Sak Yant tattoos are well known to tattoo lovers as a mainly Thai Buddhist form of tattooing. “Sak” means “to tap” or “to tattoo”, and “yant” comes from the Sanskrit word “yantra” which has many meanings. Usually referring to a “machine”, “instrument” or “apparatus”.
Most people who have heard of Sak Yant tattoos are familiar with them because of their tie to Thai culture, but this specific form of tattoo actually comes from the Khmer people of Cambodia.
Sak Yant tattoos are very closely tied to religion and spirituality, mainly Buddhism. Most Sak Yant tattoos are performed by Buddhist monks at a temple where they can bless the tattoo properly. But the Sak Yant designs are becoming so popular that tattoo artists are doing them, just without the blessing or spiritual connectedness that accompanies the tattoo when done by a monk.
Much of the script featured in Sak Yant designs come from Buddhism and are meant to be a chant or a mantra. This is why it’s important to research what kind of Sak Yant you would like, as they all carry different meanings.
While Sak Yant pieces can be for anyone to wear, it’s important to understand the religious and cultural significance of the piece, and make sure you are getting the tattoo in a respectful way, including the placement of the piece. Since Sak Yant’s are largely Buddhist, it can be seen as highly disrespectful to tattoo the design anywhere below your waist, particularly if it includes a design featuring Buddha.
Chris is known for his notable work in two main styles, Japanese and traditional old school, with some black and grey or black work versions of both styles thrown into the mix.
Chris’ Instagram is full of both large and small scale work, including back pieces, full sleeves, one-offs, and job stoppers.
His work is crisp and detailed, and you can tell how much pride he takes in his work by spending only a few minutes looking through his portfolio. Much of his work takes direct influence from woodblock Japanese artists as well as old school tattooers from the 19th-20th centuries.
If you’re able to make the trip to Norway or are lucky enough to live in Europe where it’s easy to travel between countries, Chris is a must see artist.
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.
Rich Handford is a tattoo artist working out of Kapala Tattoo in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He has owned the shop since 2003 and has a great team working at the shop, and his own experience as a tattooer dates back to 1999.
Rich specializes in Japanese but also does great neo-traditional and occasional American traditional work. On his Instagram page you’ll find mainly colour work, but if you’re in the market for a piece without colour Rich can handle that for you as well.
Rich’s portfolio is full of mainly large scale work such as sleeves and back pieces, but if you’re looking for something smaller he can take care of it.
Hong Kong, a fascinating city with an equally fascinating history and culture. Tattoos are becoming more and more popular as they enter into the mainstream, making it hard to walk around the downtown area without spotting a tattoo either on a tourist or a local. But for a long time tattoos were seen as something only for criminals, mainly the triads (the Chinese mafia that also operates in Hong Kong and Taiwan among other places).
While tattoos of course existed in the area long before the 1940’s, the first official tattoo shop wasn’t opened until 1946 by the famous James Ho (father of Jimmy Ho). James Ho was a Shanghainese marine engineer in the navy in 1940 and was sailing on a ship in the Indian Ocean when it was hit by a Japanese torpedo. James was lucky and survived by clinging to wreckage and was picked up by an American warship and brought to Calcutta where he first came in contact with tattoos; hand poked tattoos to be specific. James brought his new passion home to Shanghai where he made a machine from bike chains and other spare parts. He fled Shanghai towards the end of WW11 because of political conflict and went to Hong Kong, where he opened the first shop; Rose Tattoo Studio. James had seen mainly old school tattoos on sailors, so that’s what he brought back both to Shanghai and Hong Kong, and why old school Hong Kong tattoos follow similar tropes of hearts, flags, pin-ups and more, all with thick bold lines and vibrant colours. The shop did very well, mainly working on those in the Navy during the Korean and Vietnam wars. Along with these American designs, tattooers in Asia were adding imagery such as dragons, koi, and tigers, among other culturally significant iconography.
To keep up with the high demand, James took on four apprentices; Ricky Lo, Pinky Yun, Benny Tsoi, and Swallow, and later eventually his own son, Jimmy. Jimmy started officially working for his father at the age of 14 after already tattooing clients after hours from around the age of 12. His mother didn’t want him working there but he insisted, and when he showed his father James the earnings, he was finally gifted two tattoo machines of his own. Pinky eventually moved to the US in the 70’s and became very popular after first working with Ricky at “Ricky and Pinky Tattoo”, Benny has a shop still in Hong Kong run by an apprentice (his daughter also tattoos and runs her own shop), and Jimmy’s shop is also still being run by an apprentice in Hong Kong.
When business declined for all tattooers in Hong Kong after the Korean and Vietnam wars, tattooers were working more and more with triads. Only a “大佬” or, “boss” could get tattooed then, and some of the main designs included dragons on the arms or back, or eagles on the chest. Now triads are tattooed less and less, similar to the yakuza in Japan. But when they do opt to get tattoos they are more likely to get them in mainland China where they are significantly cheaper.
Apart from gangsters, the most common people getting tattooed from the 70’s-90’s were construction workers and truck drivers. These developed their own kind of style which consisted of only an outline without any shading, often because they would run out of money. As long as you could tell what the design was supposed to be, it was good enough.
Hong Kong style is also compared to Japanese, particularly for full bodied work with backgrounds such as waves and clouds. This is largely due to Japanese tattooers visiting Hong Kong, and vice versa. For example, James’ son, Jimmy Ho was visited numerous times by Horiyoshi in the 1990’s. Jimmy then borrowed Japanese ideas of tattooing but made them his own.
Today, artists such as Marcus Yuen and Samantha Fung, both working out of 59 tattoo alongside other great artists, and Dave Ryo Lau working out of The Company Tattoo, are all keeping Hong Kong style tattoos alive by continuing to tattoo in the unique style. Marcus in particular works hard to keep Hong Kong style tattoos alive by also sharing information about the old legends, and many historic pictures on his Instagram account.
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.
He takes inspiration from greats such as Sailor Jerry, Tony Polito, E.C. Kidd, and more.
Whether you’re looking for black traditional or bright and colourful, Nick can take care of it for you.
His Instagram is full of both small one off designs, and large scale work such as back pieces.
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.
There is unfortunately still quite a bit of subtle (and not-so-subtle) racism in the tattoo industry. It’s often believed that customers with darker skin are harder to tattoo, but that’s certainly not the case. Especially as body modification is such an important part of all cultures and histories, not just white ones.
Black ink is also not the only ink that has to be used on dark skin, contrary to what many believe. Darker skin can still feature bright and colourful pieces. you just have to know what you’re doing with that tattoo machine.
More tattoo artists should push themselves to learn how to tattoo different skin types, including darker skin, as the subculture of tattooing isn’t so “sub” anymore. It can be disheartening for black or tanned customers walking into a tattoo shop when all they see is flash painted on white paper, and portfolios filled with white skin, or only very dark tattoos on darker skin.
(June 2020) With the world finally rallying beside our black brothers and sisters it’s more important than ever to support black businesses, including tattoo artists.
Feel free to leave more links to black tattoo artists below!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.