January 31, 2012

Ka-Bar Knives, Tattoo Marketing

KA-BAR "Blizzard" from Joshua Frankel on Vimeo.

The slogan for knife makers Ka-Bar is "Hardcore Lives. Hardcore Knives." It makes sense as a large part of their brand are blades that can slice through a boar, or boarish person. Understanding that every tattooed person is of course "hardcore" (except when I'm dancing to Beyonce), Ka-Bar hired Joshua Frankel to create video shorts illustrating real stories of badasses using the knives via animated tattoos. He explains: "Hunting knives and tattoos share an inherent primal nature, and tattoo art is an aesthetic that the customer base connects with. It's a strong connection between concept and product." Damara Kaminecki, Johnnie Kravetz, Brett Zarro created the tattoo art that comes to life under Joshua's direction. See more videos on the Ka-Bar  homepage.

Considering these are the first commercials ever for the 100-year-old brand, according to Joshua, they did some big promotions and even sent me a hunting knife as a sample for review. While many New Yorkers fantasize about stabbing people who block the subway doors or use monster golf umbrellas on crowded sidewalks, I really didn't have a way to properly (and legally) test it for y'all, so I gave it to my friend Jonas Sherman, a martial arts combatives teacher and tactical shooting instructor who knows a thing or two about guns, knives, and the impending zombie apocalypse. 

Jonas put the Becker companion knife through a series of tests and found that the only way he could destroy it was with heavy artillery. See what went down below:

Note to self: Do Not anger Jonas.

Overall, a positive review for Ka-Bar regardless of the tattoo angle.

Studio Spotlight: Rising Dragon Tattoo, NYC

I love New York but sometimes I feel New York doesn't love me back. The rents continue to soar, with a middle finger up at the recession. What were once my favorite dive bars now have velvet ropes and lists to get in. Our rock & roll institutions are vanishing: CBGB's is a high-end boutique, punk mecca Coney Island High on St. Marks now is a noodle joint, and then there's the heartbreak of the Chelsea Hotel.
The landmark hotel was once home to musicians, artists, writers, and all forms of beautiful freaks like Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Charles Bukowski, Sid & Nancy ... and it was the home of Darren Rosa's Rising Dragon Chelsea Tattoo Company. That is, until this past Halloween when the tattoo studio had to move because the new management decided it didn't fit the "lifestyle" they wanted the property to embody. [The NY Times did a great story on how the developers squeezed Darren out and also some residents.]

Darren operated the shop at the Chelsea since 1997, when tattooing became legal in NYC. In 2007, when his lease was not fully renewed (only month to month), he had the foresight to open a second Rising Dragon, which is located at West 14th, just off of Sixth Avenue -- a busy Manhattan location. To house all of his artists, from the original shop to the new, Darren then negotiated a space at the top floor of the West 14th building. And now the studio expansion is ready to get blood and green soap all over it.

rising drogon tattoo2.jpg Naturally, this is cause for a party! This Sunday, January 15th, Rising Dragon will be celebrating with live music and drinks in its new warm and cozy studio, from 6:30PM to midnight. See photos of the new space here. More info on their Facebook page. 

When the music is over and the bottles are empty, the Rising Dragon artists will be back at work hustling -- including those coming over from the old Chelsea shop like Carlos Gonzales as well as Horisei of Yokohama, who is a regular guest artist doing machine tattooing and traditional tebori.

And so Rising Dragon Tattoo continues to grow, ascending beyond adversity. It's a New York story and a reason to keep my love affair with the city.

4th floor thai buddha.jpg

Martin Luther King Jr. Tattoos

Portrait by Remis Tattoo

On this day celebrating Martin Luther King Jr., I will try to refrain from my usual groaning over the search to find tattoos honoring the civil rights leader and coming up with more odes to rapper Old Dirty Bastard. [Do a Google image search on each to see what I mean.] 

Then I think of Dr. King's "I Have A Dream Speech" and I'm reminded to judge people by the "content of their character," not color of their skin -- whatever colors and characters people chose to mark their bodies with.

One of the greatest things about tattoos is that they inspire communication. People are naturally curious over what others painstakingly and permanently put in their own skins. We hunger for a good story ... and many of us hunger to tell one. A mother may want you to know that the name above her heart is her beloved daughter. The veteran with the memorial tattoo on his arm lets you know about the courage of his lost friend. My own tattoos are largely decorative but the patterns come from my Greek ancestry and places I've traveled. Buy me a drink and I have tons to talk about. This communicative value also allows for teaching moments. A Dr. King tribute speaks not only about the how the activist inspired the tattoo collector but may also educate another who does not know of King's life and legacy. 

