Japanese Blackwork Tattoos:

Japanese is undeniably one of the most popular tattoo styles, but heavy black pieces are changing the game.

Blackwork wave sleeve mixed with geometric patterns by Raimundo Ramìrez.
Spirited Away’s Yubaba done by Stephen Doan.

Japanese tattoos traditionally use lots of red and black, but also feature some yellows, orange, and shades of grey. Basically the same colour palette as original American traditional.

Blackwork tiger back done by Takizomoro.
Samurai Hannya done by Daniel Ra.

Blackwork is becoming a more and more popular style all the time, and can be done in many styles.

Blackwork leg sleeves done by Guy Le Tatooer.
Blackwork cloud sleeves with geometric patterns done by Gakkin.

Japanese blackwork often makes great use of negative space, making the subject pop, particularly when done on lighter skin tones.

Blackwork Bodhidharma by HoriNami.
Blackwork peony and snake sleeves by Lupo Horiōkami.

Some artists also mix styles such as Neo-traditional and geometric with their Japanese work. Both of these styles are often done as all black pieces, so it mixes well.

Blackwork namakubi by Damien J. Thorn.
Blackwork fish by Horihiro.

Which tattoo is your favourite?

Blackwork negative space sleeve by Oscar Hove.
3/4 sleeves and chest panels by Gotch.

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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

Namakubi Tattoos:

Namakubi tattoos are one of the most popular and recognizable motifs in Japanese tattooing.

Alessandro Lauricella
More of a neo Japanese style hand namakubi, done by Alessandro Lauricella.
Hide Ichibay Three Tides Tattoo Tokyo
Very traditional lady namakubi done by Hide Ichibay at Three Tides Tattoo in Tokyo.
Ichi tattoo
Namakubi chest piece done by Ichi Hatano at Ichi Tattoo in Tokyo.
sergey vaskevich
Namakubi and snake done by Sergey Vaskevich in Warsaw, Poland.
zachblacktattoos
Heavily stylized namakubi done by Zach Black at Akara Arts Tattoo  in Wisconsin.

Namakubi are severed heads, usually fresh, and sometimes impaled on stakes, arrows, or swords/knives.

Alex Rusty Artist:owner at @Lighthouse_Tattoo in Sydney, Australia
Blue and bloody namakubi done by Alex Rusty at Lighthouse Tattoo in Sydney, Australia.
Horiei Shinshu 信州 彫英 based in Japan🇯🇵Matsumoto City,Nagano
Neo Japanese piece done by Horiei Shinshu in Matsumoto, Japan.
Jeremy Deboer • Tattooing since 2011 • INK WIZARDS- Adelaide
Broken katana through the head done by Jeremy Deboer in Adelaide.
Shinya Studio Muscat Tokyo
Heavy black piece by Shinya at Studio Muscat in Tokyo, Japan.

Namakubi can have a number of different meanings including respect for the enemy, overcoming a fear, or accepting ones own fate with honour.

Andrew Nectar Fine Tattooing, Lethbridge Alberta
Three arrows through a head in a more American traditional style piece. Done by Andrew Nectar at Fine Tattooing in Lethbridge, Alberta.
Horihana Kirin Tattoo Brasil
Bleeding head done by Horihana at Kirin Tattoo in Brasil.
Lango Oliveira at Black Heart Tattoo in San Francisco
Ghastly namakubi done by Lango Oliveira at Black Heart Tattoo in San Francisco.
Stephen Doan
Blackwork namakubi with arrows done by Stephen Doan.

In ancient Japanese history, taking the head of ones enemy is the ultimate sign of respect and honour. It is also a representation of life’s full circle coming to an end.

Ash Davies Stronghold Tattoo, Cardiff Bay
Sword right through the cheeks by Ash Davies at Stronghold Tattoo in Cardiff Bay.
Horishige Osaka Japan
Japanese namakubi part of a bodysuit, done by Horishige in Osaka, Japan.
Matteo Ceccarini ◇JAPANESE TATTOOING◇ Black Line Tattoo Studio, Mallorca:Extreme Needle Tattoo Studio, London
Half sleeve with maple leaves done by Matteo Ceccarini at Extreme Needle Tattoo Studio in London, England.
Tamar Karp Now taking bookings at The Black Lodge, Portishead...Bristol
Crazy eyed namakubi done by Tamar Karp at The Black Lodge in Bristol.

