I try tattooing on fake skin and now know why I never became a tattoo artist

Not many of us would ever consider the niche career path of becoming a tattoo artist. Besides the insane skill required, tattoos are still quite stigmatised in our conservative Asian society.

But if you've ever been curious about what it's like to ink out a permanent design on flesh, there's a new art studio where you can try your hand at tattooing fake skin.

Currently, art studio State of Shiok, which opened its doors in November, is the only place in Singapore offering pseudo tattoo workshops for the general public. 

The brand's co-founder, Jerome Ang, 23, tells us that the inspiration for State of Shiok came after he heard about Forever Ink Bar in Brooklyn, New York. It's one of the first few tattoo bars in the world where customers get to use actual tattoo machines to ink designs onto fruits like melons while sipping on cocktails.

The setup at a typical pseudo tattoo workshop at State of Shiok. PHOTO: AsiaOne/Melissa Teo

Apart from bringing the experience to Singapore and letting people try their hand at pseudo tattooing, Jerome tells us that he hopes to change the mindsets of those who view tattoos in a negative light.

"It's getting better, I would say, for the younger generations. But the older generation [feel that] if you have a tattoo, you're considered as someone affiliated with gangsters or bad people," he explains.

"What we try to do here is to open up tattooing as a new form of medium for art." 

Think of it as art jamming, but with a tattoo machine instead of a paintbrush. 

While pseudo tattooing seems rather similar to actual tattooing — especially since you get to use an actual tattoo machine — Jerome emphasises that the workshop barely scratches the surface of what a real tattoo artist does.

For one, many aspiring tattoo artists have to go through around three years of tedious apprenticeship before they are allowed to ink a person and there's a high probability that they won't get paid during this period.

Jerome also describes actual tattooing as "a service" that will affect the receiver for the rest of their life. Additionally, professional tattoo artists have to be very strict when it comes to hygiene because the process involves needles, skin and blood.

In comparison, pseudo tattooing is more of an art experience that has "no consequences" and "is more lenient".

Trying to be a tattoo artist (but failing)

I never imagined that I would having the opportunity to hold a tattoo machine in my hands, so you bet I was excited (and a little nervous) to try my hand at pseudo tattooing. 

The workshop costs $68 per pax for a three-hour session and all the required materials like the ink, gloves, faux skin and tattoo gun are provided. Do note that walk-ins are not allowed and you have to book yourself a slot between 12pm to 9pm.

As of now, in line with Covid-19 restrictions, only two to four people are allowed at one table per session and safe distancing measures will also be in place.

Prior to your session, you get to select and send over your preferred stencil design that will be prepared for you a day before you come down to the studio. However, if you're talented enough, you can also freehand your own drawings on the faux skin.

Some sketches by other talented participants. PHOTO: AsiaOne/Melissa Teo

Before I began, I was thoroughly briefed on how to use the tattoo machine.

Additionally, I was told that if I were to accidentally stab myself with the tip of the tattoo gun, it would leave a permanent mark. That definitely added an element of fear, especially since I am a careless person by nature.

Once I was briefed, I was passed a scrap piece of faux skin to practise on before I was given the actual one that had the design of my choice printed onto it.

Fun fact — these are stencilled on the same way as real tattoos are. The only difference is that for real tattoos, the stencil ink transfers and dries onto the skin almost immediately, but for faux skin, it takes about half an hour.

I initially expected the faux skin to be made of pigskin, but at State of Shiok, they prefer to use silicone as it is more sustainable. This is also a material used by actual tattoo artists to practise on, so it's as realistic as it can get.

As I took art in secondary school, I was half expecting the experience to be similar to that of sketching, just with a tattoo gun instead of a pencil. But boy, was I wrong.

For one, it was quite hard to draw on the faux skin and there was some friction between the tattoo gun and the material, especially whenever I angled the gun wrongly. Additionally, I was instructed to avoid inserting the needle too deep and to hold the gun at 45 degree angle, but I kept finding myself making mistakes.

This resulted in some pretty ugly, jagged lines. To fix these eyesores, I had to go over the same lines a few times.

Another issue I ran into involved the ink. I was constantly using too much of it on my outline and the excess liquid would harden like unsightly blood clots, making it shiny. Scrubbing this off was also extremely tedious because once I attempted to wipe off any excess, it would smudge.

I had initially thought that the outlining would take me less than half an hour, but I actually took over two hours. And unfortunately, by the time I was done, there was not much time left for me to do the shading.

My final artwork (left) compared to the sample provided. PHOTO: AsiaOne/Melissa Teo

However, I can't deny that the experience was both eye-opening and fun. While I struggled with the tattoo machine, I still thoroughly enjoyed trying my hand at inking the faux skin and even found it rather therapeutic.

The session also gave me a newfound respect for all the tattoo artists out there. Their job is definitely no walk in the park and involves plenty of patience, skill and talent.

I also can imagine how much more stressful it is for them since they're drawing on actual human skin instead of a flimsy piece of silicone. If I were put in their shoes, I probably wouldn't last a day.

With that being said, I'm already itching to return for another session to polish up my skills.

PHOTO: AsiaOne/Melissa Teo

Address: 195 Pearl's Hill Terrace, #03-69, Singapore 168976
Opening hours: Daily, 12pm to 9pm

melissateo@asiaone.com