in Toronto.
Gonzalo Muñiz at Last port Tattoo
Pharaoh’s horses and web background done by Gonzalo Muñiz at Last Port Tattoo.
Gordon Combs Til Death in Denver and Art Work Rebels in Portland
Eagle head done by Gordon Combs at Til Death Tattoo in Denver and Art Work Rebels in Portland.
Han Shinko in Essen
Blackwork skeleton hand and leaves done by Han Shinko in Essen, Germany.
Jaca in Hossegor, France.
Blackwork eagle and skull done by Jaca in Hossegor, France.
Joshua Marks in Los Angeles
Lil’ butterfly done by Joshua Marks in Los Angeles.
Mando Islas in California
Some trad filler done by Mando Islas in California.
Martina at Pretty Electric Tattoo
Cute bird and flowers in some nice bright colours done by Martina at Pretty Electric Tattoo.
Matt Andersson in Gothenburg
Bold ship design done by Matt Andersson in Gothenburg.
Nate Kemr
Blackwork church and webs by Nate Kemr.
Nick Mayes at North Sea Tattoo, Scarborough, UK
Panther head done by Nick Mayes at North Sea Tattoo, Scarborough, UK.
Paulo da Butcher at Impact Custom Tattoo
Eagle and skull done by Paulo da Butcher at Impact Custom Tattoo.
Zach Nelligan at Mainstay Tattoo in Austin TX
Cross, snake, skull, and flowers done by Zach Nelligan at Mainstay Tattoo in Austin Texas.

Which head piece is your favourite?