Once a full-time break dance teacher who did fashion and wedding photography on the side, Tritoan Ly of Seventh Day has bounced around the creative sphere to have now become one of Auckland’s favourite tattoo artists. Of Cambodian-Chinese heritage, his work is intricate and light-of-hand. Here we find out about his practice, as well as a few things we always wanted to ask a tattoo artist.
How would you describe your style of tattooing? How do you think it differs from everyone else? I’d like to think I am a bit of an allrounder bouncing from fine lines, realism, dot work and colour. But I am more well known for my fine line floral work. Where I think I do differently to other artist is composition. Anyone can learn to draw flowers, what’s difficult is composing elements to a design to flow with the body.
Did you learn tattoo artistry or are you completely self-taught? I was self-taught, starting in the kitchen of my apartment for 6 months. I was desperate to go pro, willing to become an apprentice at any tattoo shop. I handed in my portfolio to a studio in the city called Dream Hands where they graciously accepted me to the team as a full-time artist instead. There I learnt the ins and outs of the tattoo industry and worked there for a year before opening my own shop.
What was the first tattoo you did? Do you still like it when you look back? My very first was a stick and poke I did on myself when I was 11. My classmate stole some Indian ink from the art room while I pinched my mum’s sewing needle. I’m not sure if that counts as my first as it was not done by machine. My very first one with a machine was on a good friend of mine Tristan. He was the one who encouraged me to pursue tattooing and offered his skin for me to tattoo. It was a tiny paper crane on his chest. Every time I see him now, he gives me shit about how tragic the tattoo is. It’s all fond memories. So yes I do like it. Am I proud of it? Definitely not.
On a scale from 1 to 10, how stressful is it being a tattoo artist? Does the fact that it’s permanent and quite irreversible put more pressure on you? I remember for the first year I would constantly be so anxious about tattooing, not just about putting in a clean line but more so if the clients would like what I had designed them. I’m at a point now where it is second nature to me, so I don’t get nervous nowadays. And clients come to me already knowing my style and what to expect.
How do you cope with shaky hands? Depends how bad it is! Practice makes perfect. You shoot a basketball in a hoop enough times, you’re bound to improve.
Have you ever refused to proceed with an appointment because you didn’t like the design or disagreed with an idea? We do turn away a lot of work. Our priority is our artwork and money is an incentive. So to stay passionate I will only accept jobs that I think resonates with me and my style. It’s not ideal having an artist do a job he dislikes. Some people do get offended, not understanding the concept that tattooist are also proud artists so they would prefer not to take on all jobs. At the same time I do believe you should get what you really want as a tattoo, but get it done with the right artist.
Do you think that we’ve moved on from the stereotype that people with easily visible tattoos (neck, hands, arms, ankles) shouldn’t pursue corporate careers? I think in the past it was an issue, especially from my mum’s point of view, the older generation sees it as a criminal association. The yakuza’s had such an impact on Japan’s society; to this day you can not go into public pools without covering your tattoos. Honestly, I think there is a different generation coming through and it’s most certainly becoming more acceptable, especially in New Zealand as we are a very relaxed country. I think people in the corporate world would still be prone to having their employees cover their tattoos when it comes to the more visible areas but I think this will die out going forward. In my honest opinion, it’s up to the employee whether they want to hire someone with neck tattoos or not. Their business, they can do as they please.
What advice would you give to people who are thinking about getting their first tattoo? Research your artist, find someone who has a style that resonates with you. And just have fun with it.