Namakubi are almost always done in a traditional Japanese style, but can also be done in neo Japanese, neo traditional, and American traditional styles.

Dan Arietti Tattooist:owner Black sails tattoo Brighton
Rotting neo traditional namakubi done by Dan Arietti at Black Sails Tattoo in Brighton.
Horiyoshi 3 Yokohama Japan
Sliced open namakubi done by Horiyoshi the third in Yokohama, Japan.
Rich Handford Kapala Tattoo Winnipeg
Matching legs done by Rich Handford at Kapala Tattoo in Winnipeg Manitoba.
Zach Black Akara Arts Tattoo, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Another neo Japanese piece done by Zach Black at Akara Arts Tattoo in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Which is your favourite?

Medusa Tattoos:

According to Greek mythology, Medusa was born a beautiful woman, one of three sisters known as the Gorgons. When she was still human she was a priestess to the goddess Athena. Being a priestess she was sworn to celibacy.

Aaron Breeze
Dark American trad Medusa head done by Aaron Breeze at Life & Death Tattoos Shrewsbury, England.
Gara Happy Lighthouse Seoul Korea
Heavy blackwork Medusa head as a statue done by Gara at Happy Lighthouse Tattoo in Seoul, South Korea.
Lynn Akura Illustrator, tattooing since 1999. Tiger Bones, Brighton UK
Black and red traditional Medusa head done by Lynn Akura at Tiger Bones, Brighton UK.
Zhuo Dan TING Owner-Tattoo artist at Shanghai Tattoo
Full hyper realistic black and grey backpiece done by Zhuo Dan Ting at Shanghai Tattoo in Shanghai, China.

So how did a beautiful maiden turn into the monster we’re all familiar with? Medusa was really a victim, and turning into a monster was not at all her fault, but the god of the sea, Poseidons. Poseidon met Medusa and was immediately infatuated. He tried over and over again to seduce Medusa, who refused each time. Finally Medusa sought refuge in Athena’s temple to get away from Poseidon. Poseidon didn’t care and went after her, following her into the temple of Athena, where he forced himself on her against her will.

Abel Sanchez
Neo trad Medusa head and rose done by Abel Sanchez at Red Dagger Tattoo in Texas.
Dave Lao Winnipeg,Manitoba,Canada Lone Wolf Studios
Realistic black and grey Medusa done by Dave Lao at Lone Wolf Studios in Winnipeg, Canada.
Kike Esteras
Black and yellow Medusa piece by Kike Esteras at Black Ship in Barcelona.
Shio Zaragoza
Neo trad Medusa head done by Shio Zaragoza at Blessed Tattoo in Spain.

To punish Medusa for having relations inside her temple, Athena turned Medusa into a monster. A woman with snakes for hair that could turn any who looked upon her directly into stone. Seeing herself as a hideous monster, Medusa fled, shunned by all, wandering alone. In her despair her character turned into the monster of her outward appearance.

Alexander Grim
Blackwork decapitated Medusa head done by Alexander Grim.
helena darling halifax Nova Scotia
More elegant looking Medusa by Helena Darling in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
Matias Noble in Valencia, Spain
Hyper realistic Medusa piece done by Matias Noble in Valencia, Spain.
Teresa Sharpe
Neo trad Medusa head and Perseus’ sword done by Teresa Sharpe at Unkindness Art in Richmond VA.

Many warriors tried unsuccessfully to slay Medusa, but all were turned to stone, and her reputation grew with each kill. Until Perseus was sent to collect her head and bring it to the king Polydectes. Perseus was given quite a bit of help to complete this task, which the other warriors did not have. He was given a sword smithed by the god Hephaestus, Hades’ helmet of invisibility, winged sandals from Hermes, and a mirrored shield from Athena.

