The first time we met Hongdam we were a little nervous. We had an appointment with him to permanently mark our bodies. As we rode the subway on our way to his studio, we couldn’t help but think about the outcome, we did have some designs in mind but nothing was on paper, it was going to be designed right on the spot, so the fear of uncertainty regarding the pain and final design was a little overwhelming. So we arrived at Inkedwall, a small cozy and beautifully designed studio located in the heart of Seoul, South Korea. There was no going back.
As we travel we are fortunate to have amazingly talented people to cross our lives. It’s not only inspiring; it’s humbling to hear the stories they have to tell us. We met up with Hongdam and Doy, a duo who are quickly influencing the Korean tattoo scene and changing cultural stigma. After having a chat with them we started to question the common phrase we use: “follow your passions”. We will eventually expand one day on the topic, but same as them we feel that passion is not something you are to follow, instead it is meant to bring with you wherever you go. It’s not only about following your gut instinct or your “voice”, we are slowly changing our thinking that maybe passions are meant to be incorporated into the things you like to do. It involves a lot of time and sacrifice to be in a position to say “I am following my passions”. At times we feel that the word passion is a synonym with the word struggle. Below we leave some exerpts from conversation we had in Seoul.
Q: So can you tell us a little about yourself?
Doy: I was born and raised in Seoul, South Korea. I always loved drawing, so decided to major in visual design and finished my masters in the same field. Soon after finishing my studies, I started working for a IT company, and spend about 10 years working as designer and at the same time spent my spare time working as a tattoo artist and a few months ago I decided to follow my passion, so I quit my day job and now I work full time as tattoo artist.
Hongdam: I grew up in a rural area outside Seoul. I remember always like drawing, to the point when I was in middle school, my teacher commented once that I should follow the path of drawing. Of course it was my wish to attend a high school specialized in art, but my parents decided to send me to a normal school so I could follow the current wave and status quo.
Q: Can you tell us about how you decided to pursue a career as tattoo artist?
Doy: I am a man of faith, so instead of destiny or luck I believe that there is a meaning to be found for everyone. I always questioned my artistic value; it was something that was always on my mind. So one day I decided to calculate my hourly pay and decided to find what kind of job would pay me the most with the skill I had. By coincidence I saw a documentary about tattoo scene in New York on TV, so it sparkled my curiosity. I decided to call one of those tattoo shops in NYC to see how my it cost. It was a shocking discovery for me! Those tattoo artists were earning 10x more than I was getting paid. So immediately I started looking into learning the process of being a tattoo artist. That was 10 years ago.
Hongdam: I always liked drawing there is no question about that. But in my culture, drawing is not valued much. I decided to try to go for design school eventually I failed to get admitted into the institution. I was so shocked, that I just decided to go fulfill my military duty (all Korean men must serve 2 years in the military). After coming out of my military duty, regardless of the social pressure, I decided to go to a school to major in oriental art. After graduating, it was a little hard for me to get a job based on my skills. So that’s when I started looking into tattoo artistry.
Q: Tell us a little about the “decisive moment” you decided to become a tattoo artist?
Doy: While I was working and practicing my tattoo skills, I met a guy one day around the age of 50, and we had an extremely good conversation. He told me about his life, and how he was living happily and content with his current way of living. He made me question again my current lifestyle, and that’s when I decided that I needed to change things that I didn’t like in my life. After carefully planning my transition from a day-job guy to a tattoo artist, I decided to start my new life.
Hongdam: For me it was a little too obvious and it was born out of necessity. After finishing my degree in oriental art, I was looking for something to do that involved drawing and involved getting paid. So I decided to learn tattoo skills, which surprisingly it is not as complicated as people think as long as you have a good and you are disciplined.
Q: Were you ever afraid of putting permanent ink of other people’s body ?
Doy: I always mention this to students and people who wants to become a tattoo artist: “practice, practice a lot”. To be honest learning about using the tattoo process and equipment is fairly easy and simple, it can take as little as 2 days. The most important part is to have the confidence to draw, and for that you will need a lot of practice.
Hongdam: I never thought as something scary. I started using my friends as “models” for my tattoo designs, and after a couple of minutes it just felt natural. The drawing and creating the design is same, the only difference is the medium which is used, which in this case is a tattoo machine. I can say my background and years of practice drawing made the transition much easier.
Q: How do you see yourself in 10 years?
Doy: To be honest I have no idea. I am currently enjoying this part of life very much. I have a family and I have a recent born baby, so I am enjoying every single moment of my life. One thing I learned through this process of becoming a tattoo artist is that there is always a way to balance your passion and career. I don’t know where I will be in years, but I am very excited to the new challenges and plans that lie ahead.
Hongdam: I really want to continue to be a tattoo artist, but also I want to emphasize and work more on oriental drawings. I really like the tradition and the culture that lies behind that style of drawing, so maybe I see my self also pursuing that side of me more in the future.
By the way we both love the tattoo Hongdam created for us. It has a very special meaning not only because of our current journey, but also because it is our first tattoo. We would truly like to thank both for letting us in a bit into their lives and also opening up to us. We believe that we truly made a special connection, and we hope to see Doy and Hongdam again soon, sipping together the special coffee prepared by Doy.
Doy and Hongdam are tattoo artists that are quickly changing the tattoo scene in Korea and around the world, creating minimalist designs that are drawing the attention of my South Koreans. Although tattoo is still illegal in South Korea, a current legislation is being proposed to change the law. Even amidst this “illegality” there are many tattoo shops openly operating in Seoul, and all around South Korea.
You can follow their works and connect with them here:
Tattooist Doy : firstname.lastname@example.org
Tattooist Hongdam: 010-7148-3879
Address: 818-2, Bangbae. 4-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Follow Yo Tengo un Sueno: here.