One of the great things that tattooing has brought into my life is; that it is a path without a destination. There is no end to the potential for improvement and there is always some new little bit of knowledge or history that opens up fresh pieces of tattooing to you in a whole new way. Some tattooers get jaded, but I’m not sure how since there is always more to learn, more to see and more to accomplish.
For me one of the greatest facets of tattooing has been learning to do Japanese style tattooing. Like so much in Japan it is an art form and style that evolved completely independent of the west, the result looks not only strange and wonderfully different to us, but the stories and mythos behind the tattoos are completely removed from what we in the west have grown up with. In the same way that I immediately think “sailor” when i see an anchor tattoo, an Asian artist might immediately think “samurai” when he sees a cherry blossom. So, for me, learning the secret language behind the obvious symbols (the koi, chrysanthemums, dragons, hundreds of heroes and villains) has made doing this style of tattooing almost as much a pleasure as actually executing the tattoos!
So, lets talk about the Kappa. There are lots of lesser known mythological monsters/goblins/wee beasties in japan who get grouped under the word “Yokai”
most of these are well known in myth and legend that goes back centuries the same way the minotaur or leprechaun do for us. Yokai can be malicious or beneficial, but are usually portrayed as mostly mischievous. Some, however, are downright scary, like the Kappa. The Kappa is a turtle like humanoid, with claws and a shell that is said to dwell in rivers and lakes, they also have a depression in the top of their heads filled with a small amount of water, this contains their ‘power’ and if this water is tipped out they become harmless and dried out (one way to defeat a kappa is to bow to it, out of respect it will bow back thus spilling its water They are infamous for grabbing those who carelessly poop in the river by their anus and ripping their intestines out. Im guessing this is pretty painful so that’s where the pickles come in. Kappa just LOVE pickles, they cant seem to get enough of them, so if you are going out to take a dump-a-roo in the old creek, be sure to take a pickle or two and toss it in before you drop a load. The Kappa will be so busy eating them that they wont pull your butthole inside out.
At the Pittsburgh Convention this weekend I started a Kappa piece on the dapper Paul Roe. His only request for the tattoo was to have some pickles in there somewhere. No problem. We got the outline and most of the shading finished. i would have loved to finished this for him especially since he lives in D.C. but Japanese tattoos are slow going for me. Here’s what we got so far.
Pretty scary looking eh? When we get around to the inside of his bicep we will put a little scene of the bottom of an over-river outhouse and a butt poking out of it with a peeved looking kappa gazing upward. I love it!
The convention was pretty slow this year, it seems like election years are always like that. Any sort of national insecurity just blows tattoo business out the window. Fortunately I had rounded up some of my regulars so there wasn’t too much sitting around on my duff.
For the past couple years a nice lady named Kelly from South Carolina has made the convention part of her regular visit with family here in Pittsburgh. Last year she got 2 Betta (Siamese fighting fish) on her ankle and this year it was a lotus with two buddha-esque hands rising from it.
This was on her wrist but it didn’t seem to be too painful for her. As always, the lighting was my big problem at conventions, maybe I’m just getting old but i feel like I need a LOT of light to see what I need to see in a tattoo. I stole the hoodie cord out of Caras hooded sweatshirt and rigged my lamp up over my head. it wasn’t perfect, but it was a damn sight better than before.
Speaking of Cara, she was the belle of the ball. People just love talking to her and she is not shy about asking technical questions as talking shop with anyone. She had a bunch of paintings on the table and sold a respectable number of them (especially at a slow convention). This time next year she will be tattooing folks and i cant wait! She got a couple tattoos including an awesome shark with top hat from our friend Johnny Fry of Unique ink tattoos.
On friday a grand total of about 17 people walked around the floor so I knew I wasn’t going to be doing any paying work that day, so we busted out the markers and started on Caras left fore arm, the upper arm has probably the best koi ive ever done and we have been threatening to finish it for a while. I always get extra nervous when I marker on as much stuff as we had to for her arm, and the fact we didn’t have a definite plan made me extra sketchy but i like what we came up with. Sorry no pictures, but its just an outline at the moment anyway, if I manage to pull off what im seeing in my head it will be awesome!
After i finished the lotus lady on saturday one of my favorite regular clients, Matt, showed up for me to work on his Hannya and snake half-sleeve. Matt started with one little-ish koi on his forearm and quickly went crazy with a full sleeve of his entire left arm.
Hes a really young guy but with a steady head on his shoulders and he is in love with tattooing. it a pleasure to tattoo someone you can rap with for 5 hours and have it seem like 5 minutes and Matt is that guy. Anyway, we had just done a quick light outline the first session to get the basics in place before the marker and stencil went to hell, this time we relined everything with a bolder line except some interior details, then I busted out the shader machine. Matts left arm is a giant dragon and stuff with very traditional waves and clouds, on the hannya side we are doing more soft type misty clouds and abstract-ish black work behind everything. We got some serious acre-age on him before he tapped out at 3 1/2 hours. We also made plans for his fiance to get her second tattoo, some spider mums, soon. This piece, too, is going to be amazing!
Fortunately, we also got to hang out with the awesome Erica and Josh, two complete nuts that we love so much that we put them up in our apartment as they had driven all the way from Delta PA to see us! Sadly, Erica got some kinda stomach virus that set off her asthma and they ended up heading home at 4 am (!). On Sunday we took Paul Roe (the Kappa guy) and Cyn (his lovely and talented tattoo employee) to our favorite Indian place for grub. The food was amazing and they were duly impressed. Cyn was super supportive of Caras tattoo apprenticeship and having done her chops in a scary biker shop knew a little bit about facing sexism and sticking to ones guns.
Not the busiest convention Ive ever done but definitely one of the most fun! Tim Azinger, the producer of the meeting of the marked once again treated me way better than I deserve and he and his friendly staff/family made it feel like coming home every day we headed back to the convention floor. The nice thing about the Pittsburgh convention for us is that its all about relaxing with friends we only get to see a few times a year, this year was no exception!