Skin & Bone is a combination gallery and tattoo studio. The gallery will exhibit art and ethnographic handicrafts related to tattooing, while the studio will have Colin Dale tattooing alongside various guest artists throughout the year. Through his years of travelling and tattooing around the world Colin has had the pleasure to meet and work alongside a wide range of tattoo artists and experts working in ethnographic and other specialized styles. Amongst these friends, we have hand-tattooists from Borneo, Polynesia and Japan as well as some of the world's leading artists in Blackwork and Dotwork coming to visit. Check the homepage to see some of the work

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Copycats, Fanboys and Identity Theft: part 1

I’m not sure where to start this post as most of what I have to say, has been said before… and the truth of the words seem to lose their power with repetition. In the New World Order most people won’t even bother to read an entire post and prefer to merely “like” and scroll on. So I will try to keep your attention with a few “kitten calendar quotes” mixed with some pretty pictures as a narrative hook so we can all get safely through this to the end.

I on my own part have never posted photos of my own tattoos but am confronted with copies of them on the internet on many occasions… the price of fame I guess
I actually was reading an article online about people copying other peoples tattoos where the author stated that, "... it was the peoples own fault for posting photos of work if they didn't want it copied". I thought that this was the equivilent of blaming rape victums for dressing provocatively. The funny thing was that at the end of the article I was pointed toward "other articles which might interest me" which poetically showed a photo of my own tattoos with the caption:

Artist Takes Pictures of his Tattooed Hands to Encourage Creativity

My forearms have been a testing ground for various hand tattooing techniques, tools and substances over the last 20 years. I have Polynesian Tatau with boars tooth combs, Inuit sewing with bone needle and sinew, Handpoking with various tools... hawthorn, rosethorn, flintstone as well as inks made from soot, coal and even ochre. The runes are a personal text chosen from the Older Edda and transcribed into Icelandic with Icelandic runes.

A couple bands inspired from my forearms

An entire forearm copy with Inuit designs on top instead of wrist... I assume the runetext is one of her own.

Someone posting selfies of his new ink on Facebook
When I merely commented that it looked familiar ;-) (not knowing the source)
He got abusive... called me names... said that he found it, liked it and that I couldn't decide what he put on his body!

WTF!!! right Loki?

I started Sewing myself back in 1998 after having studied Inuit tattooing and art for many years. I was fortunate enough to work as a Clinical Illustrator at the same hospital which autopsied the Qilakitsoq mummies and used my research to eventually attempt to revive the traditions which had died out the century before. Initially I just wanted to recreate the technique for myself... my main interest was more in the patterns which had come into disuse. Whether they are tattooed with machine, hand or sewing is of lesser importance than the survival of the designs. However just in the last year or two there have been several tattooists trying out the sewing technique.   

These photos were taken by French photographer Claire Artemyz and have been show in various articles and books over the years and has probably been used as inspiration on many occasions.

Often within cultural tattooing such as the Polynesian you have a series of symbols which have specific meanings and form a visual language of sorts. While the symbols are repeated, how they are put together is individual and used to tell a more personal story of who you are.
However, you also find some cultures where the tattooing designs are copied and repeated more exactly within the members of the tribe to show a fellow kinship rather than individual achievments.

For our own part you see the same thing with European tattooing where Flash designs covered all the walls with designs which were repeated regularly. Even if a person met another with the same design  they would often have a common reference... having served in the military, being from the same country or merely having visited the same tattooist. A tribal bond of sorts.
Nowadays people are seeking more individual expressions than tribal affiliations but chances are even if you never meet someone with the same tattoo you may find it on the internet at some point.

Recently fellow artist Dion Kaszas did a tribute painting of this photo which he said inspire him in his search to revive the tattooing practices of his own culture including sewing. While this is a copy of Claire Artemyz's photo imagery it is neither a copy of the actual photo or tattoos, as it is a personal interpretation in a different medium. Being a one off painting it is also not being mass produced for profit and Dion has been kind enough to give credit to Claire and myself.
Kids... always quote your sources!

Artist Takes Pictures Of His Tattooed Arms To Encourage Creativity???

This was the recent heading on an article posted on the Tattoodo blog
feel free to post comments on the link:

Tattoo Do Do

Unfortunately Claire's photo has also been used inspiration for other tattoos. While I've seen copies of Nanna's and my tattoos before, but could always comfort myself with the knowledge that I made them first and that Nanna and I are so visable on the tattoo scene that any copies would remain mere copies. However Ponypork has 55K followers and now Tattoodo has also done an article on the photos he has taken of #whatmyhandsdoing , giving credence to these tattoos as originals within the tattoo community... 
so now it starts to look like he has the original while I am a fanboy with a copy. 