It's powerful, what tattoos can do. And it's why I appreciate it when I do find tributes to inspiring figures, as they can be daily reminders to be better to each other and ourselves.

martin luther king tattoos.jpgTattoos (above left to right) by Joshua Carlton, Mike DeMasi, and Logan Aguilar.

martin luther king jr tattoo by jason grace.jpgTattoo above by Jason Grace.

colorblind tattoo.jpgMLK-inspired "Colorblind" tattoo above by Watson Atkinson on musician Killick Hinds. For the great story behind that tattoo, see our 2010 MLK post. [Photo by Louis Cahill.]

The Gypsy Gentleman Episode 2

The Gypsy Gentleman - Episode 02: Austin, Texas from Marcus Kuhn on Vimeo.

Taking us on a tattoo tour through different cities and experiencing them through renowned tattooists, The Gypsy Gentleman video magazine by Marcus Kuhn has just released its second episode. In this 30 minute production, Marcus hits Austin, Texas to explore the "birth of tattooing in America in the mid-twentieth century" along with Steve Byrne and Tony Hundahl of Rock of Ages Tattoo.

The three artists visit The National Museum of the Pacific War, filled with WW II memorabilia and imagery that largely inform traditional Americana tattooing. They then each create tattoos based upon what inspired them in the museum. Really interesting work. There's also discussion on the essence of what traditional tattooing is, beyond subject matter.

Also throughout the video, you'll hear Marcus offer some fun facts on Austin and visit other sites like the Cathedral of Junk and the studio of master sign painter Gary Martin.

A fun trip the whole ride through.

Check our first post on The Gypsy Gentleman here.

Shamanic Skin. A Photographic Exhibition by Lars Krutak

As a follow up to our mention of tattoo anthropologist Dr. Lars Krutak in the earlier post, I wanted to let you know that Sacred Gallery in NYC is hosting the photographic exhibit Shamanic Skin: The Art of Magical Tattooing, which features thirty selected works from Lars' portfolio. The opening is Saturday, February 4th from 7 to 10PM and runs until February 29th.Here's more:

In 1777, the word 'tattoo' was defined as 'an indelible mark or figure fixed upon the body by insertion of pigment under the skin or by the production of scars.' For thousands of years before that date, however, indigenous peoples practiced various forms of tattooing and scarification not only to beautify themselves or mark significant life achievements, but also to please or seek protection from particular spirits which inhabited their world.

For the past fifteen years, Dr. Lars Krutak has traveled the globe to document the religious beliefs behind permanent forms of tribal body modification. His photographic exhibition focuses upon the deeply spiritual realm of tattoo through an examination of these fascinating rituals.For a copy of the show catalog, email Kevin@SacredGalleryNYC.com. Lars' books "The Tattooing Arts of Tribal Women" (2007) and "Kalinga Tattoo: Ancient and Modern Expressions of the Tribal" (2010) will be available for signing at the opening as well.

Sacred Gallery is located at 424 Broadway 2nd Fl (between Canal and Howard) in NYC.

Artist Spotlight: True Love Tattoo, Madrid

Tattoo by El Bara

A surge of independent videos featuring tattooists around the world have made their way across social media, and really, I think it's a good thing. The films offer a close-up look at the process of creation in addition to animated portfolios of the finished tattoos, and often we get a sense of the studio vibe as well. 

All this goodness can be found in Ronink Films' video on True Love Tattoo in Madrid, Spain. The 8-minute production may be long for some looking for quick sketch-to-ink action, but I enjoyed sitting back with my coffee and watching all the details that go into putting on a solid tattoo. The artists at True Love -- El Bara, Know & xGastx -- are particularly regarded for their traditional & neo-traditional work, and in the video, you can see them employing time-old tattoo tenets with skill. My favorite clips are of the neck tattoo, which you can see being worked midway in the film. And stay till the end for a fun way of rolling credits. 

See more of their work on Facebook.
 xgastx tattoo.jpgTattoo by xgastx
 know tattoo.jpgTattoo by Know

Sullen Contest: Win a Boog Designed Tee

We have a another freebie for ya, courtesy of Sullen Clothing:  a special edition tee from the Sullen Art Collective designed by legendary lettering and black & grey guru Boog. The shirt, which is part of their upcoming Spring 2012 line, hasn't dropped yet but the winner of the contest will be one of the first to sport Boog's signature artistic style.

To get a behind the scenes look at Boog works his lettering, check the video below where he, Big Sleeps and Ryan Smith have a drawing session at Sullen headquarters.

As usual, here's how we're gonna play this: one winner will be selected randomly from those who comment -- with their t-shirt size  -- on this post in our Needles & Sins Syndicate Group on Facebook or hitting up @NeedlesandSins on Twitter. In one week, on Feb. 2nd, we'll put all the names of the commenters into Randomized.com and the internet gods will offer up the chosen one. When the shirt is ready to launch, Sullen will mail your prize. Easy breezy.

