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Tianjin Ink



Zhang He, AKA Klaus, has been working as a tattoo artist for the past 9 years. He opened his own shop on Shanxi Lu just off of Binjiangdao 5 years ago. Before opening Klaus Ink Tattoo in 1997, Klaus was a resident artist at Ghost Skull Tattoo Studio, Dong Xiu Fang Tattoo, and Xiao Jian Tattoo.
"I first became interested in art when I was about five years old. I wasn't so good back then, but better then all of my peers."


When did you get your first tattoo?

When I was 17 I got my first tattoo. At that time, there were very few places to get a tattoo. There were no shops like this one, just some guys who didn't really know what fine art was but could make your skin colourful. Usually these guys were gangsters or some other kinds of people who couldn't find a other job. So my first tattoo was not so good and I have since covered it up with another tattoo. But at the time I thought it was really cool and a good way to make money. So I found a teacher and started learning.

How many tattoos do you have?
(Laughs) A lot, everywhere! (He shows them one by one) I have sixteen in total.

Which tattoo is the most special to you?
The most special would have to be this one (he points to a tattoo of his wife's name in graffiti style lettering) because it represents love. I have also left a space here (he points to the inside of his upper arm) for our baby. I will put the baby's name here and in the future I am also thinking about making a family ’logo’. I hope that in the future my wife and my child will both have the same tattoo as me.

Do you ever have customers coming in to ask for ridiculous tattoos?
Yeah, sure! There was a girl who came in with a drawing of a watch that her boyfriend drew and she wanted it tattooed on her wrist. Another woman came in and asked for a shrimp. “What do you mean, a shrimp” I asked her. “A cooked orange coloured shrimp!” I tried to convince her to choose something else and she said “anything is ok, as long as it is seafood!” Finally I had to tell her that I could not do this for her! I need to maintain control over my customers.
If they have a crazy idea I will help them to change it and to make it better. Sometimes customers will come in and have an idea of what they want but maybe their idea won't look so good as a tattoo. When we first opened I did whatever the customer wanted because we needed customers to spread the word and get us more customers. But when you've been around a few years you develop a brand. We must have a high level of appreciation and respect for art.

What kinds or styles of tattoos are most popular in Tianjin?

Traditional style tattoos such as dragons, phoenixes and coy fish. I don't understand why they are so popular, not just in China but everywhere. In the last year I probably did over fifty coy fish tattoos because a lot of people think a coy fish is lucky and can bring you wealth. A lot of customers ask me "what kind of tattoo can I get that will bring me good luck and fortune?" This is the wrong way to think about getting a tattoo. It should be about appreciation of the art, not laying around and waiting for money to fall from the sky!

How are people in China's thoughts and perceptions about tattoos changing? 

Young people love tattoos because there are stylish and fashionable. A lot of the older generation, like my parent's age, still feel that tattoos are a bad thing. However, the perception is changing and it is becoming more and more acceptable. If my son said he wanted to get a tattoo, I would tell him of course, but I have to do it!

Which part of the body is the best to do a tattoo on?

It has to be the back. It is large, flat and easy to work on. Also, the inner part of the upper arm is a big area that is good to work on. The most difficult part is the backside because it is so soft and flabby. If a customer wants a tattoo on their rear end, I need to draw it on them while they are standing. Then they will need to lay down flat to do the tattoo. When the person lies down, the picture will shift all over the place and you just have to trust the lines. You can't follow your instincts, you have to follow the lines!

What is your favourite part of the job?
Every day is a new day and a new challenge. I have no idea what kind of tattoo the next customer will want. A big piece or a small piece. A traditional or a modern style. Colourful or not colourful.
What advice can you give to any of our readers who are thinking about getting a tattoo in China?
The first thing to do is to find a specialty tattoo artist and look at the shop. Do you like their style? Is it clean? Do they have an ultrasonic cleaning machine? Do they reuse the needles? Secondly, talk with the tattoo artist. Show them your idea and then listen to what feedback they have. Finally, don't base your decision on price. A tattoo is permanent. If you pick a tattoo based on price you are taking a risk on quality and you may find yourself trying to cover it with another tattoo.

I was thinking about getting a tattoo of Hello Kitty on my back. Could you help me with that?
Sure! But it would have to be special, like a zombie Hello Kitty or a monkey king Hello Kitty. That would be really interesting!


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