Planning to get a tattoo? Well, whether you're looking for a simple design or an intricate art piece, get inked by these sought-after needle experts.
Julian Chia, 28
The Bold Fox Tattoo Parlour
I was in a band and used to skate. Everybody had tattoos, so that’s where the interest started. In 2008, I bought my own equipment online for cheap, then tried it on my friends and myself before doing an apprenticeship with Scott De Silva at Shark Tattoo Studio for over half a year.
The broad category I work in is neo-traditional, which is quite a popular style. I like to tattoo animals – I think they’re ‘pure’ compared to humans. Artistically, I like doing short-haired animals as they’re easier. The furrier ones, like a Shih Tzu, for example, are harder, although all animals can be done after I do my homework. I research things like the animal’s skull shape and the direction in which the fur grows to make the piece more accurate.
When clients want me to do super realistic portraits of their pets, it’s tricky. My style isn’t very hyper-realistic. So usually I have to take a photo, trace over it and animate it a little. I like consistency in my work.
I try not to make appointments two or three months in advance. I draw a lot on my own, and if people pick one of these sketches, I can fit them in as long as I’ve got a free slot. But if the client has a lot of requests and changes, it prolongs the process.
Every Friday the 13th, we have a sale where a tattoo is either $13 or $31. Customers get to pick from fixed designs. The most recent one we held had a really crazy queue all the way down (my studio is on the third floor of a shophouse). We started at noon but people started queuing at nine or ten in the morning. Anyone who came after noon couldn’t get a slot.
My favourite piece is this cartoony portrait of a cat dressed as a TIE fighter pilot, with a background of stars and silhouettes of X-wings and TIE fighters. I’m a huge nerd who loves Star Wars and cats.
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Jon Emmanuel Gumapon, cook
'I have 12 tattoos done by Julian, and will probably get more. The space-inspired background of the latest piece of one of my cats dressed as a Star Wars pilot was his idea. And it turned out better than expected. Comparing my earlier tattoos to the newer ones, it’s obvious that Julian has expanded his repertoire of techniques to produce really high-quality original works.'
8B Canton St. www.facebook.com/theboldfoxtattootarlour. By appointment only.
Jen Tan, 29
Visual Orgasm Tattoo and Piercing
I was helping out at an animal clicnic and performing surgery on animals. I love animals but I wanted to pursue art to express myself. In 2011, my friend Joey Ong, who is also a tattoo artist at Visual Orgasm, introduced me to Joseph Siow. I did an apprenticeship with him. I started having my own clients around two to three years ago, but I’m still learning new things from seeing Joseph tattoo.
I do a lot of handwritten scripts and that’s what I’m known for right now. When I was still an apprentice, Joseph asked me to write a few words for a walk-in customer, who didn’t like any Photoshop font. I wrote it, she liked it and Joseph tattooed it. He posted it online and people started coming in because they like the simple handwriting that almost looks like a signature. I can change my handwriting depending on what the client wants – sometimes thicker, more illegible or more carelessly written.
I also do line and dot work. I love doing watercolour, but I try not to promote it. Watercolour tends to dull over time, especially on Asian skin because of the yellow undertone, and sometimes people cannot accept that. It works best on very fair or Caucasian skin. I would love to delve more into black and grey realism in future.
If I’m doing handwritten scripts, I’ll just write two or three options on the spot and the clients will pick from there. My waiting list is about a month.
I completed a full back piece recently and it’s the first large-scale black and grey realism I’ve done – it means a lot to me. It started off as a tiny tattoo at the side of his shoulder but it expanded into a full back because he trusted me.
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Julie Tan, Mediacorp artiste
'Jen did my one and only handwritten script tattoo in late 2014. Initially, I wanted to get it near my belly, but she suggested not to as it will stretch if I get pregnant. She’s very honest, clearminded and will tell you upfront if an idea isn’t working. The most important thing is that she respects her work and her clients.'
2 Haji Ln. www.visual-orgasm.com. Mon-Sat 2-9pm; Sun 1-6pm.
Bradley Tan, 28
I started out by chance. When I was 15, my friends and I had the brilliant idea to go to a tattoo shop to buy equipment. The guy at the shop (which isn’t around anymore) looked at my sketchbook of drawings and offered me an apprenticeship instead.
I did it for two to three years. And I’ve been in this fascinating industry that I’m very passionate about for 13 years now.
I do strictly black and grey realism with barely any colour. Clients come to me with anything from portraits and photographs to skulls and animals. Owls and wolves are popular. Strangely, I also get lots of requests for clocks and timepieces – I’m not sure why.
I design every client’s tattoo unless it’s something straightforward like his or her grandmother’s portrait, for example. While I don’t have to redesign that, I’ll still redraw it in preparation leading up to the session itself.
I usually work on one piece a day and one client takes up about 6 to 7 hours, including stencilling it on their body and the actual session. I only take five or six clients a week, and there’s a waiting list of roughly seven to eight months.
My pieces these days take quite a while to prepare, and can range from 6 hours to a few days for a full back or full sleeve. I occasionally get enquiries for smaller pieces but I dedicate more time to the bigger pieces.
I love the ‘samurai’ piece I did for Brad [Robinson, owner of Ritual Gym], on his forearm. It’s extremely detailed and it showcases a lot of techniques, which took me years to perfect, and a wide spectrum of my skill set.