If you want to grab some other Sullen goodness, you'll get a discount off of any purchase by putting in this code at checkout: NEEDLESANDSINS. The promotion runs until Feb. 29th

History of Henna Tattoos

Used as a form of expression for centuries, man has tattooed his skin to signify life changing transitions, status and wealth and of course has used ink of many types to make a strike for individualism.  Originally it was plant dyes that were used and above all of the products that were used there were two that rose to the fore as being excellent as skin staining pigmentations, one was indigo and the other Henna.


Derived from the plant Lawsonia Inermia henna is commonly found in regions of North Africa, Egypt, areas of the Middle East and of course India.  The leaves of the plant are dried and ground up then mixed with carrier oil or binding agent to make excellent dyes in shades that vary from pale woody browns to the deepest, richest reds.  Over the centuries a variety of uses have been found for henna.  It has been found to be an excellent hair dye, nail tint, mild astringent and even has a use as a sedative.  However it is better known for its prolific use in body art around the world.


Evidence of henna tattooing has been found to date back more than five thousand years.  Henna tattooing was a practice that was thoroughly embraced by the ancient Egyptians.  Having gained a reputation throughout history as being quite a vain culture, they found ways of using henna to enhance their natural features to make themselves more attractive.  It was used to alter their hair colour, stain the skin and nails and mixed with other pigments to form designs for the body.

Different Cultures

The process of receiving a henna tattoo is believed to have spiritual significance, connecting the body with the soul and the universal energies that surround it.  For the Indian Bride however the process of receiving her henna tattoo’s or Mehndi show that she is to be idolised and revered.  Once they are in place she is not permitted to take part in any work until the designs have disappeared from her skin.

In the poorer countries of the world henna was and is still used as a safe and inexpensive method of body adornment.  Again in the Middle East it is brides who receive the delicate henna work on their skin and countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq consider the application of henna to provide good luck to its wearer.

Pregnant women in Morocco have henna designs pained around their ankles as forms of protection, with families having their own sacred designs that are passed down through the generations.  The henna designs that are seen in Africa are more geometrical that designs seen elsewhere, nothing like the flowing ornate designs used in other cultures.

Though Celtic designs are quite complicated with intricate knot work they too can be perfected by a henna professional, and look stunning when completed.  Modern artists draw on cultures from all over the world to provide the perfect henna tattoo for their clients adding a subtle twist of their own to make their designs truly unique.

Famous Works of Art as Tattoos

Many tattoo artists have a reputation for being slightly more creative than most people, and being able to visualise things that others would have difficulty with.  It could be called thinking out of the box, though in some cases the box doesn’t even picture, the thought process is that creative!  But it is this kind of inspired genius that can lead to some incredible artwork being produced on let’s face it, what is not the easiest canvas to work with.

Many of the world’s iconic art masterpieces were created by inspired genius’ that also suffered from a touch of madness, whether that was in the form of depression or other mental illness, but however they managed to produce their works they left behind an artistic legacy that is inspiring a new genre of artists, tattoo artists.  Their life’s work will now live on in new and interesting ways through body art.

Artistic Praise

They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery.  No matter what the original artistic masters were thinking when they created their master pieces, they could never have believed that it would be replicated as body art on generations of colourful individuals, hundreds of years down the line.  Artist works by Alfred Gockel (View Through A Window), Salvador Dali’s ‘Melting Clocks’ and ‘Elephants’ and Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ have all been successfully replicated on skin.

Van Gogh’s style of painting lends itself well to tattooing as it is not about fluid lines and picture perfection.  Dali’s work is popular more because of its quirkiness and obscure subject matter than the style of painting.  Other artists whose work has made the transition include Wassily Kandinsky, Pablo Picasso, Rene Magritte and the old masters, Rafael and Michelangelo.  Pablo Picassos ‘Peace Dove’ is incredibly popular by people looking for a small yet poignant statement piece to wear.

Statement Piece

Though an ancient and long standing masterpiece represented in a tattoo may be seen by some as pretentious, in reality is there anything more suitable as a choice than such fabulous artwork as a statement piece?  Everyone looks for originality in the search for their own individuality, but the replication of an old master on your body shows a deeper appreciation of art in all its forms.  By choosing a piece that moves the heart, stimulates the mind or raises a smile you are giving yourself something more meaningful than a design selected from a chart on the wall in a tattoo parlour.

Some tattoo artists may consider it an honour to replicate a classic piece of art work for you; others may ask if they can give it their own distinctive and artistic twist.  You may find that your new masterpiece tattoo attracts a lot of public attention; after all it shows people just how truly talented tattoo artists are in being able to recreate something so beautiful, distinctive and easily recognisable, regarded by many as one of the finest masterpieces in the world.

