Bangkok Ink: Elevating The Ancient Art of Sak Yant Tattoos Through Education

Bangkok, a city rich in culture and history, is also renowned for its tattoo scene. Amidst the hustle and bustle of this vibrant city, Bangkok Ink stands as a pillar of excellence in the world of tattoos. The studio, doubling as a school, aims to elevate the ancient art of Sak Yant tattoos, providing an affordable and accessible platform for aspiring tattoo artists from around the world.

Key Takeaways:

-Tattoo artists typically use stencils instead of drawing freehand on the skin.

-In the early 20th century, tattoo stencils were etched into wood and carbon powder was used for outlining.

-At Bangkok Ink, graffiti artist Waf Alosta uses tattooing as a means to create permanent art, in contrast to his temporary graffiti pieces.

Reviving an Ancient Art

At Bangkok Ink, students are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the traditional techniques of Sak Yant tattoos. Sak Yant, a sacred form of tattooing with roots in Southeast Asian culture, has seen a resurgence due to schools like Bangkok Ink.

A Melting Pot of Cultures

Each year, two or three dozen foreign students make their way to Bangkok Ink to master the skills needed for both Sak Yant and contemporary tattoo styles. The diversity of students at Bangkok Ink contributes to a melting pot of cultures, as individuals from various backgrounds come together to learn and grow in their craft.

Training with a Progressive Approach

The training at Bangkok Ink commences with students practicing on pig skin to hone their basic skills. As their confidence and proficiency grow, students transition to tattooing Thai models for free. This hands-on approach not only provides students with practical experience but also offers Thai individuals an opportunity to partake in preserving their cultural heritage through tattoos.

An Affordable Path to Mastery

Alex Kelly, a student from Melbourne, highlights the financial advantage of studying at Bangkok Ink. Tattoo schools in Australia are exorbitantly priced, and obtaining an apprenticeship is a Herculean task due to the reluctance of established tattoo artists to create competition. Kelly states, “The tattoo schools in Australia weren't an option because they are too expensive; thousands and thousands of dollars.” For him and many others, coming to Thailand to study at Bangkok Ink emerged as the most viable option.

Fostering the Next Generation of Tattoo Artists

Bangkok Ink is not just a tattoo studio; it’s an institution that fosters the growth and development of aspiring tattoo artists. Through its inclusive and comprehensive training program, it is ensuring that the ancient art of Sak Yant tattoos continues to thrive, while also preparing the next generation of tattoo artists to make their mark on the world.

The Evolution of Tattoo Techniques

Historically, the technique for creating tattoo stencils has evolved. Before the proliferation of modern methods, tattoo artists at the turn of the 20th century would etch stencils into wood. They would then rub carbon powder into the grooves to create a black outline. By pressing the wood against the body, the carbon powder would transfer from the stencil onto the skin, giving artists a guide to follow. In contrast, contemporary tattoo artists, like those at Bangkok Ink, generally start with outlines drawn on greaseproof cooking paper using felt-tip pens. These stencils are then transferred onto the dampened skin, providing a blueprint for the tattoo.

 

A Graffiti Artist’s Perspective at Bangkok Ink

Bangkok Ink is home to artists from diverse backgrounds and disciplines. One such artist is Waf Alosta, a Belgium-based graffiti artist. Waf, who is accustomed to creating temporary street art that often gets painted over, has found a new outlet for his creativity at Bangkok Ink. He is fascinated by the permanence of tattoos compared to the ephemeral nature of graffiti art.

Creating Permanent Art Through Tattooing

For Waf Alosta, tattooing presents an opportunity to leave a lasting mark. At Bangkok Ink, he is seen employing a tattoo gun to meticulously etch a butterfly onto the torso of a Thai volunteer. Through his work, Waf eloquently expressed the appeal of tattoo artistry for him: “Most of the graffiti art I do is temporary and gets painted over. So for me, tattooing is a way to create permanent art.” This sentiment reflects the allure and significance that tattooing holds for artists seeking to create art that endures through time.

