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Vanishing Tattoo

The Vanishing Tattoo is the largest and most critically acclaimed tattoo resource online. Covering the A-Z of the most popular tattoo designs & symbols, and all the tattoo history and tattoo culture that you love, the Vanishing Tattoo will amuse, inspire and astound you.

Crowdfunding a piece of modern tattoo history

“Beauty is skin deep, but a tattoo goes all the way to the bone.” 
~ Vince Hemingson.

Images from The Tattoo Project film on Kickstarter.

You can help to tell the story behind these images and many many more by supporting The Tattoo Project film on Kickstarter.

The Tattoo Project is Hemingson’s attempt to prove that his apocryphal quote is true. Experimental photo shoot, gallery exhibition, coffee table book—so far The Tattoo Project has made waves in the photo and tattoo worlds. But where’s the documentary film? It’s one Kickstarter campaign away, one Kickstarter pledge at a time.  Every dollar makes a difference.  $10 gets you a copy of the film, and that’s just the beginning.

The Tattoo Project documentary team is turning to you – the tattoo and photography and art communities to help them over the final financial hurdle of editing the over 24 hours of amazing footage captured from the original three-day Tattoo Project Photo Shoot and the opening night of our amazing, one-of-a-kind Gallery Exhibition. The funding campaign will result in a one-hour broadcast quality documentary, and for the Special Edition version, another hour of behind the scenes footage and interviews with the creative team.

What the heck is Kickstarter?

Kickstarter is the premier pioneering website that offers independent artists, musicians, writers, and other creative concepts the opportunity to source financing from numerous ‘backers’, or as it is often called, ‘crowdfunding’.  Kickstarter uses reward-based crowding funding, where backers at different levels of funding receive different rewards.  But backers can also help finance a project they believe in by pledging as little as $1. And with Kickstarter, if you do not raise your full financial campaign goal, no funds are transferred to the campaign. It is an all or nothing proposition and it is definitely not charity. The reward-based crowdfunding model means you get tangible benefits and goods in return for your hard earned money.

What this means for you

The Tattoo Project team has worked hard to create a package of rewards for our backers that we are incredibly proud of, that are original and unique, and that represent extraordinary value for our backers.  By purchasing a copy of the film for as little as $10, a 2 Hour Special Edition Version for $25, a package of the Tattoo Project book and the Special Edition for $75, or even booking your own portrait shoot with award-winning photographer, Vince Hemingson for $500 (which includes the Special Edition documentary, the Tattoo Project book, and your own fine art print), you get high quality premium goods at a fair market value PLUS the feel good factor of lending a hand to co-create tattoo art history. Every dollar you pledge helps us create a piece of modern tattoo history. When you watch, The Tattoo Project: body. art. image. documentary we’re confident when we say, you will never look at a tattoo in the same way again.


The Tattoo Project Book

The Tattoo Project Book featuring over 240 stunning fine art portraits. Part of the Kickstarter reward package for all pledges over $75.

A journey to the heart of “who we are.”

The film is our one chance to make sense of The Tattoo Project. To go beneath the skin and behind the eye to explore the zone where tattoo art meets portrait art. It’s a journey to the heart of “who we are.” In other words, the film is our big chance to give our audience—you—your money’s worth.

Says Hemingson:

“I have always been struck by the extraordinary power that tattoos have to reveal a person’s inner self. What we wear on our skin is an outward reflection of who we are on the inside. So the symbols people choose to decorate their bodies with, they’re proclaiming to the rest of the world, “This is who I am.”

Can photography capture both the external self and the inner self?  That’s the big question, and the heart and the soul of The Tattoo Project. As Hemingson says, “If the body is a temple, then our tattoos are its stained-glass windows.”  Tattoos tell stories. Our film reveals those stories to you.

The Kickstarter Guarantee

Due to the unique way in which Kickstarter works you don’t pay a penny unless enough other people support the project and it reaches its target before the deadline. It’s like a focus group and a funding platform all in one. The people really do get to decide what gets made and what doesn’t. So step up, have your say, make your voice heard, declare that you want to see this story told. Declare it with $10 or $1,000, either way you’ll have our gratitude and we’ll send you your reward as soon as we wrap that final glorious editing session!