It is sort of cool when people start thinking that my work is traditional.. but it is also personal. When people start posting it as their own or promoting themselves with it that things get messy. The problem is that many people just use google and search "Viking or Polynesian Tattoos" instead of searching "Viking or Polynesian Art" to find the original sources. So their inspiration is already from another contemporary artists work rather than historical sources
The problem in some cases is that the Asian tradition of teaching comes from the repetition of copying ones master until one can recreate it perfectly and then take the masters work farther by creating your own pieces. However nowadays people don't take the time to be taught, they would rather "Do" than "Learn"... one continues to copy the masters, but it is often not ones own master. In the Western world this is also often seen... not because of tradition, but usually just laziness.

But what can you do?
PonyPork aka Romo Jack is doing photos as art... the photos themself are not a copy of my work, while the significant imagery repeated in all his photos is a copy of my tattoos. Asking him to remove the photos is a bit redundant now... asking him to refrain from doing more photos would be censorship and asking him to remove the tattoos would be against the  Genevia Conventions.
Romo Jack is not a tattooist... he has copied my tattoos but is not copying my work. However by promoting this image as his own it could constitute a type of identity theft couldn't it?
And despite the artistic value of the photos... would they have been near as interesting if not for the tattoos?

Well at least "The King" has more than 55K followers :-)

While I don't think Romo Jack's intentions were malicious they are unfortunate. He is from Indonesia and has a Mentawai tattoo adorning his other forearm, where the tradition of members of the tribe having the same tattoos is still alive. I myself share tattoos with members of the Mentawai, Iban and other tribes as well. It would also be a shame if he couldn't continue creating this type of art. I'm secure enough in myself not to let this bother me, so consider this more as a social commentary of tattoos and tradition versus social media.
You can check more of Romo Jack's photos of  #whatmyhandsdoing on Instagram@ponypork


  1. It is a sad reality that many of us live through. I commend your publishing this as it has been an issue with many other cultural with both traditional and contemporary iterations. More light should be shown upon this as I know many of the designs I reintroduced have been copied out of context and often times done poorly.

  2. I learned a lesson on this many years ago, before I became a more "serious" tattoo collector. I designed a half sleeve for myself which was partly copied from a few pieces by Calypso tattoo, and had a non-specialist tattoo artist apply the sleeve.

    The non-specialist, who was otherwise a capable artist but had zero experience of the Polynesian style I wanted, made several basic errors. I have had to spend about twice what I paid him to rectify these over the years. Meanwhile I have seen Calypso's work go from strength to strength.

    As Xed once pointed out to me, "Art is infinite". I now dearly regret not just going to Calypso in the first place. However, I have now rectified the worst parts and the rest remains to remind me how important it is to go to the original and best artists and not try to copy anyone else's tattoo.

    This is one of the reasons why my left leg bears two dragons by Colin - a master tattooer, pioneer and true artist who has spent years dedicated to developing a style based on original traditions but which is very much his own. I have been fortunate enough to have received work from other modern master tattooers and now very much know that the only way to get a piece worth wearing is to go to the very best. A cheap tattoo will always look cheap and a joke tattoo will always be a joke. That's fine if that's what you like, but for me I now treat tattooing my skin as a very special lifelong project. I am grateful to all the artists who have put work on me and I feel very fortunate to have been able to have these opportunities.

    As for Calypso, I have never yet had the opportunity to meet him, and feel that it would not be reasonable to ask him to tattoo me now. But if you read this, I am VERY sorry that I didn't come to you in the first place.... lesson learned!

    1. I shared a booth with Daniel (DiMattia) at the second London Convention and we were actually just discussing this subject together the other day :-) He is as relaxed as I am and I'm sure he would be proud to place his work alongside some of the others you've collected since that time :-)

  3. Hello. I like your point about people being more willing to 'do' rather than 'learn'. Accessibility to images and information has definitely made people (artists and clients alike) more Lazy. Unfortunately for you and other artists, making your work accessible online also makes it victim to those people, because Those People will take advantage of the opportunity to steal; to use your rape analogy, sometimes a rape occurs because of opportunity and not provocative dress. I myself, wrestle with my conscience when asked to copy something a person finds online. I could refuse. I could lose that income, and wait for the next client, hoping they will pay me to make something unique for them. Perhaps, under different circumstances, I could afford to do that every time. If I could afford to say No. I can tease, cadjole, manipulate and insist; but I admit, there are many times I concede and do the job because I don't want to refuse the income. I can't, honestly. I take the opportunity to develop my technical skill, for some time, I stopped posting images of work I copied, not only feeling embarrassed, but out of respect for the original artist. Aside from that, I just keep trying to make my own art, hoping that I can stimulate enough interest in my own work so that One Day, I can say No to copying.

