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Talking Tattoos: Part 1

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By now, tattoo enthusiasts in KL would have heard of the unfortunate cancellation of the KL Tattoo Convention which was slated for the 6th till 8th of November. A few weeks before the convention was canceled, I returned to Kota Kinabalu for a short break and took the opportunity to meet up with two Sabahan tattoo artists, Bobby James and Aaron Crispin (see next post!). Bobby James had registered as one of the participating tattoo artists for the convention and I met up with him at his tattoo studio, King James Tattoo in Lintas, Kota Kinabalu.



Give us a little background on yourself.

I apprenticed as a tattoo artist with Dragon Pearl and Skin Design in Singapore and I came back three years ago to open my own shop in KK. I liked to draw since I was a kid and that’s how I got into tattooing. I was it doing for friends and experimenting with it. I learned by looking at how people do it.


What’s popular among your customers?

The ladies prefer butterflies, faeries which is pretty boring (laughs); the guys prefer dragons and phoenix, mostly Japanese style tattoos.

What’s your opinion of the tattoo industry in KK?

I can’t say much because after three years of tattooing here, I don’t see any progress, so in the next few years I don’t think it’ll be any better. The problem is there’s too many wannabe tattoo artists here. They do a lot of lousy tattoo work and then I’ll have customers coming here wanting cover-ups.


Would you recommend tattooing as a career?

Only if the person knows how to draw. Otherwise, better not. You also need to have a lot of discipline and patience, basically a lot of patience, since you’re going to be dealing with your customers’ requests.

What’s your advice to people who wants to be a tattoo artist?

Draw until they puke. (laughs) A lot of people come to me asking for an apprenticeship but the problem is they can’t draw. So I usually ask them to learn how to draw properly first.


What’s your advice to “virgin skins” who are planning to get a tattoo?

Just get a small one first. You have to know what you want but if you don’t, get a small one first so it’s easier to cover up if you don’t like it in the future. Also, never get tattoos of your girlfriend, boyfriend, husband or wife and gang tattoos. (laughs)

How do you know if a tattoo artist is a genuine tattoo artist?

You should bring a friend who knows tattoos and art to take a look at the quality of the tattoo artist’s artwork.

What are the common misconceptions people have about tattoos and people with tattoos?

It’s usually the police who stereotype us. When I go out, everyone thinks I’m “ah long”. In fact, most of the time, the parents are okay with tattoos. I have customers coming in with their parents and family, and then they would all decide to get tattoos, even the mom and the kids!


Any parting words?

Cheap tattoos are not good. Good tattoos are not cheap.


Bobby has since moved to Petaling Jaya to set up his new tattoo studio, St James Tattoo. To see more of his work, go here.

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Talking Tattoos: Part II