Japanese artists at work, tattooing using hand tools. Along with the master were five apprentices. The lowest apprentice had to sit and grind fresh sumi ink endlessly. Two apprentices were working on people, one using traditional hand tools, and one using a Western tattoo machine. For larger pieces, the master would do the outline with a Western electric tattoo machine to save (hours worth of) time, and fill with Japanese hand tools. The two assistants who weren't tattooing, or grinding ink, would either watch or manually work the foot switch to operate the electric tattoo machine for the master. Fees were $100/hour for the two apprentices, and $200/hour for the master to tattoo you. Their translator was a redheaded Australian woman.

copyright 1994 Rae Schwarz

I got to talk with the woman below while she was being tattooed and she described it as "cool versus American tattooing with a machine, which feels hot." Japanese hand tools are long bamboo handles with needles bound to the end. Larger shading tools have overlapping rows of needles, tools for making lines may only have a single row of needles at its end. She said it felt much more subtle, and yet there was so much more physical contact with the artist, as you felt them pricking you with the tool. The audible sound of hand tattooing has an unusual 'gnawing' or 'pricking' noise element as the sound of the needles puncturing the skin can be heard aloud. It's kind of eerie, and yet makes the whole thing even more interesting.

More of this tattoo session can be seen in Outtakes.

Check out my lens about tattooing

all images in this presentation are © 1994 Rachel Schwarz.
all images shown in this section were taken at the 1994 NTA
convention held in South San Francisco, CA, USA
web version copyright 1998-2008