Ghinko Is Tattooing With A Purpose
She's been around for little over a year, but we soon fell in love with the commitment to her work and with how she genuinely cares about her clients' feelings
A large chunk of the world’s best tattoo shops and artists are in New York City. A new shop opens up almost every month and great tattooers from all over the world stop in for a guest-spot or as a resident artist. NYC is an excellent city to work, grow and compare your work with others, but it's also a hugely competitive space where only the greatest will stand out. For just over a year, New York has been home to one of the most promising and finest professional tattoo artists in the world. Her name is Ghinko.
Being a ‘notable’ tattoo artist is a strange thing as there is no obvious route to success. There’s no label or studio or publisher to give you a deal and talent spreads just by word of mouth. And that's exactly what's happening with her. Word is spreading and she's already at a point in her career where she could easily have appointments 24/7, but she prefers to pick and choose people and ideas she finds interesting.
We are proud to be the first online media to interview Ghinko since she picked up a tattoo gun for the first time, and we had the opportunity to talk with her about how her work has evolved and what it’s like to be a young female artist in a male dominated industry.
Before tattooing you already had an IG page showing your drawing portfolio with a strong following. When, why and how did you start that page?
I'm honored that you took notice to my art page! I started @inkskin when I was a freshmen in college at NYU. Art was always my passion growing up in Long Island, and I earned a lot of accolades for art in high school, but I was taught to think there was no sustainable future in art. Therefore, I accepted a full academic scholarship to NYU to study psychology and perhaps find a career in art therapy. Unfortunately during freshmen and sophomore year, I dealt with financial instability, depression, and suicidal tendencies, which led to substance abuse. On the road to recovery, I used art as an outlet to draw out my feelings. It started as freehanding sharpie tattoos onto my own arm, hence the name Inkskin. My first fans were my friends and my sorority sisters, whose support, connection, and love for my art gave me a reason to live on. My friends and my sorority really spread out my name and reputation, and the confidence I learned helped me to produce more meaningful art pieces, which eventually made their way to 9gag, Reddit, and other viral pages, and led to my first 10k within a matter of a year or two. Messages poured in from all over the world, from people who found consolation, who empathized, who felt inspired, and that really helped me find my purpose. I would have deep conversations about the meaning and translation of my art with people I barely knew. I would listen to their stories of depression, loss, suicide, love, and pain, all because they connected with my art piece. I knew I would never be the greatest technical artist, but I fell in love with making pieces with deep meaning, which would resonate and guide others.
When did you decide to start your tattooing career?
It was always my dream to become a tattoo artist. In high school, I started with a stick and poke on my arm, and then tattooed my finger and my ankle with a coil machine I bought from a chinese wholesale website (yikes). So you can say I've been interested in tattoos all my life, but I didn't know how tattoo careers started. When I took a break after sophomore year in NYU to support my family, I focused on building my portfolio through the start of @inkskin. The successful instagram led to an apprenticeship in Brooklyn around 5 years ago. I stayed for a little over a year, but rough, dangerous late night commutes, apprenticeship fees, lack of respect, and time consumption made me put tattooing on the side, and I returned to school and family. In spring 2016, a friend of mine, now known as JK Kim, who was apprenticing under Evan, welcomed me with open arms to a part-time shop apprentice/receptionist position at Moon Sheen Tattoo. It was a year later in early Summer of 2017 that West 4 Tattoo underwent a sudden, infamous shop change and massive staff reduction, and I was suddenly picked up as a full time receptionist there. I was never really called an apprentice, but I had sort of an unofficial title, because I helped with everything from generating artists' tattoo designs on Photoshop to fetching morning coffees/lunch/dinner for the shop. During my time as reception is where I fell madly, deeply in love with tattoos because I loved the stories and conversations with the customers, in person or through emails. I saw the love, the pain, the sadness, and the meaning that went into tattoos, and stylistically, I loved how all that meaning could be beautifully condensed in a minimal tattoo.
Which tattoo artists are you influenced by?