January 30, 2012

Sailor Tattoos

We are all aware that tattooing is an ancient method of body decoration which carries with it ties to a wealth of heritage and tradition.  However, these days’ tattoos are more about self expression and the quest for individuality.  When you think about how tattoos came to our shores from the South Pacific islands, Australia and New Zealand it was the sailors on these exploratory vessels that brought the passion for tattooing back with them.  Sailors would often get a tattoo as a souvenir from the places they visited rather like a stamp on a passport.  They became symbols of experience and fortitude.  The tattoos that they would get would be rich in symbolism and meaning, generally relating to safe journeys and protection whilst they travelled the world’s oceans.


Though not always obvious or visible, even today’s modern sailors will have tattoos that celebrate superstitions that have followed mariners down through the centuries.  For example one of the oldest sets of tattoos that offer sea farers protection is the pig and rooster.  The pig is tattooed on one foot and that rooster on the other.  Both of the animals depicted fear the water, therefore by having them on your feet; you should never be in the position of getting them wet and sinking, combined with the desire of the animals to be far from open water they would also influence the safe and swift return of a vessel to port.

Polaris, the North Star is another traditional tattoo, generally representing the theory that a sailor will always find his way into port and never be lost at sea.  The traditional image of an anchor with its cable or chain entwined around it is known as a ‘fouled anchor’ and was traditionally used to illustrate that a sailor had successfully crossed the challenging Atlantic Ocean.  Other anchor tattoos are symbols of strength and power, which when considering how much weight an anchor holds in place is a very good illustration.

A sailor with a set of blue stars on his hand has probably sailed around Cape Horn several times, adding a new star for each safe trip completed.  In recognition of long distance travels and the immensity of the oceans, sailors who have crossed the equator during their journeys will be tattooed with a sea turtle.  Images of swallows on the shoulder symbolise crossing the tropics of Capricorn and cancer.  There are probably others whose meaning has been lost over the centuries too.


Non sailors may claim traditional sea faring tattoos for their own without realising the significance of them at all, adopting them because they look cool or want to present a certain image to their peers, which is a shame.  Like many ancient cultures the tattoos of centuries of sailors have marked milestones and events in their lives, signifying transitions and achievements, overcoming immense danger and peril.  Just like the ancient cultures of the South Pacific from where the original sailing expeditions took their initial inspiration.

Tattoo Aftercare

As soon as you leave the tattoo artist’s salon his or her work is completed and you have to take over responsibility for the care of your tattoo.  If this is a first tattoo you will naturally feel a little nervous but by following his/her advice you should not have any problems.  The aim is for the tattoo to heal completely with a result that pleases you and will give you pleasure for a long time to come.

Simple Rules to Follow

Your new tattoo will be bandaged when you first leave and you may be advised to leave it on for a few hours.  When the big moment comes to remove it, it’s best to be prepared with warm, (not hot water), a soft cloth and maybe a trusted friend!  And importantly you should be in a hygienic room.

Gently wet the bandage with the warm water as this will help the bandage to be removed without any friction.  Once it is removed, carefully wash the tattooed area with soapy water, rinse and pat dry with the soft cloth.  Some tattoo artists recommend allowing the tattoo to be exposed for a few minutes before applying any ointment.

Healing the Tattoo

Your tattoo artist will have supplied or advised you on the necessary products to care for your tattoo.  Usually you will need an anti bacterial lotion which should be applied immediately, for example, Tattoo Goo, or Helix Gold.  You will apply this morning and night to keep the skin moistened to assist healing.

It could be that you have been advised not to have a tattoo during the hottest part of the year, especially if you live in a hot climate.  The reason for this is simple as heat and intense light will cause you discomfort.  Salt water and sand getting onto your tattoo is bad news too as it will sting so keep away from the sea!  In fact, keeping water away from the tattoo for at least three or four days is essential.

Resuming a Normal Hygiene Routine

Taking a shower or having a bath for the first few days may be a little tricky as it’s best not to wet the tattoo too much.  You should inspect your tattoo as you continue to clean it with warm, soapy water and if there is discomfort or excessive irritation, consult your tattoo artist or seek medical advice.  Scabbing will begin within three or four days and when it does it’s essential not to pick or scratch the scabs!  If you do it can result in ink removal and cause more irritation.  At this stage the tattoo will look cloudy.  This is called ‘onion skin’ and is a perfectly normal part of the healing process.  As the skin returns to normal, the tattoo will become clear and bright.

Shaving a New Tattoo

The golden rule is not to shave until the skin is completely healed and you are confident that a razor will do no harm.  The cleaning and creaming procedure will be the same as for a hairless area.

Following the above, simple routine will ensure a satisfying end result and you will be able to display your latest work of art within a short time.  Enjoy!

Cheryl Cole ”Finally” Wants it Gone

Here we go again… English pop and R&B recording artist, Cheryl Cole married England and Chelsea footballer Ashley Cole in 2006.  The marriage, marred by reports of Ashley’s infidelity, ended in September of 2010.  During their marriage, Cheryl acquired a rather large tattoo on the back of her neck with the words “Mrs. C”.  Since reports of her husband’s extramarital follies, Cheryl has publicly voiced that she desires to have the inked tribute to her ex-husband removed from her neck.