Anderson Luna
Realistic black and grey Medusa on the back of the head done by Anderson Luna in New York.
Jake Danielson from Melbourne, Australia
Large neo trad thigh piece done by Jake Danielson from Melbourne, Australia.
Nik The Rookie
Very bright neo trad Medusa head done by Nik The Rookie.

Perseus was able to slay Medusa by looking at her reflection in the mirrored shield so he could see her coming and not be turned to stone. He decapitated her, and in doing so freed her from Athena’s curse.

Daniel Teixeira
Linework Medusa head done by Daniel Teixeira.
Karlos Lloyd
Dark neo trad piece done by Karlos Lloyd in Australia.
Oash Rodriguez
Heavy black and good use of negative space in this piece by Oash Rodriguez.

As a tattoo Medusa is often done in black and grey, neo traditional, realism, blackwork, and American traditional. She is most often tattooed as just her head, either visibly decapitated or portrait style.

Heath Clifford
Lots of red in this neo trad piece by Heath Clifford at Throne Room Tattoo in New Zealand.
Kati Berlinkey
Black and yellow neo trad piece done by Katie Berlinkey.
Rodrigo Kalaka
Lots of green in this neo trad piece by Rodrigo Kalaka in Barcelona.

Who is your favourite mythological Greek character?

Artist of the Month: Brando Chiesa

Brando Chiesa is a “pastel gore” artist based out of Florence, Italy.

Ryuk death note
Ryuk from Death Note, drinking some brains, no big deal.
Elfen lied piece
Elfen Lied inspired piece.
cardcaptor sakura severed head
Cardcaptor Sakura inspired severed head piece.
tokyo ghoul Ken Kaneki
Ken Kaneki from Tokyo Ghoul.
purple kitsune and
Purple Kitsune and kanji characters with Japanese masks.

Brando’s work features a whole lot of pink, yet still manages to be terrifying.

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Horror slave character.
digimon Garurumon
Badass Digimon piece. Garurumon.
horror school girl
Horror/hentai school girl.
Lil peep inspired piece also based on Rem
Lil Peep inspired piece based on a gender swapped Rem from Death Note.

He mixes graphic imagery, mainly from anime shows and movies, with pastel colours. Along with anime (some hentai) and manga, Brando also takes inspiration from Japanese mythology and folklore.

berserk demons and monsters
Berserk inspired piece with monsters and demons.
galactic parasite
A graphic galactic parasite and alien lady.
more sailor moon
A gory Sailor Moon slut.
nure-onna Japanese yokai
Nure-Onna Japanese Yokai.

His designs are mainly either sexy or terrifying. Featuring lots of anime women in tight clothing, and creatures and monsters you wouldn’t want to meet in real life.

bunny and skull neck piece
Bunny and skull neck piece.
Haku and no face from Spirited away
Haku and No Face from Spirited Away.
kinky sailor moon piece
A kinky semi-nude Sailor Moon piece.
pokemon umbreon and gengar with DS
Pokemon piece with Umbreon and Gengar, along with a pink DS.

Brando does do some darker colour work but the vast majority of it is pastel. His darker work has more of a neo traditional look to it, while the pastel pieces are a bit of a mix of neo traditional and hyperrealism.

filler skull spider
Terrifying filler spider skull piece with black web.
Japanese kitsune
Neo traditional Kitsune.
spooky snake piece
An angry looking snake filler piece with Japanese mask.

Brando is a must see artist for your anime/manga needs!

Artist of the Month: Lera Ooqza

Lera is an artist from Moscow, Russia. Her specialty is blackwork, particularly Asian inspired horror.

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Japanese Yōkai featuring a couple of lantern demons and terrifying head.
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Terrifying demon woman.
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Incredibly dark blackwork demon and monsters.
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Japanese geisha demon with a geometric kimono.
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Detailed moth and moon.
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Shoulder flowers with eyeballs.
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Japanese inspired demon with too many hands!

Most of her work takes on a dark theme, such as ghosts, demons, and skeletons.