I remember one day in Summer 2017, Jay invited me to West 4, and Evan had just finished a microrealistic insect on a girl's arm, and I was just blown away. I had no idea that tattoos could be that small and so detailed. It was a tattoo that wasn't thick and bold, but delicately beautiful, yet powerful. It was the first time I had seen a fresh Microrealism tattoo, and it was love at first sight. I still think Evan is one of the greatest in microrealism today. When I had the chance, I would always go stare at Drag's station, where amazingly photorealistic drawings and sketches would make me wonder, how the f*** did he do that? It was the first time I had been in a tattoo shop where there was just nothing but work-driven, professional artists. Those two were the ones who started it all for me. Of course, being born and raised in New York, Bang Bang Tattoo has always been the inspiration and the standard; I think they've really revolutionized people's respect for tattoos. To this day, I am most ardently in love with the work of Zihwa. She's able to capture the beauty of the tattooed female body without promiscuity (as it is so often portrayed). You can see that my photos try to (emphasis on the "try") evoke the same feeling of exclusivity and privacy. Of course, I learned the importance of clean lines from the fine-line masters themselves in West 4. While I was an apprentice there, my first tattoo on skin was on an incredible guest artist, Rodrigo Zamora. I can never thank him enough for being the one who recognized my potential before anyone else, and he continues to be one of my biggest influences to this day.
You went from 1k to 25k+ followers in just a few months, many tattooers with years of experience and a smaller following might be wondering: how did she do that?
One of the most important things I learned for instagram success is customer comfort. If the customer is happy, comfortable, and in love with their tattoo, you are happy - fulfilled. Therefore, if you are happy and the customer is happy, the tattoo has a purpose. If a tattoo has purpose, the photo you take turns out “happy”.
By the photo turning out "happy", I mean you can see the customer's happiness in his/her body language: how well the tattoo is suited on one's skin, in the pose, muscle rigidity, and posture. If a client is uncomfortable, you can see it so clearly in her/his form. Especially when the tattoo is in a area that requires women to bare down, it's so important to handle their body with care and a soft touch. Tattoos are art, and what good is the art if you don't take care of the canvas? What good is art if it has no soul?
Even if it is a small tattoo, the beauty of the tiny tattoo is also made possible by curves and shape of the body around it. Sure, I'd love to take a close up photo of all the tiny tattoo's I've done to show how painstaking it is to pull a perfect fine line, to show other artists my line work is clean, to validate my literal sweat and stress, but then that photo becomes a piece about me. If my client took the time to find the perfect placement for their tattoo, I'll take a photo to show that this placement was curated for their body. If my client chose a small size for the tattoo to be discreet, I'll take a photo to show it's easily hidden. If my client had her nails done before our appointment, I'll feature those manicured cuticles in the photo. These tattoos are on real people, so, I make sure that each picture translates so. For the tattoo is for the client, it's not for me. I think that tattoos are the most beautiful when they are in harmony with the body. If you love what you do, it shows in your work: where you place the tattoo, the patience you take to finish it, the extra will and energy to take the photo, etc. Yes, tattoos are amazing and beautiful, but the canvas of skin and the soul underneath is also just as beautiful. If your customer doesn't wear the tattoo with love, and if you don't put love into your tattoos, then nobody else will love it. People resonate best with that happiness, and happiness is powerful. It's hard to express the empowering feeling of getting a tattoo, so I put that effort into the photo. It is the power of happiness and love of tattoos that energizes me to be better, so that when the right people see my tattoos, it's wonderfully infectious.
How is your creative process? Do you get to decide/change the original idea/placement of your clients?