All Talk No Action

Cole has been talking about removing the tattoo for an exceedingly long time now.  Really, it is old news that keeps getting circulated to the top again.  The removal process involves laser treatment to have the ink removed from her neck.  Some are saying that she may opt to have the tattoo redesigned instead of having a “full” removal.  Friends and insiders report that Cheryl does regret ever having the tattoo and now understands the true meaning of permanency.  Although she understands that the laser treatments are painful and time consuming, Cheryl reports that she wants no memory of her cheating ex left behind as a painful reminder of what she went through.  We will believe the removal when we see it.  Seems like if she truly wanted it gone it would have been gone by now.

Schedule Gap… Are You Kidding?

We all know that Cole has a busy schedule, what with her new album set for release in March and a budding film career.  Perhaps the tattoo removal has not yet made it to the top of the priority list for this popular princess.  There are also rumors of this singer, actress and model launching her very own talk show.  Sources state that removal is slated for the first gap in her schedule.  We don’t see a gap coming any time soon for this ever so popular gal, who has also been working with Simon Cowell on a potentially new talent show.

Moving On

Since the split from Ashley, Cole has made the rounds but has not yet settled down into anything long-term.  Insiders state that Cole wants to focus on her career, not her love life.  Cheryl has supposedly dated a 25-year-old ‘Dancing with the Stars’ pro who helped her through her divorce.  Reports also linked Cole to Black Eyed Peas buddy Will.i.am, her co-judge on X Factor, Simon Cowell and singer Taio Cruz. Her latest sweetheart appears to be 21-year-old Patrizio Pigliapoco who is the driving force behind Cole’s American success.  The two have become close since Cole has spent a considerable amount of the time in the states working on her next new solo project. There have been many late night recording sessions with Patrizio in Los Angeles and the two are said to have become inseparable. Patrizio has commented that he sees no way that any man could ever cheat on Cole, as she is so incredibly beautiful and awesomely talented.


While it appears as though there is no evidence of a reunion with ex Ashley Cole, Cheryl is not exactly speeding to remove his mark from her neck.  Perhaps it is a sign of something to come, or maybe just a time factor?  We will have to wait and see.

Cover Up Tattoos

No matter how much you really wanted your original tattoo, or how much you loved the design at the time, there may come a point when you no longer want to be reminded of your reasons for getting it, or the love of your life that it was designed to celebrate.  In times like these it’s time to look into either tattoo removal or a cover up to make that area of skin less frustrating to you and lose the stigma associated with the original tattoo.

The Idea

The basic premise of cover up tattooing is to hide the offensive original artwork with new ink.  Depending on the style and size of the original tattoo it may mean that the entire area can be covered with a completely new design, or that the original design can in some way be adapted to form the basis of a new one.  Most people will opt for a total covering of the original piece of work rather than still being able to identify the old design inside the new work.

When considering having cover up work done, look for an artist that has experience in this kind of work, as it does require a good eye and a certain level of creative skill.  Make sure you look through their portfolio’s which should contain a series of before and after shots of any cover up work completed.  Speak to anyone who has had cover up work done and ask questions about their experience and if they can recommend a tattooist for you to speak to.


You will of course still have a tattoo at the end of the process, but you should be a lot happier with the one you leave with than the one you started with.  Make sure that when you consult with your artist that you have a range of ideas for designs that you would like to use as a replacement, ask them for their opinions too.  It may be that your artist will come up with design ideas that you have never considered.  Remember, don’t try and push a design that your artist thinks is unviable, or else you will be left with another reason to be unhappy.  These guys know what they are doing and if they say something won’t work, or will look awkward, listen to them.

Tattoos can generally only be covered up once, so whatever you leave the shop with is what you will have to live with for the rest of your life.  Bear in mind that the new tattoo will need to be larger than the original in order to cover it completely, you may also have to get used to the idea of having a darker design so that the darker pigmentation hides the original colouration.  Cover up tattoos can take a lot longer to complete than fresh artwork, and may involve multiple sittings before it is complete.  Make sure you discuss the time required and the cost of the work before you agree to anything.

January 11, 2012

N+S Year In Review

As we start digging in to 2012, it's customary to look back at a wild year in our tattoo world, filled with new tattoo technology, even more TV shows, law suits, ethics debates, and crazy beautiful art. I spent some time going the posts of 2011 and amazed at how much we covered, and so much of it is thanks to you for your suggestions and links. Now, let's get to that customary blog review.

In the news ...

hangover tattoo.jpgThe most popular -- and heavily linked -- story was the Tattoo copyright controversy over the Mike Tyson tattoo in the film The Hangover II. The case settled but not without a federal court making note that tattoos are indeed protected by copyright and one can't just go stealing tattoo designs.

