Getting a tattoo might be illegal in South Korea, but that doesn't mean Koreans don't have tattoos and it certainly doesn't mean that South Korean tattoo artists don't exist. In fact, there are lots of tattooists who are breaking the law, opening their own shops, and creating some really amazing artwork along the way.
According to Korea Times, you can only legally get a tattoo from a licensed medical professional in South Korea, a credential that most South Korean tattoo artists do not have. So even though there's been an increase in the number of Korean tattoo shops, these professionals are operating in an uncertain regulatory environment and are at risk for being shut down or fined by the police at any moment. It also means that advertising is tricky, but that's where social media can come into play. Lots of Korean tattoo artists have vibrant Instagram accounts to promote their work, often including their phone number or KakaoTalk ID in the description to help interested customers book appointments.
There's some indication that the government is looking to change the law to keep up with the growing demand for tattoos, according to The Japan Times, and given the intricate and creative work that these artists are making, I hope legalization and regulation happen soon. In the meantime, however, here are seven Korean tattoo artists whose Instagram accounts prove that they're giving the government a run for its money.
Sol Tattoo has also been featured on Bustle for some impossibly cute cat tattoos, but Sol Tattoo can bang out some pretty realistic dog portraits and other delightful ink that has nothing to do with animals as well.
Although Hong Q. doesn't have quite as many followers as some, her work is just as elegant and I'm excited to see what else she will post. If her blog (which gives some behind the scenes looks at the final tattoos) is any indication, I'm sure there's lots more art to come.
Another Seoul-based tattoo artist, Ssab's work is much darker than that of his colleagues. His art is in a much more traditional tattoo style, often in grayscale with heavy shading. However, as this finger-sized lion tattoo shows, he's also able to do smaller pieces without losing any detail.
Cheeky is another relative newcomer, having only started her Instagram account a few weeks ago, but the work she's already posted — ranging in style from a Keith Haring-inspired leg piece to this small, playful unicorn — is so interesting that I'm eager to see what else she's going to do.
The best word I can come up with to describe Kwela's Instagram account is intense. Her work is done in a pretty traditional style but with a darker twist. Regardless of the subject matter, her execution is impeccable.
If you like minimalist tattoos, you'll totally dig Hongdam's work, and with over 34,000 followers on Instagram, you'd be far from the only one. Many of his tattoos are delicate, line drawings of flowers, splashed with bright watercolor-like ink, like this ranunculus.
Horu Tattoo is based in the southern Korean city of Busan, and her tattoos are all delightfully dainty with a feminine flair. I'm particularly fond of her dog portraits, which are often framed with a crown of flowers and sometimes even with cute detail like this ice cream cone.
Whether you dream of being inked in majestic, furry pets or in something slightly more macabre, these tattoo artists will have you sorted.