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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Elbows are one of the more painful spots to get tattooed, but if you’re wanting that full sleeve it’s something you’ve got to tough out.
There are lots of designs that fit the shape of the elbow well, such as spiderwebs, flowers, mandalas, geometric shapes, and other “gap filler” type pieces.
Elbow tattoos also often take a bit longer to heal than many other locations on the body just because it’s a joint that most of us use all day every day. All that movement irritates the area so you can expect prolonged swelling, and maybe more scabbing than other tattoos you have.
Because the bone lies directly under the skin with virtually no “padding” on your elbow, it’s going to hurt more than the rest of your sleeve, which is why many people choose to save it for last, or choose a design that doesn’t fully cover the area such as a spiderweb or a horseshoe.
While spiderweb tattoos are arguably one of the most popular elbow designs among old school collectors, you should be aware that originally this design was meant for people in prison, often signifying how much time a person has done. Nowadays most people won’t assume that you’ve been to prison if you have this tattoo, but it’s important to be aware of.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Tony’s Instagram page is full of both large and small scale work, from chest pieces to full backs, sleeves, and little filler pieces.
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.
Religious tattoos are still very popular with many collectors today, and one of the most recognizable images that has been made popular in the tattoo community is found in that of the Christian community with the Sacred Heart (aka The Sacred Heart of Jesus).
This is an image that is particularly important in the Roman Catholic Church, and it represents Jesus Christ’s heart as his love for all humans. The earliest known devotions to the Sacred Heart occurred around the eleventh century and was brought about by Saint Bernard. In the 14th century Pope Innocent VI declared that the Sacred Heart should be idolized and worshipped. From there on it became a symbol of love and devotion.
There are three common depictions of the heart in its original form: the Heart with a crown of thorns like the crown that Jesus was forced to wear, the heart with a cross on top to represent the crucifixion, and finally, flame surrounding or coming out of it which represents divine light of love.
As a tattoo many people choose one of these three versions, or get it custom made with added flowers, decorative pieces, faces, colours, etc. The most common styles are American traditional, black and grey, and neo-traditional.
There is another version of the Sacred Heart that represents the Immaculate Heart of Mary (mother of Jesus), but this version is usually seen being pierced by a sword instead of a crown of thorns.
While existing for centuries, cacti have become extremely well known as a pop culture phenomenon more recently over the years, particularly among my fellow millennials. This definitely has something to do with how easy they are to take care of, requiring only sunlight, sand, and water on occasion; they pretty much thrive if left alone in a sunny spot.
They’ve become so popular now that you could light your cactus candle for the dinner table to see your cactus salt and pepper shakers and cactus glasses before you reveal your new cactus tattoo, all without ever having to mention the word cactus.
People seem to love the diversity and toughness of these prickly plants. They can come in all shapes and sizes; from tall and skinny to short and fat, perfectly round, multiple offshoots, each with their own unique personality.
This diversity makes them look great in photos, paintings, and tattoos, and their tough exterior could represent a kind of (symbolic) protection for the tattoo wearer.
As tattoos, the most popular cacti by far seems to be the tall skinny ones (San Pedro Cactus/cereus). These pieces are often done in old school, black work, neo-traditional, fine line, or new school styles.