The Bamboo Tattoo Method: A Touch of Tradition

In the realm of tattooing, there exists a less common but highly revered method that involves using steel rods with needles attached to the end. This contemporary adaptation pays homage to the ancient Southeast Asian tattooists who wielded bamboo sticks sharpened to a point. Known as the bamboo tattoo method, this technique can be employed to apply both traditional sak yant tattoos and modern-day tattoo styles. However, mastering the bamboo method demands a more extensive learning curve compared to other techniques. At Bangkok Ink, this age-old art form is kept alive and is highly respected.

The Advantages of Bamboo Tattoos

The bamboo tattoo method is not just steeped in tradition; it also holds practical advantages. Kendall, a representative from Bangkok Ink, explains that bamboo tattoos are generally more expensive than those done with a tattoo gun due to the specialization involved. But the higher cost comes with benefits. “It doesn't damage the skin as much, so you get less bleeding and no scabs. It also heals much faster,” Kendall points out. This makes the bamboo tattoo method an appealing option for those seeking a smoother and more comfortable healing process.

A Glimpse into the Craft

Krittirat, the most senior bamboo tattooist at Bangkok Ink, exemplifies the meticulous nature of this craft. With precision and rhythm, every 15 seconds or so, he dips the needle into a small inkwell, reminiscent of a sketch artist using a quill. This unhurried, deliberate process reflects the deep-rooted tradition and care ingrained in the bamboo tattoo method. Through artists like Krittirat, Bangkok Ink preserves the cultural significance of this ancient art form while ensuring the highest quality for those who choose to adorn their bodies with tattoos steeped in history and tradition.

https://www.bbc.com/travel/article/20150408-thailands-secret-supernatural-ink

The Significance of Serpent Tattoos in Thai Culture

In Thailand, animal representations in tattoo art hold deep cultural significance, with the serpent being one of the most revered. In a display of meticulous craftsmanship, Krittirat, a seasoned bamboo tattooist at Bangkok Ink, applies a serpent tattoo to Kendall's arm. With an assistant carefully stretching the skin to prevent movement, Krittirat embarks on this intricate process. The serpent in Thai culture is associated with great speed, elusiveness, transformation, grace, and rhythm. Additionally, it possesses strong psychic energy and creative power. The serpent tattoo is believed to offer protection against religious persecution, embodying strength and spiritual energy.

Enduring the Pain: The Bamboo Tattoo Method

The bamboo tattoo method, though revered for its tradition and precision, is known for being more painful compared to modern-day tattoo guns. Kendall, who undergoes a 90-minute session for his serpent tattoo, describes his pain experience. Initially rating the pain as a five out of ten, he reports that the pain increases as time progresses. “The longer I sit here, the more it hurts because your tolerance level goes down,” he explains. Kendall highlights that tattooing on bony parts of the body is more painful compared to areas with more fat or muscle.

Bearing the Pain for Cultural Significance

For Kendall, enduring the pain is part and parcel of receiving a tattoo with such cultural weight. The inside of the arm, where he is getting his tattoo, is considered one of the most painful areas to get inked. Nevertheless, for many, braving the pain is a small price to pay for a piece of art that holds such profound cultural significance. The serpent tattoo is not just a design; it is a representation of ancient beliefs, spiritual strength, and protection. Through wincing teeth, Kendall sums up his experience, “I’ll be glad when it's over,” acknowledging the rich cultural reward that comes with the pain.

Parting Thoughts

In embracing the ancient art of sak yant, modern-day tattoo enthusiasts are becoming part of a rich tapestry that weaves together culture, spirituality, and personal expression. Whether opting for the traditional bamboo method or modern techniques, the sacred ink of yantra tattoos offers a tangible connection to Southeast Asia’s heritage. Through the pain and precision, the tattoos serve as both a testament to individual fortitude and a celebration of a historical legacy that continues to thrive and evolve. In a world where ancient traditions are often endangered, the enduring allure of yantra tattoos is a compelling reminder of the resilience and relevance of cultural art forms.

 

We Make Ink Do More

Paul Park, The Xtreme Team

For the most recent tattoo art made with Xtreme Inks by tattoo artists who are pushing the boundaries of self-expression, check out our Instagram.

For more information on our sets, please take a look at our piece on Xtreme Inks: Artist Collections. 

 

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