I’ve loved all my 13 years in NYC. The City gives me inspiration everyday — physically and emotionally.
Mr.K is a tattoo artist, based at the world famous Bang Bang NYC, which is known as the tattoo studio of choice for A-listers such as Rhianna and Justin Bieber. Specialising in ‘micro-style’ tattoos, his artworks display an incredible level of detail, using subtle shading and textures to render delicate and intricate imagery. One thing is for certain, Mr.K’s work challenges what most people think of tattooing and we were curious to hear more from the man who is making such a mark at the very top of his industry.
Mr.K we’d love to hear your Urban Tale…
Where do you come from originally and what brought you to New York?
I’m originally from Seoul, South Korea, where I studied at Samsung Art & Design Institute (SADI). In 2004, my junior year, I transferred to Parsons School of Design, which had a similar curriculum.
Where did it all begin? Are there any particular people, experiences or places that inspired you to do what you do creatively?
Since I was young, I enjoyed drawing. I was influenced by my mom, who was a painter. After graduating from Parsons, I worked nearly 10 years in the fashion industry before starting my own streetwear brand K47. I love street culture, though after a couple of seasons designing and running the business, I realized fashion wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to spend less time in front of a computer and more time drawing. I’ve always followed tattoo culture, so when I was searching for a new path, I was naturally lead to this industry.
How did you develop your delicate style?
Growing up, I was often looking for the finest pen I could find for my art projects. As a tattoo artist, I was interested in the intricate details of the micro style. I love engravings and single-line drawings! So, I practiced straight, single-line techniques and developed a clean, delicate tattoo style.
You’re now resident at the prestigious Bang Bang Tattoo studio – Can you tell us more about it, how your involvement started and what it’s like to work there?
After following my Instagram account, Bang Bang contacted me in 2016. This was unbelievable, because working at Bang Bang’s shop was my dream. This is no ordinary shop, it’s more like a high end boutique or a gallery for people who want art on their body. I just love everything about Bang Bang Tattoo, it is as clean as a hospital! I’m happy to work with all the other super talented artists at Bang Bang.
What about New York more generally, what’s life like as an artist in NYC?
Whatever your job, New York is the perfect place for those who enjoy the big city lifestyle. I’ve loved all my 13 years in NYC. The City gives me inspiration everyday — physically and emotionally.
Have you already tattooed anyone famous?
I tattooed 3-time Olympic medalist Lotte Friis (swimming). Keep an eye out in 2017, I have a couple actors coming in soon.
When creating a new design, how much input comes from you and how much from your client? Can you describe that part of the creative process?
I usually ask my clients three things: what object they want, their desired size, and the location. That’s pretty much all I need. While I do enjoy sketching by hand, I have a deep graphic design background, so I mostly use Illustrator or Photoshop. Since I do a lot of photo-realistic work, I create two different print outs: one is more two-dimensional for stenciling, and the other I use as a reference image that also allows the client to preview the final design.
Do you ever tattoo outside of the studio, travel to clients or work on location?
Other than my wife and friends, I pretty much only tattoo at the shop. Sometimes I do get the sudden urge to self tat at home.
Are there any techniques that you use that are specific to your particular style of tattooing?
I pretty much only use liner needles, even when shading, because most of my work is small in size. With the liner, I can achieve more delicate details. As a fan of engraving artwork, I love to do line shading, even freehand line shading!
What’s the biggest challenge when creating such detailed works on a ‘human canvas’?
Applying the correct amount of needle pressure is the biggest challenge. If the needle goes in too deep the lines will bleed and if too shallow it will fall off after healing.
When not in the studio, how do you like to spend your time?
When I get the chance to have some fun, I love hanging out with my wife, my French bulldog Kush @lilkushny and my friends. I used to be a party boy, but now I mostly spend my time sketching at home.
Do you have any thoughts on tattooing more generally as an art-form? Why do you think people feel the need to express themselves on their body?
Tattoo art can no longer be defined by just a few styles. Any style of artwork transfers onto human skin when you find the right tattoo artist. That fact gives me goosebumps. People can’t express themselves through fashion items alone anymore, they want to express more. Tattoo is art and people want to get artistic tattoos.
Someone you’d love to tattoo?
My mom and dad, but I can’t because they hate tattoos so much!!
Watching my favorite films too many times. I’ve seen Soul Plane 20-25 times and still counting. I have too many favorite movies!
Talib Kweli — The Beautiful Struggle (2004).
Best coffee in town?
Gregory’s Coffee is the best coffee in town – he is also my client.
Insiders New York tip?
Stay away from crowded places, they are usually not very fun.
Photography: Bang Bang Tattoo