The Underground World of South Korean Tattoo Artists
Tattoo culture in South Korea can seem different from most. Surrounded in taboo and darkness it makes an interesting tale for all those interested. For those who do not know there are many restrictions around tattooing in South Korea. The biggest of those restrictions is that you need to be a qualified medical practitioner in order to become a tattoo artist. Some people may be shocked at this revelation but it is true, essentially those who want to tattoo have to become a doctor.
These unreasonable expectations have forced those tattoo artists to start their practice underground away from the eyes of authorities. Now this does not mean that ALL tattoo artists tattoo illegally but a vast majority do. Regardless of these restrictions, many of these tattoo artists are incredibly talented and can still create beautiful pieces of art.
For those interested in a deeper look at what tattoo culture looks like in South Korea, Grace Neutral a renowned stick n’ poke tattoo artist from London has partnered with I-D to explore what tattoo and beauty culture looks like in South Korea. This documentary shows not only the struggles around illegal tattooing but also the cultural stereotypes around tattoos in South Korea. Like many other countries tattoos are linked to crime and are overall disliked by the older generation. People with tattoos are seen to have ruined their body and destroyed any chances at a career.
Besides this documentary there are also people on Youtube and other spaces that showcase these South Korean tattoo artists in a positive light and help try to fight off the old age stereotype that tattoos=criminals.
A great Youtube channel to follow is Ahnlina. She is a Seoul based tattoos artist that uses her platform to interview tattoo artists and showcase their skills for all to see. This Youtube channel gives good insight to these tattoos artists and introduces them to the world through her channel. She creates an open dialogue with them and shows some of their best work. Anhlina also shows tattoo artists from other countries as well but that is a story for another time.
During our time together we will showcase not only the tattoos artists that Ahnlina has introduced through her Youtube but also some other tattoo artists that have created some beautiful works of art.
I became aware of Ahnlina on Youtube after she posted a video of her covering all of her tattoos. At the time I didn’t know that she was a tattoo artist, I was just intrigued by her content. As I followed her for a while I started to see the content where she would interview other tattoo artists. For those viewers who do not speak Korean she does have English subtitles on most of her videos, but not all.
Ahnlina’s Youtube Channel
As someone who is also tattooed I always love to be introduced to more tattoo artists and her series was a perfect way to introduce myself to more and more South Korean artists. I had already seen the I-D piece on tattoos in South Korea so I already had a basis of what this culture was like but I was not as aware of the artists that lived there.
After watching these interview videos I became more and more interested in South Korean tattoo artists and decided to learn more and follow them on various social media platforms.
Not to mention Ahnlina has a great instagram filled with her modeling work. Who knew someone could be so talented?!? Model, Youtuber, and Tattoo Artist. This is another thing that drew me to her channel, there is definitely no shortage of content.
As you may have seen in the first picture of this article one of the great artists that we have seen throughout Ahnlina’s series goes by NeonDrug. He was interviewed as a guest aritst and showed some of his work in Ahnlina’s video.
Not only is his own personal style very cool but his tattoo style is nothing short of mystical. He makes innocent yet strikingly haunting tattoos of girls that are so beautiful. A lot of his work deals with Asian themed girls, yet all of them are so unique. He also has a good collection of NSFW tattoos that are to die for. We will not show all of the NSFW photos in the post but if interested go check him out!
The overall style is not the only thing to keep in mind but the quality of his work is also really good.From the pictures you can see that he can do thin even lines as well as saturate color.
His instagram is mostly in English so if you are looking to book him there is a fair chance that you can, no matter what country you are from. We have also seen clients who speak French and Spanish tag his tattoos on Instagram so it’s a safe bet that he would be able to book you too!
Here is some of his work:
If you would like to see his interview it is linked below~
The next tattoo artists that we will mention is Yoon. She was also interviewed on Ahnlina’s Youtube channel but that is not the only reason she is on this list. Yoon is a traveling tattoo artist that has a very cute and unique tattoo style. For those of you in the United States you should consider yourselves lucky. She will be tattooing in both San Francisco and well as New York city. Besides that her Instagram is also in English so it may be easier to book her than others.
Her style is also one of the best we have seen in this series. She specializes in a cute Asian style that deals with lots of fine lines and open skin. Looking through her instagram we see that her tattoos hold and traditional folklore-type vibe. From cats to Yokai to mythical ladies, she can do it all.
She is one of those artists that is too good to pass up, if you can book her make sure you do before your chance slips away.
Below is some of the pictures we have gathered from her work~
Update: She also has merch! If you would like to order from her you must DM her in instagram. The merch closely follows her tattoo style and I have already reached out to her to buy something!
Red Lip Tattoo
One tattoo artist that I have found through my own research is Red Lip Tattoo. There are not many photos of him as an artist so we will skip that portion, but his work speaks for itself. This is probably the most impressed I have been with a style throughout me taking interest in tattoos. The tattoos are in a traditional style but they all have their own unique twist to them. Throughout his work you can see a consistency that may be lacking in other artists. If you were to look at these tattoos from far away you would know who had done it, just by his unique style alone.
By far my favorite tattoos of his have to be his lady heads. Each hold their own character and are distinctly their own person. They are all unique and are like their own living breathing people.
Besides that he has many other types of traditional work that are packed with bold lines and deep colors.
Last but not least we have Sulhong Tattooer. He specializes in a more traditional take on tattooing. All of his tattoos are filled with dark tones and intricate designs. Many of the focus of the tattoos are animals dressed in traditional Asian clothing and tattoos. This is a very specific and unique style that I have never seen before and was drawn to after just stumbling upon him on Instagram. I was drawn to how lively and real the animals seemed. The animals stand alone seem to hold a story and show an unraveling fantasy on his clients skin.
Sulhong himself seems to be a very experienced tattooer and that is shown through his clean and beautiful tattoos. Going through his instagram you can see the control and creativeness he has going into his tattoos.
Sulhong is currently All Day Tattoo in Korea and the shop hosts a variety of artists. While his instagram is all in Korean it seems that some of his tags are in English so there is a chance that those who don’t speak korean can contact him.
I have complied some of the tattoos that I have felt most drawn to below but it seems that he also has an interest in bigger pieces as well. You can also see a pug portrait that shows how versatile his style is. His style is not just limited to the traditional animal portraits but some other more character-type ones.