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Crime and punishment in Japan during the Edo Period included tattooing the faces & arms of criminals
11:35 am


Edo Period

An example of the various face tattoos given to criminals in Japan during the Edo Period.
The art of tattooing has a very long history in Japan and artifacts that date back as far as 5,000 BC such as figurines made of clay with etchings on their faces or that have been painted with designs in the spirit of body art have been discovered.

Tattoos have many different symbolic meanings in Japanese culture and can denote where an individual ranked in society or serve as a permanent means of defense against evil forces or perhaps members of the animal kingdom. With the arrival of the seventh-century, the idea of tattooing one’s body in order to make it more beautiful began to lose its appeal due to the strong influence of Chinese customs in Japan—specifically when it came to identifying and tracking criminal activity. Around 720AD during the Nara Period, it appears that tattooing as a form of punishment began to infiltrate Japanese culture. Once the dawn of the Edo Period began the art form was more widely used as a punishment for criminals as at the time there was really no such thing as a prison to send lawbreakers off to. There was a sharp rise in crime in Japan prior to the development of epicenters such as Tokyo or Osaka.

Though tattoos were still used as a way to distinguish various classes of citizens, they were also used to designate ne’er do wells such as murderers who were recipients of head tattoos so everyone would see what they had done. Designs differed across the country so in Hiroshima, you might see the symbol for “dog” on someone’s face who has broken the law. Hiroshima also utilized a “three-strike” rule in which the Chinese symbol for “large ” (大) was used to log the number of crimes committed by an individual. The completion of the symbol was the equivalent of a death sentence for the person adorned with it. In other regions, you might see a series of lines on a criminal’s arm (one for each new crime) or perhaps an arrangement of dots on a forehead. In what is now known as Nagasaki an image of a cross which for the purpose of identification translated to “bad” would also be affixed forever on the forehead.

While this all sounds pretty terrible it’s important to note that tattooing criminals replaced the far more barbaric practices of limb removal, cutting off an ear or perhaps a nose depending on the severity of the crime that was committed. The decapitated heads of criminals were also used as a deterrent to help dissuade bad guys from doing bad things. All of which make the idea of tattooing criminals seem pretty damn tame comparatively.

Images of the outlaw tattoos follow.


A depction of a criminal receiving a tattoo for his crime.
More after the jump…

Posted by Cherrybomb | Leave a comment
Shitty Donald Trump tattoos
11:43 am


Donald Trump

I have no idea why someone would get a tattoo of Donald Trump permanently inked on their body. BUT some folks have and I decided to dedicate a post to those unfortunate tattoos. From what I understand, a lot of these tattoos were actually lost bets. Meaning, the person never actually wanted an image of Trump’s mug etched on their body but lost a bet over who was going to win the presidential race. I feel bad for those folks. I really do. If I was in that same predicament and I’d made that same dumb bet, there’s no way I would have followed through with it. No way!

So kudos to those folks who could actually keep a promise. Idiots! Next time bet a finger!


Trump stamp?

More after the jump…

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Cat tattoos, tattoo’d cats and tattoo’d cats giving other cats tattoos
09:52 am


Kazuaki Horitomo

Kazuaki Horitomo is a gifted tattoo artist who also loves cats. A Japanese native currently making his home in California, Horitomo has chosen to make cat tattoos his specialty—not just tattoos of cats but images of cats with tattoos and also cats giving each other tattoos. They’re kind of awesome. (I suppose for the purposes of this imaginative pursuit, the inconvenient fact of a cat’s fur is a detail better left unmentioned.)

Horitomo cleverly draws on Japanese artistic traditions of the kakejiku (hanging scrolls) or ukiyo-e (woodblock prints) stretching back centuries. You can almost imagine his cats giving each other tattoos in the court of Emperor Go-Sai during the Edo period (1655–1663).

The tattooing technique Horitomo prefers is known as tebori, an ancient method of tattoo art that does not employ the needles of an electric tattoo machine, as in contemporary western practice, but rather makes use of long tapered instruments similar to a straight razor; some styles of tebori blade resemble screwdrivers. One of the cats in the images below has a tebori blade in his or her mouth.

