Horiyoshi 3 and myself whilst visiting his studio in 2009
I hear a lot of artists wax poetic about their world travels and the great shops they worked at to make themselves better artists… as if in the age of the internet you can still spin that kind of bullshit and get away with it! …next time you hear this ask them where they worked.. and for whom? and then look at their portfolio.. the proof is in the pudding! Keep it real!
My own personal philosophy towards tattooing has evolved over the last few years. What began as a desire to simply tattoo people with any design they chose has transformed into a drive to tattoo art with asthetic appeal, power, meaning and depth. My own inspiration is derived from travelling the world and experiencing its cultures firsthand, one at a time, and tattooing the people that live there.
What it really comes down to in the long run is how will the tattoo age and grow alongside you as you change, as the bearer of the tattoo this is a very important factor. Lasers and removal are for mistakes that are best not made in the first place. We all change, our ideas, our lifestyle, our beliefs, our bodies.. everything changes, always. The Japanese style of tattooing is unchanging, it is classic, timeless and, in my opinion, perfect. It follows the contours and forms of the body, flows like the seasons and moods that set its backgrounds and can tell a fantastic story of masculinity, feminity, playfulness, joy, terror, eroticism or death, moral and all, with just lines and shading…
Japanese tattooing is all encompassing, and like the 26 letters of our alphabet that contain all the knowledge of the universe if only one knows how to spell, the same can be said for japanese tattooing, if the artist knows how to compose correctly and seeks out the stories, myths, tales and legends, there is something for everyone in the japanese tradition.
Like a fine wine or single malt scotch that only gets better with age and never goes out of style, modern Japanese tattooing is the culmination of hundreds of years of tradition, art, mythology, mystery, and technique. It is the very pinnacle of what great tattooing should be and it is! It is by far the most complicated and involved of all the tattooing styles and even after decades of practice in this style one is still learning something new everyday.
Choose your artist carefully, there is a big difference between correct and good japanese tattooing and the rest. Large scale work is near impossible to remove or cover. Invest the time to research your artist and find someone that can deliver what you are seeking, even if you don’t know what it is yet you are after.
There are many reasons why people get tattooed in this day and age, from the mystical to the mundane. I will talk about a few of them and give some insight into my own perspective from this side of the tattoo machine.
It Ain’t about the money. If it is.. the art dies, just like EVERY other craft and tradition passed down from generation to generation and watered down by the many unscrupulous pretenders and purveyors of mass produced slop. The unwitting public are always drawn to cheaper prices, flashing signs, lower quality and convenience, this further cheapens the art, and makes large bank for some pimp who probably doesn’t even care about the craft. Buying into this validates the method, puts a tattoo shop on every corner—- and seals the fate of the art. Real Tattoo Artists have as much to lose as clients when this happens.
Never trust a skinny chef!
As we all know now, Tattooing is a very ancient art that has spanned much of known and unknown times and is found in many cultures from all around the world. It is said that tattoos have the power to transform people and I agree wholeheartedly providing they are done in the right spirit. When a person makes a conscious decision to alter their bodies permanently with ink and some form of design, it is more than just that, it can be a heavy undertaking, a desire to make manifest a yearning for change on one of a multitude of levels. The pain factor is a huge consideration, it marks time, and pain for three hours is living in the moment for three hours, inescapably so. That is something you never quite forget, and that is what separates us the tattooed from them, the unmarked. It is a decision that you must live with for the rest of your life regardless of what may come, and the reality of that starts the moment the needle first finds home in your skin.
Master Nu and myself
I find this whole idea incredibly seductive, and coupled with the esoteric nature of the art, its dubious, glorious and tribalistic history, the pain, and the ritual of it all, it makes for a real experience that few others in our brave new world can come close to comparing with. An authentic ritual, and it is a ritual in every sense of the word. We live in a world that has thrown the idea of ritual for ritual’s sake to the wind. It is a necessary facet of human development. Without time for pause and introspection, life can stop making sense.
Some people don’t know it yet but they are getting their tattoos for these very reasons, and later in life will understand how it has affected them in this capacity. Many people decide to make a tattoo after a serious life change; a break-up, a family death, a geographical move, a great success or failure, a need for some control over their lives, a personal awakening, a period of confusion…the list goes on. These are all valid reasons to stop and mark time, to do something soley for themselves and their well being. In many ancient cultures the tattoo was a rite of passage and symbolized the transition into adulthood or warrior classes, and for women was used as an indication of readiness to marry and as simple as it may seem, just like today, it was also a fashion accessory.
And there is nothing wrong with that, tattoos can be beautiful on men and women the same if they are done properly. Art for art’s sake is another huge reason people like to be tattooed, myself included. Owning a tattoo that is visually striking, conforms to the contours of the body and has the ability to hypnotize viewers as well as yourself is an amazing thing to behold. There are tattoos and then are really good tattoos… sadly, most people don’t have the time to discover the difference, however, when they do… they learn just how addictive tattoos can be.
No matter what the reason for getting tattooed make sure you take the time to find an artist that you are comfortable with and that he or she has the time to discuss your ideas with you in full. Even choosing a tattoo design from a flash sheet or a book can be rewarding as long as it is something you identify with right now and can live with forever.
Tattoos are power. Like a talisman, it brings its wearer strength and confidence, and a living breathing history that cannot be denied.
From where I sit as a tattooist, I see a huge responsibility on my part to make certain that I don’t do ‘bad’ tattoos. A negative image tattooed can be forever detrimental to a persons life, my job is as much what I do as what I don’t do. Artist, craftsman, guide – Tattooer… Except in unusual situations, I never judge peoples reasons to get tattooed or their choice of design because that is such a personal issue however it does distress me when people don’t get the tattoo they deserve and settle for second or even third best.
Tattooing is also pretty simple, they look good on the body when done right, just like that.
I try not to take it so seriously that at the end of the day if you want a tattoo just for the hell of it, I am good with that.. and then we can go out for gin and tonics and talk about the deeper meaning of drum ‘n’ bass.
Please feel free to drop me a line to discuss your tattoo ideas if you are coming to Sydney or wherever I happen to be at the time. Check the Updates page, or my facebook page for current working location and travel schedule.
Horitoshi and myself after getting tattooed in 2010
Thanks for taking my musings into consideration. Peace