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Tattoo Today: A Piece of Your Skin for a Part of My Soul

Jay Freestyle
Jay Freestyle. icarus. Tattoo. Freedom and Flesh Studio, Amsterdam.

This weekend, organizers expect about ten thousand people will attend the 8th annual Pacific Ink and Art Expo in Honolulu. More than 450 tattoo artists will be plying their trade. Why do some of these artists have more than three million followers on social media?

Jay Freestyle, evolution of an artist with tips for artists and customers

Pacific Art and Ink Expo
Credit Pacific Art and Ink Expo

The 8th Annual Pacific Ink and Art Expo opens Friday, and runs through Sunday, August 4, 2019, at Blaisdell Exhibition Hall. Expect artists at work, related goods, food, contests, and entertainment.  Kids 12 and under, free.

Do the best really come here?

“THE best, yeah the best,” according to Danny Casler, one of the partners and founders of Pacific Ink and Art Expo. He says artists love the chance to visit Hawai‘i with their families, make money and add to their portfolios.  For tattoo fans, the draw is meeting artists, discovering new ones, and possibly getting work done by an international star.

“You have these tattoo artists that are creating masterpieces of art that people can appreciate and follow, tracking the evolution of artists daily via social media,” says Casler.

Pacific Art and Ink Expo
Credit Pacific Art and Ink Expo

Times have changed.  Casler remembers when tattoos were considered more or less low life insignias. Now, he says customers come from all walks of life, and all income levels.

“Professionals have recognized that, Hey I can buy a Salvador Dali and spend X amount of dollars and put it on my wall and see it when I come in.  Or I can spend $25,000 dollars, the same price that I paid for that painting, and I can put it on me, from a living artist that I love.  I can carry that with me for the rest of my life.”

When Casler was 10, his best friends’ dad, Larry Hanks, owned Aloha Tattoo in Kailua. Jacob Hanks is now an award winning artist.

“As kids, we would just hang around the tattoo shop and it was just a really cool thing.  Motorcycles out front. We’d get out of elementary school, his dad would buy us pizza, and we’d see art.  We were just kind of surrounded by that.”

Pacific Art and Ink Expo
Credit Pacific Art and Ink Expo
By Phil Garcia

Casler ended up touring with a band, and fell into working with celebrity tattooists.  He worked in the tattoo convention scene and thought an expo would really contribute to Hawai‘i’s tattoo culture. Which is big: Hawai‘i has native kakau, and a long history with military R & R. 

Jay Freestyle works out of Amsterdam, his studio is called Freedom and Flesh.  Self-taught, he says he was always drawn to body modification. His tattoos do seem to reconfigure the body.

Once you have something to show people, it gets easier, so Freestyle says he did a lot of free tattoos to build a portfolio, lots of friends and colleagues, lots of specials.

“I still do it today, if I really want to do a piece, I’ll post something like, someone who wants this, I’ll give them a special rate or something.”

Jay Freestyle
Credit Jay Freestyle
By Jay Freestyle.

Those designs might be more adult themed, for which subjects are a little harder to find.  He does mostly erotic paintings, which is a very small niche for tattooing, so he’ll usually give a good price on those. For his more traditional designs, customers are readily available. 

Freestyle says some customers are very sure of exactly what they want--those people are perhaps best off finding the artist whose technique they most appreciate.  Other clients, especially collectors, know an artist’s style and offer ideas, but pretty much give the artist free rein.

“The look I go for, is I want it to look like part of the body, not like a sticker. I like it to move and flow with the body and look like a painting almost.”

A big common thing, it’s usually hard to get the customers to agree to the size thing. That’s probably one of the hardest things to do is convince people to get a tatooo that fits the  body part correctly.  Usually it’s women that are scared to go big, but they don’t understand that I want it to look like part of the body, not like a sticker. I like it to move and flow with the body and look like a painting almost.” 

Jay Freestyle
Credit Jay Freestyle
By Jay Freestyle and Ryan Smith

Freestyle's motto is: Give me a piece of your skin, and I'll give you a part of my soul. 

Freestyle takes lots of pictures of a client, then photoshops designs into place.  Entire body parts take about three days to complete. One client has booked all three days of this Expo with Freestyle ---he’s flying in from Asia to finish a leg tattoo.

“He’s a pioneer of that style using negative space, bold colors and bright lines, also throwing in abstract.  He’s a really really unique artists and he’s so humble. I think that ‘s one of the things that’s special about our show.  It’s not like, Oh I’ve got money to buy a booth, that’s not good enough to do our show.”

Booths sell out quickly at Hawai‘i’s annual tattoo expo, Pacific Ink and Art is currently booking into 2021.

Pacific Art and Ink Expo
Credit Pacific Art and Ink Expo

“We know the kind of quality show we want to present, and so we try and make sure we always invite back the people that are great artists, that are good to our customers, gracious and grateful.  We just really focus on quality.”

Check the artists’ roster online, many are already booked up.  Casler says, feel free to chat and even negotiate.  Prices range from about $100 to $500 per hour.

Expect to see a lot of fresh tattoos come Monday!

Freedom and Flesh, Jay Freestyle’s studio in Amsterdam, video of a full  body tattoo.

Auntie Noenoe Wong Wilson of Hilo receiving k?kau up Mauna Kea, July 2019.

Noe Tanigawa covered art, culture and ideas for two decades at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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