Horitomo’s calls his creatures “monmon cats,” using the term monmon, an old Japanese slang word for tattoos. You can buy Monmon Cats, his recent book of cat tattoos, or check out his regularly updated Instagram feed (which—fair warning—also features some tattoo’d dogs). Prints are available here.


Much more after the jump…....

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Tattoo Tights: Decorate your legs without permanently inking your skin

If you’ve ever considered getting a tattoo on your legs but were a tad concerned that maybe one day you’d tire of its design and would be forever marked with a dubious nautical illustration or a fast-fading love heart, or the name of a long gone ex. Well, fret no more as there is a range of fashion accessories called Tattoo Tights that allows you to change your tattoos as easily as changing your pantyhose.

Tattoo Tights is the idea of Silvana Ilieva—an artist who is passionate about creating “unique, hand-painted items with a soul.” Silvana produces individual pantyhose with tattoo motifs in her studio in Sofia, Bulgaria. Each pair of pantyhose are hand-painted using Silvana’s secret technique which incorporates ancient Asian inking methods.

So far, Silvana has produced around 100 individual tattoo designs for her range of Tattoo Tights—which she sells online. These are more than just beautiful hosiery but delightful works of art to be exhibited on sorry, on top of your skin. More details here.
More beautiful ‘tattooed tights,’ after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Russian prison tattoo-themed plateware (NSFW)
12:34 pm



In Russian tattoos, the cat symbolizes a successful thief
It was just a couple of weeks ago that we brought you old-school ceramics with pictures of German nuclear power plants on them. There may be something of a trend happening here, for today our offering consists of similar ceramic plateware with astonishing illustrations derived from Russian prison tattoos.

Valeria Monis is the “multidisciplinary designer” who creates these amazing plates and vases, invariably in cobalt blue. Every object is handmade, so they are also quite individual; there is no mass production here. Monis was born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and currently lives in Tel Aviv, Israel.

The title of Monis’ project is “From Russia With Love.” It combines “the subversive art of Russian criminal tattoos” and “traditional blue porcelain design,” bringing together “two opposed but equally important and influential strands of Russian art history.” As Monis writes of this Russian tradition, “In the criminal world, a man with no tattoos has no status. ... The illustrations they wear on their skin tells the story of their closed society, a society with its own hierarchy and social structure.”

While transmitting information to others about a person’s crimes and prison terms, the tattoos more fundamentally express a kind of folk understanding of sex, love, honor, sacrifice, and happiness. Many of the images are deeply misogynistic, bestowing warnings of the perils of “whores” and “bitches,” although others celebrate sex, orgasm, and the delights of “playing with your body.” 

Not all of the tattoos are bawdy or boastful or are intended to denote status. Some of the tattoos depict visions of failure or loss, while others are markers of connubial bliss.

Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia Volume I, by Danzig Baldaev
Monis’ source material is FUEL Publishing’s remarkable series of Russian prison tattoo books by Danzig Baldaev.

These intriguing items are available for purchase. Small plates (roughly 6 inches in diameter) cost $95 or $99, large plates (11 inches) cost $120, and the vases cost between $250 and $300.

Vologda Transit Prison, 1950s

“Girls, find yourself a generous hand. You’ll be fed, dressed, and entertained, and you’ll play with your body….”
Many more of these marvelous ceramic items after the jump…....

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Stunning Erotic Tattoos
10:31 am


Sad Amish

I don’t have any tattoos but if ever I do consider getting one then I certainly could be tempted by these beautiful erotic tattoos by Bordeaux-based tattoo artist Sad Amish.

Unlike the more traditional ship’s anchors, bluebirds, Celtic doodles or Pictish script Sad Amish’s stunning monochrome tattoos are high quality graphic art with a wonderfully charged eroticism.

The tattoos feature women artfully posed in bondage gear, fetish wear or playfully fondling a bong while enjoying a mouthful of vin blanc. All beautifully rendered in the deepest blackest ink.

