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: Nick Oaks

Nick Oaks is a tattooer working out of Bait & Schlang Tattoo in Montreal. His work is as classic as it gets. Filled with big bold dragons, lady heads, roses and skulls.

Classic Sailor Jerry monkey.
Bright and bold back piece featuring a dragon and classic lady.

He takes inspiration from greats such as Sailor Jerry, Tony Polito, E.C. Kidd, and more.

Tony Polito cowboy skull.
Black traditional E.C. Kidd dragon.

Whether you’re looking for black traditional or bright and colourful, Nick can take care of it for you.

Bright geisha head.
Pharaoh’s horses on the stomach.

His Instagram is full of both small one off designs, and large scale work such as back pieces.

Classic lady head.
Panther and snake in battle.

Nick has lots of flash to choose from, and lots of paintings for sale as well.If you’re in Montreal, or going to be, click the link above and check out his Instagram where he has his contact information.

A beautiful tiger, ready for a scrap.
Healed lady head and tiger on the ribs.

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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: Alexander Perry

Alexander Perry works at The Gentlemen Tattoos in Ohio. He specializes in bold, clean American traditional tattoos. His work features a lot of skulls, a lot of roses, and a lot of lady heads.

His work is classic with a bit of a modern touch, with easily recognizable designs, making them visible at a distance.

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Tiny lady head in profile.
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Bigger lady head. Lots of red for this one!
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Classic lady head with a snake and dagger.
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Blackwork lady head and skully.
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Spider lady head right on the chrome dome.
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Don’t fear the reaper!
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Skull with crown of flowers.
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Classic Sailor Jerry skull and snake piece.
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Skull and crossbones.
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Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil skullies.
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Classy smoking blackwork skull.
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Bold rose on the hand.
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Classic peony.
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Fun cartoon eyeball.
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Getting tropical with a parrot, greenery, and a butterfly.

Alex is a must see artist for your traditional needs in Ohio.