I really just love to sit down with my client at my station with my sketchbook and my laptop. At consultations I love to just browse through references together, talk about the idea, and just draw together with my client. By speaking to my client, I can gauge if this job is going to be the client's project, or my project. Subtle things like eye contact, how close they choose to sit beside me, how quickly they respond, where/how they put their belongings away tells me if I'm the one that will be guided by them, or I'll be the one guiding them. I will always make my recommendations based on past experiences and for the sake of the tattoo, but at the end of the day, it's a collaboration, and I will never say no to what the client wants if the respect is mutual. If I have a good vibe with the client, I'm usually the most creative sitting with them and sketching. If the vibe isn't so great, I get nervous and my mind gets narrowed rather than open-minded. Sometimes while I'm focused on drawing in front of my client, I get a little nervous from the awkward silence, so I sneak a glance up to see their reaction. The best feeling is to see my client transfixed on the drawing too; that's when I know we're in this together. When clients thank me for their tattoo, I don't say “you're welcome”, I respond with “thank YOU”.
How many tattoos do you give per day?
It really depends on the jobs I have because they all range from complex microrealism (that can take 5-6 hours) to one word script (that can take 30 minutes). I hate rushing jobs, and I hate overbooking myself because I get too focused on the time and deadlines instead of the tattoo.
What's your opinion about the industry? Have they respected you?
With my being on the younger side of a shop crew and being female, surely, there have been times of belittlement, negativity, mandatory submission, and sexual harassment, whether it's from within the shop or from unpleasant customers. I won't lie; i have definitely experienced and seen instances such as hierarchy based on race, blurred boundaries between professionalism and personal preferences, complete lack of self discipline on the artist's part, financial greed over equality, botched tattoos from inattentiveness or inability, etc. I've learned the following: even though you did not build the flawed system, even though you are not involved in the corruption, and even though your tattoo was made solely by your hand, art is a collective effort of you and your environment. As an artist, you can never blame anyone else for your inability, only yourself, and you can never take full credit for your success, for we are always learning from each other. Taking responsibility, refusing to be a bystander to malpractice, going the extra distance to care inventively, I've found that my morals and my passion to learn have been stronger than ever. Though you determine your own success, I find that the most rewarding aspect of this job is making friendships through mutual respect. Positivism will always inspire greater progress versus negativism.
I love the industry because hard work always pays off, and art is the real foundation. I can't say I have too much familiarity with the industry yet, as I've only been in the industry for a few years, but from the little I've gone through, I've found that it takes a lot of faith. As long as you love the art, you will always learn to give respect and earn your respect. With real love and passion for the art of tattooing, you will never be alone in the tattoo industry, wherever in the world you go, whoever you work with.
How do you see yourself in 5 years time? Any goals?
In five years time, I plan to travel as much as I can, learning from all around the world before settling back at home in New York City with my own style. I definitely want to come up with a style that is my own, full of meaning, and catered towards Microrealism and lettering. Home is New York, no matter what. Hopefully, I also want to started my own family near the end of that five year spectrum. I know it will be hard tattooing and starting a family, but growing up in a traditional Korean household with immigrant parents, with all the sacrifices my mother and father made for me, I don't plan to give up one for the other. Seeing JK handle it all has been a great inspiration for me, and hopefully I can find a significant other who is supportive.
If someone wants to get tattooed by you, what should they do?
They should stay posted on the status of my books, always listed on my Instagram bio. If my books are open, potential clients should fill out the appointment form on my website (only available for NYC). If a potential client wants to book an appointment during a guest spot, instructions will be listed when the guest spots are announced! It's best to fill out the appointment form with as much heart and personality as possible for I do have a tendency to prioritize purposeful tattoos over others. To those prospective clients, please be courteous and patient with my assistants via email!
Anything you would like to add that might be interesting for our readers? Any advice to anyone who would like to get a tattoo from you?
I don't have much to say, other than saying thank you for taking the time to read this and interviewing me. I never would have imagined me being here, given this opportunity to interview, talking to you. Your page and your work is truly iconic and revolutionizing the care for the clients and headlining the movement of micro tattoos. I am beyond blessed to have been noticed by you and given this opportunity to work with you. I especially love how you curated tattoo filter to help everyone around the world find fine line specialists, and you guys are really doing such great work and changing people's perspectives on tattoos. Thank you a million times over!
You can check Ghinko's Tattoofilter profile here, where you will find her contact information, and be able to filter her tattoo gallery by style, body part and size, and order by date or number of likes.