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Brad Robinson, owner of Ritual Gym
'I had my mind made up about a samurai tattoo for years but was determined to wait until I found the right artist. Between his superb reputation and the vibe I felt when I went to see Bradley, I knew he was the right guy. And he absolutely nailed this piece. I went in to get a tattoo, but also got a genuine friend out of the transaction.'
Peenut Lee, 36
I was painting a mural on someone’s wall, back in 2008 when I was in the UK, and he thought that I should tattoo him. He insisted that tattooing was the same as painting. Turns out it wasn’t! It’s completely different. After I came back, in 2010, I decided to give tattooing a try and did an apprenticeship here at Vagabond Ink with Valerie Yang.
There isn’t a proper term to describe my style. I would say that my tattoos are sketch-like with an unfinished look – that’s my most honest description. Most of my pieces look like sketches that you can’t put into a frame and actually call it art. It used to be a flaw but it’s what I’ve been doing, and now I see it as my style. I work with both black ink and colours.
I like to draw things that aren’t common. For example, recently I did a roller coaster – I thought that was so crazy and out of the world.
I don’t get booked out in advance. On a good day, the waiting list is around two weeks. If it’s a big piece that requires a long session, I just do one a day. If the pieces are smaller, I can do two or three a day.
My current favourite is the most recent shoulder piece I did for Andres [Lara, a pastry chef]. It’s a representation of a multicoloured sky with a kite and a toy robot. It was a spontaneous piece and I sat down only two days before our session to work on it. He trusted me to take the lead, which is really nice for me as an artist, and he liked it.
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Andres Lara, pastry chef
'It’s hard to say which is my favourite, as each time Peenut does a piece, that becomes my new favourite. I’ve given her complete freedom to create. Peenut is a true artist – you can see it’s her passion and she takes it seriously. She puts her head down, gets lost in her world and doesn’t talk while you get tattooed. So bring headphones!'
#01-19, 333 Kreta Ayer Rd. www.vagabondink.com. Tue-Sat 2-8pm. Mon & Sun by appointment only.
Jared Asalli, 28
Fingers Crossed Tattoo Company
I was drawing a lot when I was in National Service, and a friend suggested I try out tattooing. In 2011, I bought some cheap equipment, watched a lot of YouTube videos and did my first tattoo on a friend. That’s how I found out that I really wanted to be a tattoo artist. I did an apprenticeship at Vagabond Ink under Valerie Yang before setting up my own studio in 2014.
I do a lot of black work and try not to touch too much on colours. Most of my work revolves around dot work, geometry, and sketchy and etching designs. I see it as my style.
The intricacy of my designs comes from my childhood. My dad was an architect and he used to bring me around to project sites, where I spent my time looking at really detailed models.
I always ask clients for size, idea concept, reference images and placement of the tattoo. It saves a lot of time if clients already know what they want. I get requests for both large and small pieces, and my waiting list runs about two months.
Every new tattoo I do is my new favourite. But if I have to choose, it would be the four I’ve done for my wife. The most recent beach-and-mountain one is a combination of etching and dots. She waited four months for her turn so I had a lot of time to think about it, and I definitely put in extra effort for this piece.
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Sherly Budi Kusum, interior designer
'Even though we’re married, I can’t bypass Jared’s queue because he’s so sought after. But once the wait is finally over, I always get exactly what I want, with his personal twist to it. Jared is passionate about his work and does every piece with so much love and thought. Plus his work is precise and always original.'
#04-03 Bugis Cube, 470 North Bridge Rd. www.facebook.com/jared.asalli. By appointment only.
Victoria Woon, 29
Killswitch Tattoo Parlour
I had two friends who were learning how to tattoo and I asked them about it. I’ve been interested in tattooing since young. Plus I can draw, so that’s half the battle won. I learnt how to tattoo under those friends in 2012. I practised on them and also tested on myself but with no ink, so the design's not that visible – it ends up as a little scar.
I don’t have a tattoo myself because it’s a deal I made with my mum for being a tattoo artist. People are curious – most people expect tattoo artists to be covered in tattoos – but I don’t think it’s a negative thing.
‘Illustrative’ is the right word to describe my style. I did a degree in illustration in the US, and when I tattoo, I think about how to translate my drawings into a tattoo. I like cute stuff that’s not too serious. The sillier it is, the more I like it.
I don’t always get free rein to do as I wish. Clients usually come to me knowing what they want, and it’s a matter of me giving them what they’re asking for. Sometimes, they’ll give me images to reference, but they ask me to interpret them in my own style.
Some clients like really tiny tattoos, but there’s a limit to how small my smallest needle is. It’s not the same as what you can achieve with a computer or with a pen and paper.
In April, I pinched a nerve so I’m taking it slow and trying to recover. Before my injury, my waiting list was about a month.
I like this flower piece on the back of Alicia’s [Tan, an editor] arm – I get quite a few requests for mandala tattoos. Alicia gave me an idea of what she was thinking of and I drew it for her.
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Alicia Tan, Asia deputy editor at Mashable
'I love her line work so the mandala tattoos she did on my arm and sternum are my current favourites, along with my first handpoke tattoo of Pusheen. She puts thought into her works and takes time to listen to your concerns. For those who’re scared of pain, Victoria is super gentle.’
50A Temple St. www.facebook.com/killswitchtattoo. By appointment only.