Friday, May 14, 2010
I love ink.
I love the smell of ink. I love the way it bleeds into beads of water. I love how an ink can so perfectly hold to the nib of a pen, drawing out the most exquisite line. This love of liquid, line and meeting of surface extends to skin— I'm mad about tattoos. I am the proud canvas of seven, and I have plans for more.
Finding a good, talented tattoo artist that you can trust is always a challenge. Not everyone with a tattoo gun is an artist, as I learned with one of mine (I won't tell you which). When you find the right tattooist, it just clicks, flows—it feels right. Leaving San Francisco not only meant leaving my friends, neighbours and favourite taco truck, it meant I left behind my tattoo artist Cedre. Cedre inked one of my favourite tattoos, a pen-stealing sparrow. I love her punchy, colourful style— and I highly recommend that if you ever find yourself in the Bay Area in need of a tattoo, you look her up at Diving Swallow in Oakland.
While there are plenty of inked people in Turkey, tattoo culture here is in its infancy. Many tattooists are inexperienced; they don't have the craftsmanship of someone who has been honing their skill for years, they don't consider the curves and angles of human anatomy when placing a tattoo, and some of them just can't draw. I personally can't trust a tattoo "artist" who doesn't like art. Last year I went on a little expedition, visiting several shops in Istanbul, checking out portfolios, asking to see autoclaves and watching their inking process to see if he (they were all male) washed his hands after blowing his nose, sterilised his gun, etc. Needless to say, I saw some scary things.
I finally found a tattooist with beautiful clean lines, impeccable shading, and a vibrant sense of colour. After feeling safe with his concept of sanitary practices, I decided to try him out by getting a little piece. After we started, he began complaining about inking small pieces. Awkward. Then he proceeded to rave on and on about how he was the best tattoo artist in Turkey, that all of the other guys suck and steal his pieces. Hm. He also added that he didn't like to draw on paper and— here's the best part— he told me my skin was too dark to get any good work done. What?! Whose skin is too dark for a tattoo?
I was shocked, appalled and angry. To make a long story short, the guy isn't Turkish and isn't fond of anything Turkish, including Turkish skin— and yet, he lives here. I never went back. I have a very low tolerance for asses, and none for bigots. At least the tattoo came out well.
I had pretty much given up on getting any work done in Istanbul, and figured I could wait until the next time I was in the Bay Area to see Cedre, but on one freezing January afternoon, I stumbled upon something that intrigued me.
I noticed a sharp-looking tattoo sign outside the Mısır Apartmanı building on Istiklal street and decided to investigate. As I stepped out of the elevator on the fourth floor, I was met by a black door, a doorbell and another sign. I rang the bell, and was greeted by a smiling inked guy, then two others. The studio was a beautiful space under renovation— and from the looks of it, it was going to be spectacular. Most tattoo studios I've seen here are cluttery dark spaces that reek of "guy"— this place was spacious with great light, and even though it was still being painted, I was in love with the pigeon grey colour being applied to the high-ceilinged walls. I ended up talking to an artist who introduced himself as Emrah. He showed me his portfolio, which was bursting with colour and life, and to make things even better, he and the other resident artist were the nicest tattoo artists I had met in Istanbul.
Months passed, emails were exchanged, text messages sent, and designs were drawn. The studio was renamed Lucky Hands Tattoo Parlour and got some swanky décor. I had an appointment with Emrah for 14:30 today, and it seemed as though the city was doing everything in its power to keep me from being on time— the minibus took twenty-five minutes to show up, we ran into traffic, the metro decided to sit in the station for an inexplicable twenty minutes, and every person I ended up behind on Istiklal was either elderly or in love. Finally I arrived, a sweaty red-faced mess, and Emrah was kind enough to offer me some water and an iced coffee. Then we drew.
The stencil was made, stuck to my skin, and once I was happy with the placement, I sat myself down and relaxed.
It didn't really hurt. In fact, I had to try not to laugh at times— I found the buzzing of the tattoo gun humorously appropriate with what was being inked on my inner arm. Emrah took his time and asked if I needed a break, which I always appreciate being asked. Some tattoo artists seem to forget that you're sitting there with needles punching in and out of your skin, and it's always nice to be considered.
Ladies and gents, behold lucky number seven: The Bee— all fresh and swollen with ink. Isn't it marvellous? A satisfying blend of stylised and realism. I have a feeling this little bee will soon have some friends. If you're in need of some ink in Istanbul, you've got to take a walk down to Lucky Hands Tattoo Parlour and ask for Emrah Özhan. Seriously, this guy is mad talented— not only can he tattoo beautifully, his drawings are beyond cool— fine lines, a great sense of composition and humour. Never trust a tattoo artist who doesn't draw.
Lucky Hands Tattoo Parlour
Mısır Apartmanı, fourth floor, İstiklal Caddesi / Beyoğlu / İSTANBUL
0212 251 52 91