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Skeleton and nude woman. Some fantastic details in there.
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Peony flowers covering up old scars.
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Robotic severed hand and knife.
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Sternum moth.
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Maneki-neko cat from Japan.
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Heavy blackwork goldfish.

When she isn’t doing blackwork, her other work is quite delicate, including flowers and other natural plants.

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Delicate pink rose.
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Cute mushrooms!

Lera has an incredible attention to detail, with an eye for the supernatural and spooky!

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Queen of hearts meets gruesome death.
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Creepy goblet of blood.
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Namakubi with incredible linework in the hair.
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Small butterfly with some great dotwork detail.
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Some brilliant kanji with great hand placement.
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Split lion head with a distinct Asian style.

Lera is a must see artist for your creepy blackwork needs.

Artist of the month: Gakkin

Gakkin is a (mainly) blackwork and freehand artist working out of Amsterdam after first working in Kyoto.

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Blackwork raven across the back of the neck.
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Large octopus sleeve and chest piece.
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Bodysuit featuring birds, flowers, wind, and clouds.
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Huge snake torso piece.

His pieces are all large scale. Full sleeves, large torso pieces, back pieces, and bodysuits.

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Gruesome namakubi (severed head), with hair that flows into an almost cloudlike state.
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Massive crane back piece with clouds, waves, and koi.
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Negative space stomach hannya as part of a full bodysuit of mainly solid black.
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Red flowers on heavy black leg sleeve, with white spider web.

He collaborates often now with another Japanese blackwork artist, Nissaco. The two work well together, and their pieces flow seamlessly into each other.

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Bright flowers within a dark backdrop.
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Chrysanthemum with Japanese noh mask.
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Back of a bodysuit featuring negative space geometric designs.
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Beautiful blackwork moon and cloud back piece.

His work is largely inspired by nature. Everything from wind, water, flowers, mountains, the sun, and the moon, and animals.

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Large brushstroke style.
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Geometric, blackwork sleeve.
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Large chrysanthemum as part of a sleeve.

Gakkin also takes direct inspiration from ancient Japanese painters, adding his own interpretations.

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Waves and wind in these nature sleeves.
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Part of a bodysuit featuring wind and waves.
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Bright red flowers on heavy black.

Though he mainly works with black, he does also add splashes of red to draw the eye. In an interview with Tattoo Life, he said about working with black “I believe that black is the most important color in tattooing. Every ancient tattooing culture – Maori, Japanese, and Polynesian – considers it as such. It just works better than any other color on the skin.” (www.tattoolife.com)

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kuchisake-onna ghost, from stories dating back to the Edo period.
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Tsuchigumo, the Japanese spider demon.
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Collaboration piece done with Nissaco at the London tattoo convention 2017.

Which piece is your favourite?

Geisha Tattoos:

The geisha, or, “person of accomplishment” date back to 1751 in the mid-Tokugawa period in Japan. Geisha’s were originally men, but eventually became women.

geisha Ami James
Deep in thought by Ami James.

Geisha’s were trained artists skilled in tea ceremony, flower arranging, and as singers, dancers, storytellers, servers, and conversationalists. These women were all literate and were familiar with poetry and tales of warriors in order to entertain their patrons. Geisha’s were not prostitutes, but worked in the pleasure districts, also called “the floating world” and while not they were not sex workers, some did become concubines or mistresses for men who would buy their contracts from their masters.

geisha Andrew Mcnally at Northside Private Rooms in Newcastle
Black and grey neo Japanese geisha with cherry blossoms by Andrew Mcnally at Northside Private Rooms in Newcastle, UK.
geisha Anna Yershova
Realistic side/stomach piece with cherry blossoms by Anna Yershova.
geisha Asakusa Horiyasu
Brilliant Japanese back piece by Horiyasu.

