Tattoos have been etched into the skin of Indian history from a time before we could imagine. Across the tribes and different caste communities of India, tattoos have served myriad purposes - some people have had ink permanently mark their skin for beautification, while for others tattoos have acted as a representation of the different stages of womanhood, a mark of great warriors, some as protective totems in the afterlife and it’s even believed to cure certain physical ailments.
In the last 10 years, tattooing in India has come a long way - no longer do OM’s with squiggly lines done in a Goan shack make the cut. Today, being a tattoo artist is a commercially viable profession, and one that stands to gain large repute as art. Equipped with international standard equipment, ink and experience, Indian tattoo artists are making a name for themselves on the constantly growing circuit. Exploring different styles and techniques such as dots, watercolour art, wooden needles to name a few, the tattoos today are an amalgamation of wisdom passed down from the ages and futuristic expression.
In the early days, one would have to be absolutely certain of their design, and it would require minimal design interaction from the artist. Today, all you need is the idea in your head, and these artists will extrapolate that to create something unique to you, art in every meaning of the word. The industry has grown so much today that a story of this nature almost felt crucial - it was time to identify artists who are truly pioneers in the field, and bringing something new to the table.
Studio: Devil’z Tattooz, Delhi
Lokesh started to practice his art in 2003 when he was doing his MBA, and worked as a freelancer for two years before opening his own professional studio in 2005. He specialises in black and colour realism, as well as portraits. As a realism artist, he describes his style as “more of a reproduction work capturing maximum details from a piece and etch it into the skin forever. If you are striving for perfection in realism, you can put as many hours as you want to get the right details. It’s not easy.”
Having started in 2008 as an intern at Kraayonz, Zaheer pursued his graduation in fine arts and has come a long, long way. While he says he doesn’t have a specialty in specific, he has started to create his own style of abstract and geometric tattoos, based off of concepts given to him by his clients. As for his approach, he says he approaches every new design by “giving more importance to composition and structure as it lays the main foundation and then build on by adding details ,effects ,color or textures to make it aesthetically beautiful.” A lot of his work tends to be free handed as the creative process cannot always be predetermined. What we love about Zaheer’s style is his appreciation of how tattoos borrow from every major art form and world culture, that is not bound by guidelines.
Studio: Inkfidel, Goa
Duncan’s apprenticeship started in 2007, and in a year he was coming into his own art. Describing his style as ‘eclectic’, Duncan says I work with a lot of different styles however I enjoy doing watercolour, illustrative, geometric, dot work and new school the most. I specialise in creating custom designs in a variety of styles. Almost all of my designs are hand drawn for each client based on their inputs.” We were struck at the diversity in his work, and the intricate detailing - especially when it comes to shading and dot work.
Studio: Kraayonz, Mumbai
Sameer began his journey in 1998 while working at India’s only tattoo under Dr. J A Kohiyar, and started tattooing as an apprentice to him in 2000. While he specialises in photo realistic imagery, he is a master of coverups. In his words, “I make peoples messed up tattoos or f…kd up ones worth looking at once again by doing a completely new job on them. But I don’t restrict my creative boundaries to just that, I’d love to work on anything and everything that brings a challenge with it.” While he claims his style is a fusion of many individual ones, it all depends on how much the client is willing to do, and the size of the canvas he has to play with. His lasting experience in the art of tattooing definitely gives him an upperhand skill wise, and his work speaks for all the years of training and effort he has put in.
Studio: The Pumpkin Patch, Bangalore
Mykel of Pumpkin Patch Studio started tattooing when he was 21, as a part time basis for “willing, and now that I think about, very trusting friends. I started with very simple designs and nothing too complex so as to not bite off more than I can chew, so to speak” he tells us. He likes working in a style that has a good blend of clean lnes and raw, sketchy lines. Mykel likes working on tattoos that are illustrative and designs with flow in them, but also likes doing realistic work. We asked him what his favourite tattoo was, and he says “ Really far too many to name but a few would be a space turtle I did, a jack skellington piece, a Cheshire Cat. I’m always on the lookout for volunteers for certain pieces I want to do. There’s a yoda and joker on waiting if anyone’s interested, justsaying.”
Studio: Godna Gram, New Delhi
If tribal tattoos make for your ink goals, Mo is your best bet. He specialises in this form, as well as black geometrical and abstract line art. Mo describes his style of tattoos to be “strong and bold custom tribal expressions. Thick and thin sharp black lines and lot of meaningful black ink. I studied design and my obsession with human anatomy and aesthetic means that my tattoos are art designed to flow or break the edges of the body. Getting the right proportion and balance with on the body and the parts specifically is my priority.”
Studio: Iron Buzz Tattoos, Mumbai
Eric has been honing his skills for the last 11 years, and specialises in realistic or 3D tattoos, as some people call them. In his words, “realistic tattoos consists of portraits, replicating photos onto skin and making it look exactly like the picture. I love adding my own twist to these designs with geometric lines, Mandalas and abstract compositions and addition of other tattooing styles so it fits well and takes shape of the desired body part.” Eric was always known to be a black and grey kind of artist, but one colour piece in particular went on to win the Best Colour Tattoo award - showing us how wide his range of skill really is.
When a friend of her’s told her about someone making ‘homemade’ tattoos, Sheena was instantly fascinated. “I’ve always had a love affair with tattoos and I’d been wanting to tattoo myself but buying a machine seemed a bit intimidating. So (don’t try this at home), I gave myself a small dot tattoo with a sewing needle and Indian ink. I wasn’t terribly pleased with the results. Off then, I went on to the internet, did a bit of research, found a local tattoo supply store and bought myself some basic supplies.” And that is where her journey began. Through trial and error, she figured out her style and a method that works. Her style is simple and clean illustration-style black line drawings. She tells us that she uses “regular sterilised tattoo needles which come in different sizes, good tattoo ink and make sure everything is sterilised. Then i hand draw a rough sketch on the skin and start poking, dot by dot. The dots slowly form a line. It takes a bit longer than a machine tattoo and is quite meditative for me. I find that it hurts a lot less than a tattoo needle but of course, some areas of the body are more painful than others. As a style, i really like clean line tattoos and they way they look. I find that shading often gets lost on Indian skin.”
Feature Image Tattoo by Duncan Viegas.
Research: Vikrant Mehra