Tech & tattoos were also a hot topic. There were Scannable Barcode Tattoos, a Nintendo 3DS Augmented Reality Tattoo, and Karl Marc's first animated tattoo, among others.

Some items in the media sparked debate among the tattooed, including The "Drake Tattoo" Question, over the responsibilities of a tattooist when a client wants a name of a rapper on her forehead. The Scott Campbell Prison Tattoo was cool but should the artist have shown the masses how to make a tattoo machine from garbage?
Other popular posts included:
Military Tattoo Policy: The Mathematical EquationMathematical Model on Aging TattoosFDA Investigating Tattoo InksCremation Ashes Memorial TattooTraditional Tattoos of St. Lawrence Island, AlaskaZombie Boy's fashion riseVegan Tattoos

The TV shows ...

By far the most widely appreciated videos on tattoo artists at work was the Tattoo Age series; nevertheless, the NY Ink Drinking Game was downloaded across the globe. Do we even need to go into the travesty that was Tattoo School?

Tattoo Artist profiles ...

photo by bryce ward.jpg

Tattoo by Stephanie Tamez. Portrait of Sarah Wolfe (without border) by Bryce Ward

Needles & Sins stayed true to its purpose this year of showing stellar tattoo art, whether it be full interviews, quick & dirty spotlights, excerpts from my articles for Inked and Skin & Ink mags, or our Proust Questionnaire for Tattoo Artists.  Here's a list of those featured:

Ed Hardy             Tomas Tomas      Alex de Pase       Cliff White          Oleg Turyanskiy    
Orrin Hurley         Ed Perdomo        Sean Herman      Darcy Nutt         Nazareno Tubaro     
Travis Broyles      Yoni Zilber           Shane Tan           Yushi Takei        George Bardadim    
Jesse Smith         Simon Watts        Sara Martin          Elson Yeo         Caro & Cy Wilson
Lyle Tuttle            David Tevenal      Horitaka               Ron Russo        Shannon Archuleta
Iban Tattoo           Holly Ellis             Genko                 Dan Henk          Mike Rubendall       
Eva Huber            Electric Pick         David Glantz      Baba Austin        Stephanie Tamez
Michelle Myles     Paris Pierides       Annette LaRue   Mike Mendes     Roxx TwoSpirit
Chris O'Donnell & Thomas Hooper

Conventions ...

nyc tattoo convention 2011.jpg
Of course, conventions were covered, either by my own bad camera or links to galleries and reviews in the news:
Ink-n-Iron 2011London Tattoo ConventionHell CityThe 2nd Traditional Tattoo & World Culture FestAtlanta Tattoo Arts FestNYC Tattoo ConventionPhilly Tattoo ConventionStar of Texas Tattoo Art Revival Convention 
And then there was the Charlie Sheen Tattoo by Alie K ...

charlie sheen tattoo.jpg
An exciting year, indeed!

As I've said before, Needles & Sins is a blog of love, designed to be "look at this cool tattoo stuff," and in the process, has become a community. In the new year, we hope to keep building the site, bring back the comments and make it easier to navigate. Meanwhile, we've been loving the friendships and discussions that have emerged in the Needles & Sins Syndicate Facebook group. We are grateful for all your support, and hope you'll continue to hang with us in 2012.

Happy New Year!

Artist Profile: Sake Tattoo

Criminality, ownership, and even secret codes among spies -- tattoos in ancient Greece largely served these purposes and it was rare to look at them as any kind of attractive adornment. In Greece today, however, there is an explosion of artful tattoos that defy the ancients and decorate their descendants in ways that have caught the attention of the international tattoo community.

One such Greek artist is Sake, of Sake Tattoo, -- a studio that has been beautifying Athens (and clients well beyond) since it opened in 2005. Sake's notable style, developed since he began tattooing in 2001, is color bombed portraits framed in graphic backgrounds, influenced by his long graffiti history. [You can still find him burning walls with his graffiti crew, the Till Death Squad.] While Greece remains a gorgeous vacation destination, here's an added reason to take a trip.

See more of Sake's work here.

sake tattoo greece.jpgsake tattoo.jpgSee the full size images of the tattoos in the montage above on our Flickr page.

Photos of Brooklyn Gangs in the 1950s

I like to think of myself as a bit of a Brooklyn badass ... but then there are things that bring me back to reality. The embodiment of badassery in my borough can be seen in this fascinating slideshow on Flavorwire of a gang "of 'troubled teenagers coming of age' in 1959 Brooklyn." Legendary photographer Bruce Davidson captured these kids getting into fights, making out with tough looking girls, and naturally, getting tattooed (as shown above). It's all very sexy. Hit up Flavorwire for more photos.

