Want to travel and get paid? Become a tattoo artist

2019-04-01 20:00 - Gabi Zietsman
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Humans have always expressed themselves through art - and sometimes the most intimate and expressive canvas is the human skin. 

The art of the tattoo is an ancient practice that has been part of human history for thousands of years. From religious and tribal affiliations, to etching memories and ideologies onto skin.

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Man getting a tattoo

SA International Tattoo Convention (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

While it has been on the taboo-end of society for many generations, today the art has flourished in the age of social media where ancient methods are either resurfacing or getting a modern spin. It has also become a popular way to see the world while still earning a living by setting up tattoo sessions wherever you are visiting.

In South Africa, Cape Town has a thriving tattoo scene, and it's no wonder that it was the host to the annual South African International Tattoo Convention where tattoo maestros from around the world come together to not only open up the international scene to local South Africans, but where tattooist can share and collaborate on new ideas and connect for future trip exchanges.

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Homemade tattoo machines

 (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

tattooist drawing a new tattoo

 (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

Tattooing full of 'beauty, awesome people and art

For local artist and convention attendee Jon James Case, travelling is an important part of finding inspiration for your art, and in his case the precision of German geometric tattoos has had the biggest influence on his style.

"Each artist finds something that they find intriguing or moves them. It’s also for me a search for perfection – there’s no real space to be out of line when you’re dealing with symmetry. And also on a bigger scale of tattooing where you can really work with a human form. For instance, as opposed to a palm-sized tattoo you can slap anywhere, you start dealing with multiple sessions which then becomes a relationship with your client," says Case.

"There’s a lot more than just putting on a tattoo and making a beautiful tattoo – which I love and respect in its own right – but for me I am able to push myself a little bit further in geometric tattooing."

READ: Tattoos, Travel and Truth

He's been working in the industry for 12 years, which was harder to get into when he first started out, but since then it has been years full of beauty, awesome people and art. He recently travelled through Europe where he focused on working in studios specialising in geometric tattoos, especially in Germany. 

"I also find that sociably [Germans] are more accepting of intense stuff like bigger tattoos, faces, necks – things that are really fun for an artist to work with and feel like you’re going a little more extreme than just a little tattoo on the wrist."

The calm of non-electrified tattooing

One of the visiting artists all the way from Canada, Jenna Boum, also wants to push herself when it comes to tattooing - through non-electrified tattooing. 

Her tattoo journey started with her love for punk and hardcore music, but it was in Hawaii where she fell in love with the art of hand-poke - the original method of inking skin.

"The vast majority of my style was inspired by Western traditional tattooing, but then I kind of took the images and simplified them as much as possible because of the method that I chose," explains Boum.

"I didn’t want to tattoo anything too technical because I wanted to make sure I did a good job instead of biting off more than I could chew. Now I feel like it’s moved into this different realm where I’m really inspired by old avant-garde artwork, from Japan in particular, a lot of matchboxes and business cards."

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Boum takes a trip to Japan every year to study and develop her style more, despite the taboos that still surround the art form for its connotations to criminal gangs. The country also has its own traditional non-electrified tattooing method called tebori - a laborious type of tattooing which is normally done by hand with a wooden or metal rod with needles at the end. 

But she would also love to find out more about moko and Maori tattooing in New Zealand - not to do but rather to watch.

In terms of the SA tattoo convention, she had nothing but praise. 

"I’m not the biggest fan of most conventions because it’s super hectic, but here it’s lovely because there’s loads of natural light, you have a beautiful place, you’re just surrounded by natural beauty, you’re surrounded by friends.

"Also, I think for me, I am not exposed to South African tattooing and the community itself, so seeing how people interact on a customer basis as well as peers who own shops and hearing their ten cents about everything is very interesting and compelling."

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