More of Sad Amish’s work can be viewed here.
More of Sad Amish’s fab monochrome skin art, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘Stick ‘n’ poke’ prison tattoos go mainstream
02:38 pm



Stick n' poke flash sheet
There’s a trend that’s only been getting bigger recently in the tattoo community…. stick ‘n’ pokes. What started out as a jail tattoo (or a kitchen hobby) needing only a pen, needle, ink, bottle cap and a steady hand has turned into something tattoo parlors now offer. And it can be pretty expensive. They charge hourly, of course, and really intricate stick ‘n’ poke work can take a very long time. Or you can get your drunkass friend to do it one convivial late night and end up with something that could be…. well… less than impressive.

Stick ‘n’ pokes seem to be tied up with the more DIY elements of the punk rock community. There is a scene in Penelope Spheeris’ The Decline of Western Civilization where X and friends are seen hanging out in their living room and John Doe is giving a friend, Top Jimmy, a stick ‘n’ poke. In fact, the whole scene is a late night post X show stick n’ poke party.
John Doe Stick n' poke
Intrigued by this tie in of stick ‘n’ pokes and punk music, I reached out to Marissa Paternoster of Screaming Females, someone who has a reputation for stick ‘n’ poking:

Marissa says:

“Stick ‘n’ pokes often come along with a fun story. Tattoos done in a proper studio can come along with a good story as well, but from what I’ve experienced, a DIY tattoo is often born from chaos. I love that sort of abandon, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize that drunkenly marking someone’s flesh isn’t something I’m so keen on doing.”

As far as learning how to tattoo, she says:

“An artist and musician who goes by the name Ben Snakepit taught me how to give myself a tattoo while Screaming Females was on tour in Austin in 2008. I must have been twenty years old at the time. Ben is well known for an autobiographical comic he makes called Snakepit.”

Screaming Females
Marissa tattooing her bassist, King Mike’s leg while their drummer sleeps on a couch.
Now stick ‘n’ poke parties are becoming trendy. Here’s a flyer for an event that included free stick ‘n’ poke tattoos, music, live painting and drinks. Mainstream culture seems to be celebrating the idea of these simple little lowly tattoos. Get your 10-year-old sister to draw you something, it will be the perfect kitchen tattoo.
Tattoo party flyer
And yet stick ‘n’ pokes can truly be art. Certain tattoo artists have mastered stick ‘n’ pokes as simply another option at the local tat shop. Jenna Bouma aka Slowerblack is one such artist who does amazing work. You would never know her tattoos are hand-poked.
More stick’n’ poke tattoos after the jump…

Posted by Izzi Krombholz | Leave a comment
People face-swapping with their own tattoos = high-test nightmare fuel
08:32 am


Face Swap

The Face Swap filter on the Snapchat smartphone app does exactly what it says on the box—exchanges two faces within a photo, or with a face in another photo in your phone’s picture library, all within the app, no need for any image editing experience. For an automated photo filter for phones, it can actually do a decent enough job, and the results are invariably highly weirding. Even if you don’t use Snapchat you’ve surely seen the filter’s output on your Facebook feed. It’s mostly goofy fun for normals—Snapchat is, after all, a social media platform based entirely around selfies—but I’ve seen it done creatively and disturbingly with pets, toys, and amusingly, inanimate objects the app has mistaken for a face.

But the most messed up expression of the fad yet has to be people face-swapping with their own tattoos, and the more rudimentary, abstract, or just plain bad the tattoo, it seems, the crazier the result. The pics below were culled from features on tattoodo and inkedmag, where you’ll find more like this.


More after the jump…

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
Yakuza: Beautiful hand-painted vintage portraits of tattooed Japanese gangsters

I had never heard of the Yakuza until I tuned in one night to a Robert Mitchum movie back in the 1970s. Here was big Bob dealing with bad boy Japanese gangsters in a clash of east meets west. The film was simply titled The Yakuza. It was written by brothers Leonard and Paul Schrader—their first hit screenplay and one in which can be seen some of the themes they would later develop individually and together in movies like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Mishima. I liked the film and was greatly intrigued by the rituals depicted in it and the code of honor by which these dangerous, violent gangsters lived their lives.

