Most Recent Articles

Another visit to Sacred Knot

The third time I saw Sean was in his hometown of LLundudno, Wales. Sean has set up shop there and along with his tattoo business (with two apprentices Broc Ó Diolúin and Gloria Notarangelo) he also has Nordic based arts and crafts available.

I received two pieces from him this time, a Vegvisir on my hand (an Icelandic magical symbol if when carried, one will never lose one’s way in storms or bad weather, even when the way is not known) which was an extension of the sleeve he previously completed on me, and the mask of Tyr (the Norse war god who presides over matters of law and justice) under my right armpit. Out of all the tattoos I had received so far, the armpit was the most difficult area for me to endure. It is extremely sensitive and the linework had me feeling a pain I have never experienced with any tattoo previously. This was also the only tattoo where both Sean and I agreed that instead of pushing to complete it in one sitting, to rather call it day and see him another time. I had my hand done by him on the previous day and once again this was a case of me trying to push the limits of my endurance. A week later I was back and with the help of numbing cream we managed to get the job done.

There is quite a debate about the ethics of using numbing cream in the tattoo community. Some would argue that the tattoo needs to be earned and that the pain is part of that process, and for the traditional tribal tattoos that most certainly is the case. From a technical standpoint there are reasons why numbing cream should be avoided such as it tends to make the skin not absorb the ink very well, the tattoo needle can slip more easily, there is more pain afterwards etc. The two methods I am aware of are either a numbing cream or a spray. For the cream it is applied to the area and saran wrapped for about 45 minutes to numb the area. The second method is using a spray, but for this to work the skin must first be broken so this is usually applied after the initial linework is done. Both methods do not guarantee 100% pain free tattoos, but they can significantly take the edge off the discomfort for long enough to get through any difficult areas.

Posted on

The Beast in Birmingham

Another aesthetically based tattoo was done by Robert Ashby who is the owner of the House of Thieves tattoo studio in Birmingham, UK. This large piece was to complement the dragon on the other side and move towards the desired symmetry I wanted across my body.

The wolf is a creature which is found in many mythologies (such as the Norse Fenrir, a child of Loki destined to devour Odin) and is mostly associated with danger, destruction, war and witchcraft.  

Posted on

Inaugural Ethnic Tattoo Festival 2019

My second piece by Durga was done at the very first Ethnic Tattoo Festival in Warsaw, Poland. The Ethnic Tattoo Festival aims to bring together artists who still practice the traditional tattooing ways as well as other forms of primitive arts and culture such as shamanism.

The tattoo itself was a marathon effort of 8 hours with Durga using a few assistants who volunteered to stretch the skin around the work he was doing (stretching the skin by the area being tattooed helps to get the ink in more easily when hand poking or tapping). Gracious amounts of Polish vodka also helped with raising the spirits and numbing the pain 😊

The designs were of traditional Borneo dragons on the foot and Borneo hornbills on my shin, all surrounded by traditional symbols and lines between the existing Cambodian Sak Yants.

Posted on

The Last Mambabatok

As a centenarian, Apo Whang-Od is considered the oldest tattoo artist in the world and holds the title of mambabatok (traditional tattooist) in her village where she is part of the Butbut people. Since the age of 15 she has been tattooing the women of the tribe as well as the Butbut warriors who had to earn the right to be tattooed by protecting villages or killing enemies (the tribe were known headhunters up until as recently as the 1960s). She has since passed down her skills to the younger generation of the women who will continue to preserve the art of this living legend. At her age she mostly only tattoos her three-dot signature while the larger tattoos are done by one of her protégés.

Getting to her village high up in the mountains was quite the experience, an 11-hour drive from Manila followed immediately by almost an hour hike in the rain. Once you are in the village it’s a matter of whether Whang-Od feels up to tattooing that day, absolutely understandable at her age. The trip was facilitated by Lagaw’Ta Escapades and I would highly recommend their services.

It was an honour and a privilege to be tattooed by Apo Whang-Od and despite her age she is still very friendly and accommodating. Below her signature is a traditional python which was done by one of her apprentices. The tattoo is applied using a thorn from a lemon tree and the ink is made of water and charcoal.

Posted on

The Māori Markings of Gordon Toi

Gordon Toi is a wood carver and former traditional Māori weapons instructor in Mapua, Aotearoa (the Māori name for New Zealand). He also fulfils the very important task of traditional Māori tattooing, as the heritage of these tattoos run very deep within Māori culture and to receive one is considered a great honour and not a something to be taken lightly. Gordon demands respect and focus on his tattoo table and rightly so as every tattoo he does is a veneration of his ancestors.

Along with his assistant Rossi (a stone carver and grave digger), the process consisted of 4 consecutive days on the table making this the largest tattoo piece I have had done so far. Along with the ink, I was also taught about the Māori culture and philosophies which are essential to understanding the importance of the ink I was receiving. It was done by machine as to hand tap this in the traditional Māori way would have taken significantly longer.

The Māori word for tattoo is “moko” and is derived from the name of the god of volcanoes and earthquakes, who marks the earth much like a tattoo marks the skin. The tattoo tools consist of bone chisels tied to a handle (from the mid-1800s sometime also metal, and more recently electric tattoo guns) which is then tapped with a mallet to cut grooves into the skin giving it a textured finish. This process is considered sacred and the design of each moko is unique to the wearer and conveys information about their genealogy, tribal affiliations, status, and achievements. When this tattoo is applied to someone who is not of Māori descent it is referred to as “kirituhi” (“to adorn the skin with painting”) rather than “moko” which is a term strictly reserved for the Māori people.

Posted on

Another trip to Suku Suku in Bali

Traditional Indonesian Mentawai lines hand poked to bring balance to the existing pieces, again done by Albar Tikam.

Little did I know that this would be my last tattoo before the full wrath of Covid 19 would shut down the world. Once this pandemic has passed and we are all safe again the journey will continue, as despite the fact that I’m running out of available space there are a few small but significant pieces I have planned (hopefully) for 2021.

Posted on