Tattoos Ideas

Interview with tattooist Sodam – Things&Ink

Korean tattooist Sodam has 17 years of experience and operates a private studio in Seoul and Anyang. We chatted to the artist about his journey into the industry, creating tattoos that fit his personality and inspirations…

How long have you been a tattoo artist, and how did you start in the industry? With 17 years of experience in the field and reflecting on my journey, I realise I have dedicated half of my life to this profession. Prior to delving into tattooing, I served as an instructor at an art preparatory school where I guided students in the intricacies of pencil sketching. It was during this time that I developed an interest in creating sculptures of Greek and Roman mythology, which has since evolved into a passion for designing realistic statue tattoos.

Balancing my studies and work proved challenging, prompting me to seek an activity that I could pursue solely on weekends. This lead me to explore the world of tattooing. However, at the time, the Korean tattoo market was nascent and lacked educational institutions and supply shops. Undeterred, I serendipitously acquired equipment and embarked on a path of self-study.

Like many of my peers who started around the same time, I gained knowledge and skills by scouring internet communities, and we progressed together. Over time, we persevered and our passion for tattooing has endured to this day.

What inspired you to become an artist? Do you have a background in art? Since my childhood, I have been enamored with drawing, which was initially sparked by my passion for Japanese comics. I recall spending all of my pocket money from my parents on comic books, attesting to the intensity of my love for them.

During high school, I attended a comic academy and discovered the possibility of studying fine arts as a profession. I then pursued a major in visual design at university, initially intending to specialise in 3D animation or motion graphic design. It was not until my third year of college that my interest in tattooing burgeoned, prompting me to take it up as a minor. I became increasingly engrossed in drawing, ultimately leading me to embrace a career as a professional tattoo artist 17 years ago. Moving forward, my aspiration is to continue pursuing this fascinating profession.

How would you describe your style? What lead you to making colour tattoos? In general, I have a lyrical painting style. I like illustrations of pets, flowers, and butterflies that are cute but not intense. In the past, I used to create works with intense graphics such as black and grey, traditional, neo-traditional, and Irezumi styles.

However, the newer styles of tattoos that I hadn’t seen before began to stand out to me as social media developed. These tattoos felt fresh and new to me, so I started to try them out and I realised that they fit well with my personality. I express tattoos not only in black but also in colour. The feeling is very different between black and colour.

Black gives a calm and subtle feeling, while colour gives a flashy and dynamic feeling to the designs. I make tattoos following the direction that the customer wants, so there is no big reason or motivation behind making these tattoos. It just happened naturally.

What inspires your designs? Does your heritage have an impact on your art? My creative inspiration draws from an eclectic range of sources, such as natural elements, man-made objects, photographs, paintings, and other items that could be beautifully translated onto the skin. Whenever I encounter a striking image online or during my travels, I instinctively save it, contemplating its potential as a tattoo design. By gathering a diverse array of visuals, I am able to generate fresh and varied tattoos, transcending any particular style.

Consequently, I have no singular style that can neatly define my portfolio.

Rather, it is a compendium of diverse images, reflecting my passion for designing personalised tattoos. Engaging in meaningful dialogue with my clients is critical in transforming their vision into a beautiful and unique tattoo.

When fellow artists ask me about my style, I simply respond that my style is what looks stunning on the body.

Can you tell me about your tattooing process? When my clients approach me for a consultation, they usually present their preferred tattoo design, often drawing it themselves and offering a detailed explanation. I engage in an extensive conversation with my clients to fully comprehend their vision and make the design as stunning as possible. This exchange often sparks new ideas, providing me with inspiration to create a distinctive design. Following our conversation, I commence working on the design.

To ensure optimal results, I prefer to separate the design process from the tattoo work. Combining both in a single day can be demanding and compromising my concentration. Thus, I focus on designing the tattoo first, allowing the client to review and provide feedback, and then schedule a different day to commence the tattoo work. This approach offers comfort and convenience for both me and my clients.

What kind of tattoos do you like and what would you like to do more of? While it’s difficult to choose just one, my current favourite tattoo style is frame tattoos. This distinctive style involves creating unique designs within shapes such as squares or circular hearts, resulting in striking and dynamic images. During my recent European tour, I noticed that it was the most popular style amongst my clients. Inspired by this, I have been actively developing this style further.

In addition, I particularly enjoy designing tattoos featuring dogs and cats. As a pet owner myself, the process of drawing animals brings me a sense of tranquility and fulfillment. I’m delighted that many of my clients also request this style of tattoo.

Moving forward, I hope to explore and experiment with landscape frame tattoos. I believe that the exquisite beauty of landscapes and illustrations can be conveyed through tattoos, particularly with the use of vibrant and captivating colours.