Artist Spotlight: Rodney Raines

Today, in the Charlotte Observer, there's an extensive feature on South Carolina tattoo and fine artist Rodney Raines of Ace Custom Tattoo. Here's a taste of that article:

Over a decade ago Penny Craver, then owner of Tremont Music Hall, unknowingly inspired Raines. "She asked, 'Where did you have that done?' " he recalls about one of his full sleeves. "What she said next hit me like a bolt - 'Oh, you couldn't get that around here.' I thought, 'I've got to change that mentality.' "

He set out to change the perception of tattoo art in Charlotte. Through events that showcased his fellow tattoo artists' fine arts pursuits as painters, illustrators and mixed-media artists, he attempted to change the perception of tattoo as an art form.

Rodney furthered this goal by opening up the art gallery and wine bar Twenty-Two, where he displays work that is affordable and unique from Charlotte's usual gallery fare.

Check out Rodney's own fine art here and more of his tattoos here.



Crayon Tattoo Machine

Over at Complex Mag, Nick Schonberger offers this fabulous find: a crayon tattoo machine made from western cedar.

Woodworker Michael Riley of Arkansas created these toys, which measure 6 inches long by 3 inches wide, to hold most types of crayons. He also does custom orders should you, say, opt for a rotary than coil machine. The handmade awesomeness is only $20 plus shipping.

I plan on buying a bunch for my friends' little girls to replace their Princess Barbies and get them started on their art careers early.

JK5 Talks Music Tattoos on WNYC

Today, at 2PM Eastern Time, the wonderful Joseph Ari Aloi aka JK5 -- tattooist, writer, designer, toy creator, filmmaker, and family man -- will be on WNYC's "Music Ink" program with musician-artist Bryan Kienlen of the Bouncing Souls. But you don't need be in NYC to catch it -- hear it streamed live on WNYC.org, AM 820 channel, by clicking "Listen Now" in the right side audio box.

The station had put out a call for listeners to share their music tattoo images and stories, like this cassette tattoo (shown right) tattooed by JK5 himself. It's part of a slideshow that largely contains music note tattoos. The images aren't incredibly exciting but I'm sure the discussion will be fun and interesting.

Beyond music nostalgia, JK5's portfolio is filled with tributes in a variety of tattoo genres. What he is renowned for, however, is his lettering -- always perfect flow and readability, with a wide vocabulary of typographic forms. See examples below.

JK5 can be found at Daredevil Tattoo in Manhattan.

IMG_2034.jpg JK5 tattoo.jpg

The History of Tattooing

It would appear that Neolithic man or indeed Otzi, the Iceman living 3,300 years ago knew all about tattoos as he was found to have least fifty seven of them, ( including around his ankles), that could have been for treating arthritis.  We can’t be sure.  We do know however that Egyptian mummies were also tattooed and evidence has been found that tattooing was popular in Chinese minority ethnic groups several thousand years ago.  Paleolithic man and woman, (10,000 BCE) certainly decorated their bodies, not only as adornment but as an expression of spiritual belief. In Japan, the Indian sub-continent, the Middle East and North Africa, tattooing was and is still popular.

Why did this Practice come to be so Widespread?

Penetrating the body with sharp, invasive instruments, and introducing minerals below the skin is what tattooing involves. Imagine a Samoan adolescent boy subjected to over 50% of his body being cut into and soot inserted.  The bleeding and pain would be so great that it took ten days to complete this ‘rite of passage’ into manhood and high rank. Failure to endure this torture meant lifelong humiliation and shame. Better to have died, which so often was the outcome. Fortunately for women they didn’t have to suffer the same ordeal. However, tattooing could display a girls’ skills and so increase her chance of a good marriage.

A ‘rite of passage’, a sign of rank, decorative adornment, commitment or rebellion, all these diverse messages could be visible and understood by communities throughout the ages. Sometimes, heavily tattooed armies such as the Picts, scarified with blue woad, (copper based) so terrified the Romans that mention of their appearance was made in Julius Caesar’s account of the Gallic Wars!

The influence of Christianity as it slowly spread throughout Europe and the western world, also spread the idea that tattooing was a pagan activity and must be banned.  Muslims and those of the Jewish faith have never allowed tattooing believing the practice to be a desecration of the body, which is a gift from God. What better symbol for rebellion to be taken up by dissenters throughout the ages than the tattoo? It was adopted by many sects including the Samurai warriors and their descendants, the Japanese “Yakuza” mafia.  A tattoo cannot be seen without arousing conflicting emotions. Pictures imprinted on your body make a powerful statement.


Today we have relatively painless and hygienic methods of tattooing.  The instinctive urge for body and facial enhancement has resulted in the skill of tattooing booming into big business. Cosmetic tattooing has entered the modern world allowing women to perfectly shape their eyebrows, eyeliner their eyes, have well-defined lips which never feel a lipstick and enjoy long luxurious eyelashes.  Thread veins can be removed; and don’t think it’s only women who have a ‘little job’ done to boost morale!  Cosmetic tattooing can help rebuild a life following surgery. There is so much choice in tattooing for the expression of adornment, faith, commitment, rebellion and renewal.  The tattoo has a remarkable history and endures as a fascinating expression of our creativity.

