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Talking Tattoos: Part II

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Aaron Crispin is a freelance tattoo artist in Kota Kinabalu. I got to know Aaron through my brother, who got both of his tattoos from him. Aaron is currently studying animation at a local college.


How long have you been tattooing?

Almost 4 years now. I’m a freelancer but I used to work in a shop. I’m currently pursuing my studies, so this is like a side income for me.

How did your love for tattoo begin?

Well, I’ve always been into art and comics. Then I started watching tattoo shows and decided to get into tattooing. We’re not really exposed to tattooing here, so I thought maybe I’d try to make tattoos popular here and change people’s perception that it’s a negative culture. I learned tattooing through friends who are freelance tattoo artists and started experimenting with body art. With the body as canvas, people can see your art wherever you go. Also, the thing about tattoos is that once you get one, you’ll get bored of it and you’ll want another one, and then you’ll just keep getting more and more.

One of Aaron’s own tattoos-in-progress

What was it like when you first started out?

It’s not easy to be a tattoo artist here because we can’t get the tattoo equipment and inks locally. I usually get them online and shipped from the US. My equipment costs me around RM1000.

What’s a good tattoo artist?

A good tattoo artist will not brag about being the best tattoo artist around. He or she must also really know how to draw, and of course have experience in tattooing. I trained by doing it on myself and learning from other tattoo artists. Most of them were underground since previously, the government didn’t allow tattoo artists to open up shops.


Since you are a freelancer, how do you get your customers?

My customers are mostly my friends, and they introduce me to their friends. So they become my loyal customers. I also get tourists through online ads.

What types of tattoos do you specialize in?

I’ve done most styles like Japanese, old school and new school. But I’m more into new school tattoos.

A dragon koi tattoo

What’s the tattoo trend in KK?

Well, mostly the Japanese style, especially koi and phoenix motifs, is pretty popular among ink enthusiasts here. My personal favorites are snakes and peony flowers.

What’s your advice to people who are planning to get one?

I’ll tell that person to think long and hard. ‘Cause you might regret getting that tattoo one day and some tattoos are really difficult to cover up. Don’t be in a hurry to get it just because you want one. Oh and never get a tattoo for your lovers.

A phoenix tattoo in progress

Would you recommend tattooing as a career?

Yeah, why not. If they are into tattoos and they’re good at drawing, they should go for it. But you really have to be happy with what you’re doing. Especially since you’re going to be doing what customers want. You have to enjoy doing tattoos that other people want.

How long does it take to pick up the skill?

Well, it depends. If you are always tattooing, you’ll pick it up pretty quickly.

What are some misconceptions about tattoos or people with tattoos?

Some people think that we are a bunch of gangsters. But really, it’s just the way we express ourselves. People shouldn’t judge others by their appearance. I have people coming in to get a tattoo who are professionals. But, I’m sure more and more people will accept tattoos since more people are getting them. These days, people just don’t care what others say, so they’ll get a tattoo if they want to.


Any parting words?

Tattooing is not a crime!


Check out Patricia’s interview with another KK-based tattooist, Bobby James in Talking Tattoos: Part I

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Talking Tattoos: Part 1
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Talking Tattoos: Part III