What do you think will be the future of your tattooing? In the future, I aspire to participate in numerous conventions and guest spots, both in Korea and internationally, to meet with admirers of my work. Through these events, I aim to establish connections with fellow artists and clients, while further refining and advancing my tattooing skills. By persevering with my hard work and dedication, I am confident that I will create more sophisticated and exceptional tattoos.

With every opportunity that comes my way, I will continue to push the boundaries of my creativity, producing tattoos that resonate with my clients and myself.

What’s your favourite place to travel and to make tattoos? During my travels, I have been fortunate to have visited a range of destinations, including Paris, Lyon, Montpellier, Geneva, Lausanne, Zurich, Karlsruhe, Liege, London, and Melbourne. Each location has left me with fond memories, from the diverse landscapes and friendly artists at guest spots to the amiable customers encountered.

Of all the places visited, Zurich stands out as a particularly impressive location. The guest spot in Zurich was exceptionally well-maintained, surpassing that of all other locations. The captivating view of the lake and the snow-capped mountains of the Alps, visible from a distance, never failed to bring a sense of joy. However, given the high cost of living in Zurich, it is my opinion that visiting for a short period would be preferable to residing there permanently.

Do you have any future travel plans? Since the COVID-19 pandemic subsided, I have been fortunate enough to travel to various locations, where my tattoos have been well-received and I have had the pleasure of meeting new acquaintances. This has opened up new opportunities for me, resulting in an increasing number of shops inviting me to work with them.

While I plan to stay in Korea for some time, I have not seen my family in a while and miss them dearly. If given the chance, I would love to travel with them and showcase my tattooing skills. I hope to provide my children with a broader perspective on the world and demonstrate the excitement and coolness of my profession in the process. In addition to expanding my network, these trips have been valuable experiences, allowing me to connect with people who appreciate my craft and spend time with like-minded colleagues in different settings.

What was your first tattoo? Do you still like it? How has your tattoo collection developed since then? My initial experience with tattoos involved a black and gray angel design, which I personally created and my friend turned into a tattoo during their apprenticeship. It was a generous gesture on their part, as they did not charge me for their services. We carried out the procedure at my home and this occurred 18 years ago, making the tattoo considerably aged. Nonetheless, I have chosen not to conceal it as it was a cherished gift from my friend.

Subsequently, I obtained an old school snake tattoo on one leg, with a sword and skull flower incorporated into the design. On my other leg, an owl tattoo was inked. Although my desire is not for old school tattoos, I intend to accumulate more of this particular style, aiming for a comprehensive coverage of my body with such designs.

What’s the tattoo scene like where you are? The tattoo industry in Korea is undeniably competitive, with a vast number of talented artists showcasing their work. This stiff competition has led to the emergence of numerous exceptional tattooists, and despite the relatively brief history of tattoos in Korea, the status of Korean tattoo artists continues to ascend.

When I first began my career, there were no formal institutions dedicated to tattoo education. However, nowadays, many shops are offering training programmes, making it much easier for new and aspiring tattoo artists to find and develop their skills. I am constantly inspired by these emerging talents, and I continue to work diligently to refine my craft.

What do you do when you’re not drawing tattoos/graphics? During my free time, I enjoy spending quality moments with my family and pursuing my personal hobbies. I particularly relish engaging in active pursuits, but I also savour the occasional relaxation of watching dramas or movies, playing games, and even practicing my DJing skills.

Though I’m a novice DJ, I still feel a bit bashful performing in front of others. Nonetheless, I occasionally yearn for the thrill of being on stage, and I plan to take on this challenge once I feel more confident in my DJing abilities. When it comes to music, I have a wide range of preferences beyond the tattoo style that I specialise in, including hard techno, hard core, hip hop, and other fast and intense genres like trap.

What has been your proudest moment in your career so far? Winning first runner-up in the blackwork category at the second Sabah International Tattoo Convention was a defining moment for me. It was a tremendous honour to be recognised for my work. Winning an award validated the effort and dedication I’ve put into my craft, and it served as a turning point in my career.

Shortly after, I began receiving numerous invitations to guest work at various tattoo shops overseas, something that was more challenging for me in the past. In the past, I used to send emails to various shops, hoping to secure guest work, but I often didn’t receive a response. But now, with more recognition and exposure, I have several shops eager to have me work with them, with some even offering assistance in sorting out visa issues. It’s rewarding to see that my unique tattoo style is not only appreciated in Korea but also overseas, and I’m excited about the prospects of traveling to new places to showcase my work. I’m always ready to explore new destinations that appreciate my style and artistry.

Follow @tattooist_sodam for more incredible tattoos and travel updates.

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