Cosmetic Tattoos

Also known as permanent make up, cosmetic tattooing was once used only in a medical capacity to offer clients the chance to recreate or enhance features lost through illness, accident or surgery.  Now, this provision of permanent make up has caused an increase in the number of regular women that venture into a tattoo parlour, searching for eternal beauty.  Lip lining, eye lining and other procedures are now being performed regularly around the world.


Just as with any other tattoo the procedure involves the introduction of pigment into the dermis, to enhance lips, eyebrows and any other facial feature.  The procedure was pioneered in the 1930’s by a tattooist named George Burchett.  Many women actually received the procedure without their knowledge.  Told that they were going to receive some beauty enhancing treatment by the staff in their beauty salon they were actually injected with vegetable based dyes that would enhance the colour and tone of the skin.  One of the most common modern procedures is to the eye area where eyebrows and top lid eyeliner are permanently tattooed.  For clients wishing to make their existing brows fuller and better defined, a ‘powdery’ technique is used rather than hairline strokes.  The top eyeliner acts as enhancement to the lashes so that though the eyes look shaped and defined whilst the overall look remains natural.

Lip Tattooing

Lip tattooing gives lips definition and shape and of course restores colour where the natural pigmentation has been lost.  Lip tattooing eliminates the need for lip pencils and liners and reduces the need for application of regular lip cosmetics.  It can restore symmetry to the mouth and for clients that have had reconstructive facial surgery for example to correct a cleft palate, lip surgery can hide scarring and restore regular balanced features.  Techniques vary from a blended lip line, which looks like regular lipstick that has started to wear off, to fully coloured and contoured lips which, with a slick of gloss look like regular lipstick.

The initial lip tattooing procedure will take approximately three hours and you should take with you your favourite shade of lipstick and liner to aid in choosing a colour matching your tattooing pigment.  Lips are numbed with local anaesthetic and a template design is drawn that is agreed with the client before any permanent marks are made.

Following the procedure the lips will be swollen and tender, occasionally with bruising and at first the new colour may look shocking and harsh, though it will lighten once your lips have peeled and the colour will soften over the next couple of weeks and the pigments stabilize.  The tissue of the lip is different to the skin on other areas of the body and a lot of the initial colour will be lost which is why a second application is often recommended to adjust any areas you feel need reshaping or more colour added.  The common recommendation is that you have your lip tattoo ‘topped up’ every two to three years to keep your lips looking at their pouting best.

Tattoo Pigments and Dyes

Many tattoo artists have their own unique pigment blend that they use regularly, made to an exact recipe that they keep a closely guarded secret.  In reality the majority of dyes on the market today contain traditional vegetable dyes along with metal salts and plastics.  One of the newest dye adaptations is a UV reactive agent that makes the tattoo react to black light, plus inks that absorb light then release it for a glow in the dark effect for an added artistic dimension.

Pigments and Carriers

It would be very unwise to attempt a tattoo with pigment alone as a carrier assists in keeping the pigments balanced and fluid during application.  There are five main carriers that are used, either on their own or as a mixture; these are purified water, witch hazel, ethyl alcohol, glycerine and propylene glycol.  This is what each artist uses to develop a recipe blend that works the best for them and goes on to use throughout the majority of their career. Henna is possibly the most widely used pigment.  Derived from the Lawsonia Inermis plant it provides a natural and intense level of colour.  Henna is very safe to use as allergic reactions to it are very rare.  Used mainly for temporary tattoos and hair colouring henna is a very practical and harmless pigment.

Some pigments can cause severe allergic reactions, especially across the yellow and red range of colours.  Red inks often contain mercury or other heavy metals such as iron oxide or cadmium; it is the addition of these metals to the inks that give them their permanence.  It is also the addition of these metals that is responsible for the majority of reactions.  Reactions can range from scarring and eczema to lifelong mercury sensitivity, including any existing tooth fillings.  Other colours also contain heavy metals like antimony, cobalt nickel, lead, arsenic and chromium, all of which can lead to reactions in the skin.  A huge variety of pigments are available readymade, called pre-dispersed inks, which remove the need to mix carriers and individually dry pigments to create inks.


With a vast colour palette available to artists there is literally nothing from nature than cannot be recreated on a living canvas.  There are over fifty different shades and pigments available with more being regularly added to the list.  However, though readily accessible there is very little available in the way of governance that regulates their supply and use.  In fact you would be hard pressed to find a product that has been licensed for injection into the skin as tattooing pigment is not regulated as closely as pigments used in the general cosmetics and beauty industry.  If you are considering having a tattoo, and have had any form of allergic reaction to any chemical based products in the past, you would be wise to check with your chosen tattoo artist to check just what ingredients are in the inks he or she will be using before you start.

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