Tattoos in Singapore: Meet the artists and studios who have created a cult-like following for their unique aesthetics
Under the skin
I gained interest in tattooing watching Miami Ink but I really fell in love with it watching the process of my inner biceps get tattooed. The most memorable tattoo I have is a logo of a milk brand that my mother used to get for me when I used to fall ill as a kid. The current version of this logo is of a polar bear holding a glass of milk, but the one that I recall growing up held a smiling bear cub. It will remind me of my mother forever.
The tattoo world has gone way past mainstream since the age of tribal armbands and barbwires. More than a decade later, it has reached a place too highly refined and specialised to be called mainstream. Sure anyone can walk into a studio and get something done right off flash sheets, but to get a bespoke piece, tailored to flow and accentuate your muscular structures, not to mention the dedication to sit through the hours keeping still, going through the pain and itchy healing process - it's definitely not a mainstream experience. Tattoos are getting smaller and more contemporary. Millennials nowadays are more educated in their choices, whether it's the artists they pick, the designs they want, and especially the meaning that design holds.
The new Fingers Crossed Studio is bright and minimalistic. We love the bright light that we are getting through our massive West-facing windows. We also absolutely love that passers-by are filled with disbelief that this is a tattoo studio. We envision a peaceful working space, uncluttered and transparent — no internal strife and nothing to hide from outsiders. Well, as much as a private studio can handle.
My advice for young creatives looking to enter the tattooing world would be to draw a lot and slow down because the road ahead is very tough.
When I was pursuing my Masters at Bunka Fashion College in Japan, I decided I wanted to get my first tattoo. I started researching on new tattoo techniques and I came across Dr Woo's fine-line tattooing. His tattoos were the first few that I saw and inspired me to take up tattooing. The more I researched about it, the more I realised I could apply my illustration skills through this new medium. It's not easy to pursue a career in fashion in Singapore. I was thinking about what else I could do that is still creative and financially viable.
The Exclave's branding doesn't mention the word "tattoo" anywhere, because I don't want it to be only a tattoo studio; there are too many in Singapore. The name "Exclave" is a play on borders and parameters. For example, Alaska is a pene-exclave of the U.S. Similarly, while I am connected to the design industry, this space is dedicated to other types of work as well. I want to conduct illustration workshops as well as do some commercial work. Even with the styling of the space, I wanted it to look different from other studios; it's peaceful, quiet and zen. I come from a fashion design background so I would like to bring that to tattooing. I wouldn't consider myself a full-time tattoo artist; I don't have many tattoos, piercings or enlarged ear holes. I'm a designer and illustrator at heart. I am also currently an adjunct fashion lecturer at LASALLE College of the Arts.
I'm currently busy building the profile of the business as well as planning the workshops. I'm interested in reaching out to local and old artisans in fields like custom jewellery. There is a revival of craft in Singapore that is happening at the moment. There are a lot of workshops available, but I'm trying to find an edge.
Bookings are currently closed, and an all-new website is under construction.
I fell into hardcore music like Bring Me The Horizon pretty early on in my teens. I noticed that a lot of the musicians were covered in tattoos. Naturally, my first tattoo was song lyrics on my chest.
I am currently a year-four biological science student at Nanyang Technological University. For most of my life, I was set to become a researcher. A couple years back, I went to a tattoo convention and decided that I wanted to do something more creative. I then started my apprenticeship at Iron Fist early last year.
The tattoo career has opened up a lot for me, both as a person and as an artist. I've met a lot of new people. I get to know what I like and what I don't like. I didn't really have any expectations going in. There are definitely 'ups' and 'downs' with everything in life. The 'ups' are that I am excited to wake up and go to my job every day. I see a lot of my friends in my age group and they don't have that. They don't wake up with that same sense of purpose and enthusiasm that I do. On the other hand, tattooing can be a job that comes with sacrifice. I think it's common to lose a lot of personal relationships. My parents had dreams for me, considering that I was on my way to becoming a scientist. Initially, I met a lot of resistance. I haven't got asked any questions from my relatives because they have no idea of what I do. To make things easier, I have stopped going for family gatherings altogether. My parents would clearly not want to have that conversation with my relatives.
Having said that, I'm not here to change minds. I have nothing to say to people who think differently from me. Their opinions are just as valid as mine. Just as how they refuse to enjoy my work as much as I do, I refuse to indulge their opinions. I have a set amount of energy and I should invest that energy in the right direction. Trying to change the minds of people who are not going to change is not beneficial to me whatsoever.
I want to be able to do what I want, whether the limitations are imposed by social norms or financial constraints. I want to remain true to myself to a sufficient degree. I don't have many goals or expectations for my tattoo career. Tattooing is one of those things that you can't really plan. When I wake up each day, I want to have the freedom to create what I want. Success would be the freedom to do whatever I want to do, and then having it look awesome. I want to do things that people have never seen before and hopefully, it will inspire someone.
My advice for young creatives looking to pursue a tattoo career would be, do not to ask what you can take from tattooing, but ask what you can contribute to it. If you're pursuing tattooing because you want to be cool, interested in making money or for any other wrong reasons, you will not survive in this industry.
My interest in tattoos began in music with Blink 182 and Linkin Park during their MTV days. I especially recall Chester Bennington's flame tattoos on both forearms. Tattoos have gone mainstream today; it's common to see people who have full sleeves or even neck tattoos now.
Joseph from Visual Orgasm was my mentor who taught me everything from scratch before I opened The Standard Tattoo Co. three years ago. It's going to be our third anniversary soon. It's been getting better each year. Our clientele has really broadened; we have all kinds of people coming in regardless of age, profession or background.
The tattoo experience is not like Miami Ink, where you see the artists interviewing the customers and then they start crying. It's all too exaggerated; it's not like that in real life. The shows have definitely had an impact, encouraging more people to pursue a tattoo career. There are way more tattoo artists in Singapore now than there was five years ago.
The artists that I look up to are more old-school like Victor Portugal and Carlos Torres. We call them the black-and-grey legends. I don't specialise in one particular style or technique. I can do everything, but I am known for black-and-grey realism.
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