5 best tattoo documentaries
What are your plans for the weekend?
11 January 2023
Let yourself be inspired by the creative process of tattoo art, the personalities behind the tattoo artworks, their lives and learn more about the tattoo art world through these documentaries.
The five tattoo documentaries below allow the viewer to better understand the tattoo artist and appreciate the creative process; they are perfect for when you have a creative block ;).
Here you are, the five best tattoo documentaries that tattoo art beginners and lovers should watch!
The Sacred Tattoos Of Thailand
Produced by: Vice Asia
Producer: Kit Chung
The Sacred Tattoos of Thailand is a tattoo documentary by Vice Asia that speaks about Sak Yant, is a kind of tattoo given by Buddhist masters that are believed to give mystical powers performed in Thai Buddhism. Different types and designs of Sak Yant are perceived to offer protection and fortune for the wearers.
The spiritual power of the Sak Yant tattoo belongs to the master. If the wearer wants to get the power, he must behave as a kind person. Both, the master and the disciple need to observe certain precepts.
The main precepts for the masters are: firstly, be faithful. Secondly, observe the taboos. Thirdly, do not abuse their parents. Fourthly, no amorous affairs. As a master, they must learn the sutras very carefully so they can truly comprehend them. Anyone who doesn't learn sutras seriously is no less than confusing others.
There are precepts for the receivers too: they can’t abuse their parents, they have to respect their master, they can’t have affairs with others wives, they have to stay clear from drugs. The receivers must be over 18. Masters teach them to be good people, as only good people get blessed by the deities.
The Thai see the Sak Yant as a way to physically protect their bodies. So this is in a sense, the tattoos are an amulet, a charm that is worn permanently, that can't be lost.
A new disciple usually starts with a "Kao-yot" (nine spires) tattoo. It stands for the dharma you've converted to. The representative sign of each dharma is different. Then you can choose the Ruesis. Ruesi means the great master can bless you in various aspects, offering charisma, business fortune or protection, as you wish.
Between 50 and 100 years ago, every Thai male in Thailand was tattooed. A lot of men in the North would tattoo themselves all over the thighs from waist to knee. And basic sacred animal tattoos needed to give power and protection.
The most famous place in Thailand to get Sak Yant is Wang Bang Phra. A ceremony called Wai Khru is held once a year during March. Which is a ceremony for disciples to express their gratitude by presenting the masters with a tribute of flowers and candles.
The Last Kalinga Tattoo Artist, Whang Od
Produced by: WDR
Director: Philipp Abresch
This documentary is about Whang Od, the tattoo artist who lives in Kalinga, a village in the northern Philippines that is very difficult to reach. It shows the story of two men going to Kalinga to visit Whang Od to be tattooed.
Whang Od has been tattooing Kalinga warriors all her life and she doesn’t even know how old she is exactly, she thinks she is around 93 or 94 years old.
This type of tattooing takes time, sometimes days or weeks, and because it is so painful it requires long periods of rest.
Each tattoo has its meaning. The Kalinga have always been warriors, called headhunters, who fought against neighbouring villages to protect their land, brought the heads of their opponents, and drank rice liquor from their skulls.
She stamps the pattern on the skin with a rice stalk, she uses lemon tree thorns as needles and ink made of charcoal, water and a little sugar cane juice. And according to Whang Od it takes patience, diligence and humility to become a tattoo artist.
The Japanese Tattoo Duo: Taki & Horitomo
Produced by: Vice Studio Canada
Director: Christopher Grosso
Japanese tattooing is one of the most impressive art forms, as it is rooted in tradition, which gives it character and soul. In Japan, a few generations ago, tattoos were something you didn't show, they were done in a way that they could be hidden under the kimono.
In Japan, the opinion against tattoos originates from the fact that the government used them to mark criminals. Until 2015 the Japanese government could arrest people for wearing tattoos, so tattooists were "persecuted" and their work had to be done in secret.
This documentary is about Taki and Horitomo who work together in a studio in California, which promotes the expansion of the Japanese style, as well as offering other styles.
Taki is an American-Japanese tattoo artist, one of his biggest influences is Horiyoshi III, who is called the Hardy of Japan. He got his back tattooed by Horiyoshi III and became his apprentice.
Taki believes that a tattoo should reflect the personality of the person who wears it, so he tailors his designs to each client.
Horitomo has a very special style, a mix of traditional and Japanese, he uses the manual technique, he specialised in it to be able to differentiate himself. He is also obsessed with cats and created Monmon Cats, which today is a company of his own that distributes all kinds of merchandising with his drawings.
Taki and Haritomo don't like to advertise because they want to have committed clients, they usually do large pieces that require several sessions and that means establishing a relationship.
Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry: The Life of Norman K. Collins
Produced by: Erich Weiss
Director: Erich Weiss
Sailor Jerry revolutionised the tattoo world with his elaborate and colourful designs, in which he mixed Japanese motifs due to his many voyages between the seas: China, Japan.
People who knew him tell anecdotes and stories about his life and career. Jerry was a man with a great sense of humour, very sarcastic (which he reflected in his designs), not afraid of death, and didn't mind getting into trouble.
He had a close relationship with Japan because he was fighting against them during the Second World War, but he respected them deeply, and he dedicated himself to studying their art when he came into contact with great Japanese tattoo artists.
What Jerry started to do, and thus differentiated himself from the rest of the tattoo artists in the United States, was to do watercolour, in this way he achieved more tonalities with the colours, just as the Japanese did. He was doing his version of Japanese art, but with a very American touch, something very different at the time.
See yourself in this nice documentary about Sailor Jerry.
Ed Hardy: The Godfather of Modern Tattooing
Produced by: Vice Studio Canada
Director: Christopher Grosso
Ed Hardy is the most important tattoo artist of the 20th century. He was greatly inspired by Sailor’s Jerry’s work and has managed to integrate the world's most historic tattoo styles into one big, interesting monster.
From an early age, he played at making tattoos with coloured pencils on his friends' skin.
This is why his art teacher encouraged him to use his art to do something, so he could make a living from it.
Later he came across a book on Japanese tattooing and realised that if others could do it he could do it too. This way he managed to introduce Japanese tattooing to the United States.
He opened his final studio in San Francisco, motivated by the social scene at the time, where people were starting to do things differently and had a more alternative way of thinking. Ed Hardy's studio in San Francisco became a hotspot for tattooing, and people came from all over the country to get a tattoo there.
Much of his artwork is on display at the Achenbach Foundation in San Francisco, where he studied art.
In this documentary, he shows some of the designs and tattoos he has done throughout his career, as well as tells little anecdotes about them and talks about his great references such as Sailor Jerry, Joe Lieber, Gordon Cook, Fred Thornton, Paul Maloney, Goya, Rembrandt, etc.
We're sure that these tattoo documentaries will inspire you to get your next tattoo or to deepen your tattooing knowledge if you are a beginner tattoo artist.
If you want to learn or deepen your knowledge of realistic tattooing, you should definitely attend the 10MASTERS online seminar on realistic tattooing with Coreh López.
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