Tatoo Techniques

The technique with which the pigments are brought underneath the skin has not undergone any significant change during the course of history. There are, however, depending on the state of development and degree of inventiveness, great variations in the quality. And then there are the craft aspects: the application of the correct amount of pigment; correct penetration, not too deep, without leaving scars, damaging muscles, rupturing arteries or chipping the bones. Even primitive cultures whose practices involve the piercing of the cheeks – a technique used sometimes with Maori facial tatooing – have developed astonishing tatooing techniques.

In the case of other techniques, the skin is divided up into areas by a series of premliminary cuts. These areas are then filled with figures such as lizards or simple forms such as diamonds, circles and stars. Another, less precise technique involves the drawing of lines and curves with a sharp stone. This technique, which permits complex tatoos with long rows of dots, spirals or other forms, was used by the peoples of Europe in ancient times and is still employed today by the North American Indians. The technique does not, however, employ black or shaded areas of a larger size. It is, of course, a very good technique the tatooing of writing, with which we are familiar all over Indochina. There people use the so-called chisel with one hand and hammers on its handle in quick succession with a type of mallet held in the other hand. The points are thereby driven through the skin, which is drawn tight by assistants.

Another sophisticated manual technique is the Japanese method. In the case of the so-called bokashi technique, twenty-seven needles are capable of creating the most beautiful shades of grey in the world, going from black to colourless in one smooth transition. Since the invention of the electric tatooing machine, however, the Japanese manual technique is now used only by experienced prison tatoo artists.

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