One ritual in particular, the chopping off of the top of the small finger as a payment or apology for any wrong-doing, I thought bizarre and hardly punishment at all until I later discovered its historic symbolism. The removal of the tip made it difficult for an individual to hold their samurai sword. The sword was gripped tight by the bottom three fingers while flexibility and movement was produced by index finger and thumb. To lose a chunk of a fingertip or the whole pinky was ultimately a death sentence—as the punished yakuza would eventually be unable to defend themselves in a fight.

The film also picked up on the awesome body tattoos these way heavy gangsters sported. Whole bodies decorated with elaborate illustrations of beautiful maidens, tranquil landscapes, and grinning demons. Like bad boy superheroes, these guys could walk around in their suits and ties all day and no one would know they were Yakuza. Come nightfall, in the comfort of their own gangland den, the clothes would come off and the tatts would be displayed.

These tattoos or irezumi as they’re called in Japan—a word that literally mean insert ink—were originally representative of an individual’s spirituality or biography. This lasted for a good two-three thousand years. Then around the Kofun era (330-600AD), tattoos were considered a symbol of being criminal or lower class. Their popularity fluctuated until tattooing was outlawed sometime around the Meiji era (1868-1912), when Japan moved from a feudal world into a unified country. Tattoos were seen as an embarrassing symbol of Japan’s uncivilised past. The practice moved underground—continued by criminal gangs, who tattooed the unexposed parts of their bodies. Hence the all-over body tattoos many yakuza carry to this day on their skin. These tattoos are “hand-poked”—that is the ink is put under the skin by using sharpened bamboo spears or small handmade needles. It is a long, painful and laborious process but one that most yakuza accept as part of the ritual of being a gang member.

The Meiji era also brought an end to the samurai warriors, who were outlawed and conscripted into the army. Some chose to join the yakuza instead—as many yakuza had fought alongside samurai for local shoguns. The issue of body tattoos becomes complicated as there were samurai who sported such irezumi as a means of identification should they be killed on the battlefield. As samurais faded, the criminal fraternity thrived. Today yakuza play a major role in Japan—both in criminal activity (prostitution, money laundering, people trafficking) and legitimately in media and politics. The yakuza keep drugs out of Japan, they also organize charity and aid relief for disaster victims. Most Japanese accept the yakuza as a necessary part of national life. Each yakuza family or gang have their own set of rules and regulations which differ group to group and gang to gang.

These hand-painted photographs from the late 1800s and early 1900s depict members of the yakuza displaying their gang related tattoos. Some have posed in relation to their standing within the gang, most have kept their faces hidden, but each has a different style of tattoo inked on their body.
More vintage yakuza tattoos, after the jump….

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Man regrets getting tattoo of Henry the Hoover above his penis
10:05 am


Henry the Hoover

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: When England-based Lewis Flint was just 16 years old, he thought it would be hilarious to get a Henry the Hoover tattoo right above his penis. Yes, you heard me, a freakin’ vacuum cleaner. Apparently the tattoo gag worked for a while, as Flint was the talk of town and the ladies really dug it. He got his Henry hoovered constantly!

But now that Flint is 21 years old, he’s starting to rethink the wisdom of his Henry the Hoover tattoo:

When I first got it done aged 16 I couldn’t stop getting it out, I got loads of attention and I was a bit of a local hero, I loved it. But I was with a girl recently and I liked her, things were going well until we got naked. When she saw it she said ‘what’s that? I am off!’ I was gutted, I never thought I would regret my tattoo when I got it done.

Naturally Flint wanted the tattoo removed:

When I think about that night the girl walked out it does haunt me and puts me off showing it to other women in the future. I know laser removal is painful but never getting laid again would be more painful.

Sadly, Flint tried to go through the laser removal process and found the whole thing to be too painful:

The thought of that going round near my balls is unbearable. I don’t know how people put up with 20 minutes of it. Laser is too painful for me to get rid of this tattoo, I am going to have to put up with it.

