One line tattoo by Sop Tattoo
Along with the rise in popularity of large tattoo designs covering entire backs, arms and legs, there is an increasing popularity of miniatures among people taking the first cautious step into the world of tattooing. We have already told you about the wonders of miniature Korean tattoos, showing you incredible realistic designs, miniature traditional oriental patterns, and today we want to introduce to you a tattoo artist who goes the way of thinning the line and working in a really tiny size, in which there is no room for error.
Working with one line, or in another way in a fine line tattoo requires a high concentration of the tattooer, strong hands and incredible visual acuity! One careless move will ruin all the work! But like surgeons in medicine, in tattooing there are tattoo artists who are ready to take a swing at the most subtle facets of this art.
Please meet Sop Lee.
Can you tell a little about yourself? Where are you from and what did you do before the tattoo?
- Hello, I'm Sop Lee, 27 years old and based in Seoul, Korea. I mainly use single lines and work on very small and thin tattoos. I heard a lot that my tattoo looks like an accessory, not a typical tattoo. So I hope for that too! I have studied art since I was in middle school. I majored in sculpture since I entered art high school, and chose the same major in college.
What got you into tattooing? How did it all start for you?
- I became interested in tattooing when I was in high school. Students majoring in Fine Art (Department of Sculpture, Western Painting and Oriental Painting are classified as Fine Art) are especially concerned about their career path. I knew about tattooing before, but I never thought about it as a job. But when I was in high school, There was a day when students majoring in Fine Art gathered and received career counseling from the vice principal. He told me that there was a job as a tattoo artist. After that, I became interested in tattoo artists. At first, I thought tattoo artists should be able to handle all tattoo genres well.
One day, I happened to meet an artist named NOVO, and he was doing only graffiti tattoos, not all genres. I was very interested. It is because I enjoyed drawing small pictures or writing by hand during my school life. Since then, I have become much more interested in tattooing and had a desire to design tattoos with my handwriting.
Do you have any special training?
- When I took my first steps in tattooing, I used 3RL and 9RL needles. But I've always admired thin, small and delicate art since I was a child, so I've been looking for thinner lines. In the end, I had to use a single line to do what I wanted, and until now, I've only been using a single line.
When I first used a single line, I couldn't find the information about tattoo needles easily. So I've used all the needles from almost 20 brands. I tried to find the right needle by comparing the characteristics, advantages, and disadvantages of each. It took a lot of time and money, but these processes became the identity of today's «Sop Tattoo».
Why do you like this style?
- In 2016, when I learned tattooing, it was very difficult to find tattooists who only used single lines. Due to the lack of information, it rather aroused a sense of challenge and made me study harder. So I gradually learned it by trying to make a thin line from 9RL to 6RL, 6RL to 3RL and 3RL to 1RL. I have enjoyed drawing small pictures since I was very young. I followed the characters of the Pokemon cards and enjoyed scribbling along the cute little pictures from this cartoon. These memories made my current work style.
My father has very good handwriting. My father always emphasized and taught me to write beautifully. I design lettering tattoos with my own handwriting, and it's all thanks to my father that I can write in a variety of beautiful handwriting.
Does the choice of style have to do with Korean law, where tattoos are still illegal?
- When I became a tattoo artist, I didn't think that tattoos were illegal. For me, being a tattoo artist is not a job that I approached with money, but a job that I purely wanted to do. So when I chose a style, I didn't decide whether it was illegal or legal. Just because it was a style that I enjoyed since I was a young, I started working on small, thin tattoos. My tattoo design doesn't look scary, it's small and cute. This often instills positive thoughts in people who have negative thoughts about tattoos. I think the more people feel positive about tattoos as a means of expression, the greater the opportunity for tattoos to be legally allowed in Korea.
Tell me about your clients. Who are they? Are there many foreigners among your fans? And in general, why do you think tattoos are so popular in Korea despite the government's bans?
- I don't know the exact ratio, but I'm popular with both Koreans and foreigners. But most of my fans are women because my work is very thin and small. Again, I think tattoos are a kind of accessory. Like wearing accessories, tattoos are another way of expressing individual taste and style. As we all like to wear small and beautiful accessories, also tattoos by my design. Therefore, many people love my work, regardless of country or age. I think tattoos are popular as a fashion, accessory, and meaningful behavior, not just painting on the body.
Ok, back to your work. Tell me, do clients most often come with their own ideas, or do you implement your own more often? Is it difficult to transform an idea into such a miniature tattoo?
- That’s right. Most clients explain their ideas to me. I express their ideas in my own style of drawing and handwriting. Actually, it's not difficult for me at all. I've always written by hand, and had the talent to draw small pictures, so it's not hard for me to figure out the needs of clients and make designs. My tattoo is completed only when the ideas of the clients and my design style coexist.
What inspires you?
- I'm inspired by everything we can see. Signs on the road, flowers on the street, stars in the sky, etc. So I like to watch everything slowly and many times. Even if you look at the same thing, the feeling of seeing it once and then seeing it twice is different. The same goes for handwriting. Even if you use the same spelling, it's different every time. Because humans are not computers. I love the naturalness of human beings.
Sometimes I go camping to discover this naturalness. My favorite is "Star and Moon”. Stars and moons are actually incredibly big, but I draw stars and moons very, very, very thin on their bodies. I'm thrilled and inspired by these contrasting things.
Tell me a little about the technique. Such work requires incredible concentration. How do you manage to work with such fine lines on such a small scale?
- I practiced breathing to work on a single line tattoo. This is because my hands can shake if I don't control my breathing well. Also, I don't drink coffee before work. I don't know why, but when I drink coffee, my hands shake. When I draw a very small picture, I set the standard first. I make my own rules in the painting. Depending on the size of the picture, I imagine a virtual graph paper and put the picture in it. It should be imaginative, but above all, it should have good eyesight!
How long is your typical session?
- My tattoo design is very small, so I rarely work more than an hour. Including consulting with clients, design and size, positioning, and tattooing. Usually, 30 to 40 minutes is enough. I think this is a huge advantage. Most of my clients are new to tattoos, and they're incredibly nervous and frightened. But my working hours are very short, so my clients don't have to be nervous for a long time. Often my clients say, "I'm happy to get tattoos quickly and neatly."
Do you travel a lot as a tattoo artist? Are there countries where you would like to work (or return)?
- I'm not the type to enjoy traveling. Usually, I charge while resting at home. But I like to go camping, so I often go camping to get inspired by nature. There are so many people coming to get tattoos from Singapore and the U.S. that I have recently become the most interested in these two countries. If I have a chance, I want to enjoy camping in Singapore and the U.S.!
What are your career plans for the next couple of years? What heights would you like to achieve?
- Currently, I am collaborating with companies that produce stickers and stamps. Like this, I want to show my work to more people in various forms. Furthermore, I want to teach tattooing. I want to teach many people my thin and delicate tattoo skills. I will study more to be a good teacher for them.