Elbow Tattoos:

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. 

Horseshoe and Flower by Caige Baker at the Brindle Room in Calgary, Alberta
Spiderweb by Tony Torvis at Mortem Tattoo in Montréal, Quebec

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. 

Mandala by Hans Joen Heggum at Blue Arms Tattoo in Oslo, Norway
Heart web done by Tasha Terror at Three of Swords Tattoo in Halifax, Nova Scotia

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.

Spiderweb done by Gabriel Buison
Bright flower piece done by Jasmine Worth at Remington Tattoo in San Diego

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.

Geometric dot work piece by Tommy Birch
Bright and bold flower piece by Capa Tattoo at Tattoo Circus in Italy

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. 

Black work butterfly by Alin in Seoul, Korea
Colourful spiderweb by Dave at Trophy Tattoo in Hamilton, Ontario

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Getting Tattooed in Hong Kong

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.

Star Crossed tattoo

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.

The Company tattoo

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.

The Company tattoo

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.

Myself and Cathy from Star Crossed

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.

A Sailor Jerry re work done by Cathy
Chinese characters from Cathy

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.

James and the finished product on me!
Heavy black work piece on the back of my neck done by James

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: Joel Mijker

Joel is an artist working out of Wild Rose Tattoo Co. in Calgary, Alberta.

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Classic cry baby.
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Big panther and a snake locked in battle.
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Deconstructed anchor and a bit of a seascape/sunset.
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Fingers crossed.
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Swallows and a heart for mom.
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Spooky demon.

Joel does classic American traditional tattoos. He has plenty of flash to choose from, or you can bring an idea to him.

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Good luck horseshoe. This design used to usually be done with the horseshoe facing upright, to keep the luck in. But now people seem to get it upside down more and more, seeming to be a sign of making your own luck.
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Nice vacation in a bottle with this one.
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Geisha with a beautiful kimono and umbrella.
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Blackwork stomach with geometric flowers and peony. Lots of lines!
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Black rose and Bert Grimm crying heart.
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Mean looking spider and crying eye.

Joel does both colour pieces as well as blackwork.

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Blackwork peony in more of a Japanese style.
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Twisty dragon, an American take on a Japanese design.
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Geometric vase and wrap around snake.
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Traditional Aboriginal lady head.
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Fortune teller lady head and Bert Grimm tiger head.

You can search him up on Instagram and see when he is doing walk-ins, or contact him and set up an appointment.

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Sleazy Mickey.
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Blackwork snake.
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Tough boxer and rose in blackwork style.
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Butterfly for a gap filler.
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Crowned Jesus blackwork piece.

Joel sticks to the classics, and does it well. He has crisp bold lines and solid shading, all within a readable trad piece.  He is a must visit artist if you’re in Calgary.

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?