So it’s Henry the Hoover for life, I suppose. Perhaps he can cover it up with an even larger tat of the Kool-aid Guy?

via WOW

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
The good, the bad and the ugly: Tattoos of terrible political figures

Dick Cheney as the devil tatoo
Dick Cheney as the devil tattoo (with the Microsoft “Zune” symbol showing through his head. This tattoo belongs to this guy).
I’ve really got a pretty sweet treasure trove of eye candy for you today here on DM. In my downtime, I have to admit one of my guilty pleasures is perusing the Internet for images of tattoo art. As much as I love how getting inked has been elevated to a high art form over the past few decades or so, I’m also a sucker for the folks that end up with terrible renditions of Looney Tunes characters or message tattoos with forever typos like “no regerts.”
Former Prime Ministers of the UK, Margaret Thatcher as an ice cream cone tattoo
Former Prime Minister of the UK, Margaret Thatcher as an ice cream cone tattoo
Some of my favorite tattoo whoopsies are of the ever popular Chinese fonts that are picked at random from a tattoo flash book by an unwitting client. I’ve had many a good Simpsons-flavored “HA-HA’s” seeing someone who was under the impression that the cute symbol on their arm said “friendship.” However, when translated properly actually advertises that you are “bad looking, ugly or unclean.” Ah, linguistics. Live it, love it, and for fuck’s sake learn it before you get a tattoo involving words.
Saddam Hussein portrait tattoo
Saddam Hussein portrait tattoo. Ironically, during his reign, Hussein was known to imprison tattooed Iraqis as he believed tattoos were an “imitation” of western culture
In many cases, I was not surprised when I Googled a particular despots name along with the word “tattoo” and found not one, but many different varieties of ink-jobs that ran the gamut from A+ for execution to F for why???. Of course, it makes perfect sense that a former Soviet Army soldier might be sporting a Stalin tattoo on his back. Gulag prisoners from the past would also get the portraits of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin, and Joseph Stalin tattooed on their chests in the hope it would protect them from firing squads.

But why would anyone ever put a tattoo of Dick Cheney on their body? Is it an accurate depiction of Mr. Cheney? Sure. But it’s also a strong chick repellant (and people in general repellant for that matter). Despots, dopes and Dicks may come and go, but tattoos are (almost always) forever.
Heinrich Himmler, Sarah Palin, the Ayatollah Khomeini and more fun tattoos after the jump…

Posted by Cherrybomb | Leave a comment
Preserve the tattoos of your dead loved ones for future generations
02:21 pm



Have you ever heard of NAPSA? NAPSA is the National Association for the Preservation of Skin Art, and their mission is to find ways to preserve meaningful and distinctive tattoo work past the lifespan of the person it’s tattooed on. On September 18 at the Biggest Tattoo Show on Earth in Las Vegas, NAPSA made its introductory presentations to the tattooing community. As NAPSA says on its site, “Whether you have spent countless hours and large sums of money on your tattoos or you have a few especially meaningful pieces, the labor and stories behind your tattoos can now carry on for future generations to experience.”

Since it inevitably touches on both vanity and mortality, tattoo preservation can be a touchy and awkward topic to discuss, but serious tattoo artists and collectors are starting to ask the question, “Is there any way we can preserve this work that means so much to us?”

NAPSA is a non-profit membership association, with the goal of providing certain services to members, which include “preserving skin art on a wide scale with the ability to pass it on to loved ones.” To join NAPSA, the initiation fee is $115, plus yearly dues of $60 (dues cover preservation of one tattoo (about the size of a chest piece), and each additional tattoo is an additional $100 one time initiation fee depending on size).

It may be that an annual fee isn’t the right model, although its attraction to a fledgling group desperate for capital isn’t hard to understand. Some members may prefer paying a one-time fee at the time of death/burial. A Dutch entrepreneur and tattooer named Peter van der Helm has started a business that achieves parallel goals.

Obviously, this process, which is intended to kick in only after a given tattoo lover passes away, involves the participation of funeral homes and similar entities. If the mortuary service of the deceased NAPSA member refuses to honor the process, NAPSA has a master embalmer on staff to advocate on behalf of the deceased member. As time passes, it’s expected that the network of reliable NAPSA-approved funeral homes will increase.