Geisha’s are known for their musical prowess, particularly with an instrument called samisen, which today is also used in kabuki plays and has an inherently “Japanese” sound. As for appearance, while working a geisha would wear a kimono tied from the back, which is another difference between a geisha and a prostitute as a prostitute would have her kimono tied in the front. A thick white foundation of makeup is applied to the face, neck, and upper chest, with a line around the hairline creating a mask like appearance. Other makeup includes black around the eyes and eyebrows with bright red lips.

geisha Daniel Gensch
Fantastic neo traditional neck piece also with cherry blossoms, by Daniel Gensch in Berlin, Germany.
geisha Emily Rose Murray
A more Westernized neo traditional geisha by Emily Rose Murray in Melbourne, Australia.
geisha Gakkin
Blackwork Japanese piece of a sly looking geisha by Gakkin in Amsterdam.
geisha Horihana in Brasil
Another traditional Japanese back piece with cherry blossoms, skeleton, and Buddhist imagery by Horihana in Brazil.
Geisha Jarrad Serafino at The Sweet Life Tattoo in Melbourne
Dark American traditional geisha and flower by Jarrad Serafino at The Sweet Life Tattoo in Melbourne, Australia.

Geisha’s still exist today, though due in part to the rigorous training in order to become one, are much less frequent. Today, geisha’s mainly entertain politicians at parties.

geisha Kevin Nocerino at Still Life Tattoo
Neo traditional namakubi or severed head geisha with peony by Kevin Nocerino at Still Life Tattoo.
geisha Mark Wosgerau
Realistic black and grey geisha by Mark Wosgerau at Sinners Inc in Denmark.
geisha Michael Litovkin
Bold mix of black and grey and colour in a realistic style by Michael Litovkin.
geisha Pavel Krim
Soft, colourful, realistic geisha by Pavel Krim in Stockholm.
Geisha Reuben Todd at Kapala tattoo in Winnipeg
American traditional black and red work by Reuben Todd at Kapala Tattoo in Winnipeg.

As a tattoo a geisha will generally be done in Japanese traditional style, neo Japanese, American traditional, neo traditional, black and grey, or realism.

geisha Shon Lindauer in Hollywood
American traditional work by Shon Lindauer in Hollywood.
geisha Thomas Pineiro at Black Garden Tattoo in the UK
Fantastic Japanese piece by Thomas Pineiro at Black Garden Tattoo in the UK.
geisha Tony Nilsson in Norway
Bold American traditional piece by Tony Nilsson in Norway.
geisha Victor Octaviano
Modern watercolor piece by Victor Octaviano in Brazil.
Geisha William Roos in Stockholm
tiny blackwork geisha and hannya by William Roos in Stockholm.
Geisha Zak Partak in Toronto
Geisha head and fan by Zak Partak in Toronto.

Geisha’s are an important part of Japanese history and make a fantastic design!

Artist of the Month: Clemens Hahn

Clemens is an artist working out of Electric Circus Classic Tattooing in Mannheim, Germany. Clemens specializes in neo traditional, traditional, and blackwork, with some Japanese thrown into the mix. Clemens does fantastic work using timeless designs mixed with new techniques and styles. He doesn’t shy away from tough designs or locations including full sleeves, bellies, ribs, back pieces, and even hands and faces for those whose lifestyles can afford them.

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Hardcore full frontal blackwork traditional panther head and webbing with matching black and grey sleeves.
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Matching chest heads, dagger through a heart, and angry bear head in rad neo trad.
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Elephant head inspired by deities.
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American traditional classic of an eagle fighting a snake, sun and moon not by Clemens.
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Japanese backpiece with oni and namakubi in a neo Japanese style.
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Full blackwork backpiece inspired by the beauty of death with crow and matching coffins.
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Half backpiece in Japanese black and grey featuring a tiger, peony, and cloud background. with a matching sleeve.
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Whole bunch of job stoppers! Beautiful hand and neck pieces including traditional and blackwork.
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Crazy throat peony.
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Neo Japanese tiger head neck tattoo.
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American traditional eagle on the back of the neck/head.
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Crazy elephant inspired piece.
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Brilliant neo traditional fox and bear in a tender spot.
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Tasteful face piece. Blackwork nails in a bleeding heart.
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Blackwork traditional Native American lady head.
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Matching back of the knees traditional mandalas.
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Neo traditional Little Red Riding Hood and the big bad wolf.

If you’re in Germany Clemens Hahn is a must see artist!