    1. The problem isn't always the copying... it is regretable. Sometimes artists are just paid for their time to copy a design onto a clients skin. If this is a painting, a portrait, a piece of Flash or some other media I find this acceptable as people should be able to decide what they place on their skin. However one tattooist shouldn't be copying the original work of another tattooist... this is disrespectful to the artist as well as the person who paid for the original and even more so when the copycat posts photos of the work as their own.

  4. T VAST A Mounts of Following Copying Using Lending " if possible " " Stealing " etc of Such Wonders of True n Pure Traditions n Techniques in n With "Skin n ink " Art/ist/ry is BOTH Beauty Full Yet Horrific in Todays Societies of Wants Takes Needs. ..n All Sew Would Likes Loves Learns Teaches Follows Shows etc <3 mi So Admires Your Works OF n WiTH Art/ist/ry Colin bro n mi look~sea~hear all Your Doings n All so T Other " Art/ist/ry. ..s " That r of You n Your Creativities <3 mi does not know whether or not 2 like or not so like T " Art/ist/ry " Shown's as like You Mention. ..They " T Artists " do not Acknowledge n THUS not know if Their is a Quiet Agreed Acceptances of n With Your Art/ist/ry bro <3 T Sames With Most if not ALL of Your n mi Friends List That R With T Tattoo Family <3 Those of Us Who Follow Your n All T Other Art/ist/ry. ..s Know Wears T trues n Pures Came n Come From Colin bro n Hope Our Word Voice Ear Can Lend A Holding Hand. ..s2 Show Supports ; Love YaZ n Your Sacred Hand Poke Dots bro ~8} <3 {8~

  5. I Have seen this in metal casting, quilting, costuming, bridal dresses, anything worth copying will be copied... many in today's download and print it is mine world have little knowledge in idea of theft... They never think of it, see it in a book, if it is on TV, or the internet I payed for it, so I own anything I can get from it... Schools never touch on it, unless it is copyright law; never look at what is right as far as art and creativity. Historical pieces have deeper issues of culture and religion, but they also are disregarded in our point and click world.

  6. To me tattoos are about being an individual not a sheep, i just can't fathom why people want somebody else's tattoos!..:(

  7. To me tattoos are about being an individual not a sheep, i just can't fathom why people want somebody else's tattoos!..:(

    1. Again... in the military there can be a comaradary with having te same design. Flash designs were meant to be fast and affordable back in the days before high paid custom pieces became the norm. In many cultures there are also designs which are shared by many members of the tribe... I share Mentawai and Iban designs amongst others on my body. It is the collection which makes the individuality as it is a picture book of my life :-)

  8. Colin, it's very sad what you say, and it is very true ..... You are and will remain a special person and a great tattoo and ancient rituals master . They can imitate you but the difference is that you create, and their just copy . This is a big difference I think . I LOVE YOUR ART !!!!!!! . Kila

  9. Replies
    1. Your English is better than my Italian... I thank you :-)

  10. I'm with Colin on this. If it is 'easily taken' doesn't mean it's right to take it. If it doesn't belong to you - hands off unless you're given consent to take it (or borrow it).
    With the proliferation of shared pictures it can be hard to find a source for certain pictures on the internet. But any tattoo artist worth his professional salt should at least have a low-wattage lightbulb coming to life if a customer comes along with something Colin designed originally. He's gotten plenty visibility in magazines and books and has a unique style.
    In my search for tattoo art on a certain topic I found Colin's tattoos to be easily identifyable as 'from the same artist', even when not all the pictures had the Skin&Bone logo on them.
    But a customer walking in with a picture of a tattoo from either a magazine or the internet, that should clearly be a credited copy (if a copy at all - but the customer pays for the result).

    And Colin - no one who has seen both your tattoos and the other guy's can miss which are the older ones. Yours have aged well :-). His are still fresh. Easy to see who is the fanboy there.

    There's been no greater kick in my tattoo history than sticking my arms out and saying 'these are my arms - I want Tyr sticking his hand in Fenris' mouth on the right arm, and Tyr sticking his sword in Fenris' mouth on the left arm - can you do your usual thing?' and leave everything to Colin. They're looking more awesome every day.
    I don't regret any of my tattoos - I just regret having not enough room left for more of Colin's awesome designs :-). /salute

    P.s. Is that Picasso quote still on the blackboard? ;-)

    1. The fault isn't always the tattooists either... we are often just paid to fulfill the client's wishes. I've had people come in with very bad sketches of designs they claimed were "their own drawings" but were just copied from other tattoos.

  11. this is correct ..... Unfortunately it happened to us this (I hope a few times) the person brings their own design
      When we realized it was a copied tattoo.
    We are very sorry
    Although we changed the design a little (it was badly designed), it was always copied ...
    One day when we meet with the tattoo artist who did the original, we apologize to this artist, because it was not something we wanted

  12. Really it was an awesome article...very interesting to read..Thanks for sharing..check my tattoo designs at Two Guns Tattoo Bali.