NAPSA faces a bunch of challenges, not the least of which is attempting to unify a fractious, independent-minded group like tattoo lovers. As Marisa Kakoulas says, “In my experience working with the tattoo industry for almost 15 years, I can say that it is an incredibly difficult task to properly represent the interests of artists and collectors across the country, as the laws (such as zoning) differ, not just from state to state, but among local jurisdictions.”

Here are some samples from NAPSA’s website. For any of the images below, clicking will get you a larger view.

“Death Before Dishonor,” J.R. Tubbs

“Cleveland Street,” Al Garcia
Many more after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Shitty tattoo portraits of your favorite musicians
01:46 pm



Kurt Cobain
I know fully well beauty is in the eye of the beholder. HOWEVER, some of these tattoos of rock stars and musicians are absolutely jaw-dropping, in my opinion. To put it kindly, I feel they lack a certain… well… something. Something is what they lack, but I’ll leave the appropriate adjective up to you.

I have a sneaking suspicion a few of these were either lost bets or drunken mishaps. I don’t know what could possibly be to blame for wanting a geriatric Mick Jagger etched into your flesh for the rest of your life. Still the blame for some (most?) of them would have to rest squarely on the shoulders of the artist responsible. Like the guy who said “Sure I can do Dave Grohl. I’ve done hundreds of Dave Grohls” to the hapless fool who walked into his shop that day (see below). And the Jimi tat. Ooph. Tragic.

Now some of you readers may really dig a few of these tattoos and think I’m dead wrong. So it goes with art. It’s all subjective.

Marc Bolan


Joe Strummer

Iggy Pop

Kate Bush

Jimi Hendrix
More tattoos after the jump…

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
‘They call me Jurassic Mod’: Brits of a certain age, still deep into their subcultures

Isobel Varley
For his series Rebels Without A Pause, British photographer Muir Vidler captured the most daring and stylish renegades “of a certain age.” Muir seems to specialize in surreal portraiture, extreme events and settings with the odd flash of quiet. Other series include Israeli death metal fans, a circumcision party in the Maldives, and a beauty pageant in Libya, complete with a cameo by the late Colonel Gaddafi. His elder rebel study however, has an intimate feel, with little sense of spectacle to the staging.

Take for example, Isobel Varley (above), who held the Guinness World Record for the most tattooed female pensioner up until her death just this last May at the age of 77. Varley only started getting tattoos at 48, but went on to cover every square inch of her body except her face, her ears, the soles of her feet, and parts of her hands—even her scalp is tattooed, underneath the cute blond coif. Varley isn’t the only local celeb either. You can see video below of one of Muir’s most charming subjects, Paul Elvis Chan, who used to perform his Elvis impersonation act before a delighted audience at his Chinese restaurant.

My favorite though is Danny Lynch—aka, the Great Stromboli, who did his fire-breathing act for Muir with his adorable wife in the background. Muir remembers her as very hospitable:

Yeah, she was going into the house to make a cup of tea. She said, “Cup of tea darling?”, I said OK, then all of a sudden he was blowing fire and she was dashing off to put the kettle on. With the dog and the station wagon in the photo too, it was a very suburban backdrop.

Isn’t it so terribly quaint?


Mick and Peggy Warner, whose son is a Teddy Boy

John G. Byrne, gay skinhead since 1969

Sid Ellis, who says “In my spare time I either go to fetish clubs or do needlepoint. I like medieval tapestries.”
Continues after the jump…

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Insanely detailed ‘Big Trouble in Little China’ tattoo sleeve
11:56 am


Big Trouble in Little China

Holy Crap! I would never do this, but I do get why someone would have their entire arm festooned with scenes and characters from John Carpenter’s 1986 film Big Trouble in Little China. I love that film. I don’t know exactly how many times I’ve seen it. More than ten. And apparently I’m not the only fan, as this arm sleeve tattoo is a flesh-etched testament to.

The Big Trouble in Little China tattoos were done by Paul Acker who owns Deep Six Tattoo in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It’s still a work in progress, as more tattoos and the finishing touches are being added.


More images after the jump…

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
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