Check out the rewards and support the film HERE 


For the better part of the last century hand tattoos and face tattoos have been the defining demarcation line between the tattoo enthusiasts and the truly hard-core tattoo crowd. You can be covered in a traditional full-piece Japanese kimono body suit, but throw on a suit and you can pass for an ink free civilian.  Hands and feet?  Not so much.  And to be hard-core meant not giving a damn about whether or not the world knew you were tattooed and to caring even less about what said world thought about those tattoos.  Hand tattoos were usually reserved for tattoo artists, merchant seaman outside of the Navy, and men with a hard past.

In the past five or six years, there has been an explosion of tattoos on hands and necks in particular.  It’s not an action to be taken lightly, as many employers, not to mention most armed services around the world, still frown on visible tattoos.  When you think of hand tattoos, the first thing that comes to mind for most people is the “knuckle duster”, a tattoo that spells out a personal philosophy inked over the fingers of two hands and positioned on the tops of the fingers just below the knuckles. A classic of the nautical tattoo genre has sailors with “HOLD  FAST” inked across the tops of their fingers.  A reminder when working in the high rigging that letting go could well result in death.  The tattoo served as a talisman, an amulet of protection, to ward off a sailor plunging to his death to a deck far below, or worse yet, into an icy sea.

Nowadays you can find knuckle dusters on hipsters, bartenders, baristas and even the occasional model, such as Daniel Bamdad.

These are the Top Ten ways we’ve found for individuals to express themselves in eight letters, on eight fingers.

Hold Fast Knuckle Tattoo1. HOLD and FAST

First done by sailors. A reminder and a superstition, a tattoo that was inked as a talisman to keep from falling out of the rigging of a sailing ship. Such a fall might well have been crippling or meant death.

Turn the page for #2

We hope you enjoy this “day in the life” video of Sky Chris, in his Broken Heart Tattoo shop in San Diego, California. How can you not appreciate Chris’ shop mantra of mending ‘broken hearts’ one tattoo at a time? That and his advice that if you want to be successful at anything in life, showing up is the first step. Amen, Brother Sky! Amen!

Broken Heart Tattoo from The Circus Cartel on Vimeo.

Bob BaxterI’ve known Bob for the better part of fifteen years, had little paper umbrella drinks with him on the beach in Samoa, martinis that would fell an elephant at book launches in Los Angeles, and many plastic cups of beer at tattoo conventions and lost track of the hundreds of e-mails and telephone conversations in between over the years.  Like many of the characters in the wonderful world of tattoo culture, Bob has led a colourful and varied life.  His resume makes for interesting reading.  There are stories there.  It not only makes him a delightful dinner companion, but gives his ruminations on the world of tattoos a deeper and richer perspective.

it’s not about numbers,  It’s about quality. In Calgary, Alberta, for example, there are nearly one hundred shops. We feature only twelve.

Bob Baxter has been a writer, editor, photographer, musician and father for most of his adult life. With three tattoo artist sons (Jesse Tuesday, Riley Baxter and Noah Baxter), Baxter was hired, in 1997, by Larry Flynt to head Flynt’s seven-year-old tattoo magazine, Skin&Ink. An author of over twenty books, newspaper columnist and television host, Baxter turned around the faltering publication and, ultimately, guided the magazine to a prestigious Folio Magazine Editorial Excellence Award (the magazine equivalent of the Oscars), the first for a tattoo magazine and the first ever for Flynt. Enlisting the top writers, photographers, historians and collectors of the art form, Baxter ran Skin&Ink for fifteen years. After leaving the magazine, Baxter’s wife, Mary, suggested he turn his attention to an Internet magazine, and Tattoo Road Trip was born. Baxter and Mary operate the website and maintain a small family farm, in Hood River, Oregon, a stone’s throw from the mighty Columbia.

I was fascinated by Bob’s growing Tattoo Directory and how he’s been using it to not only highlight the best tattoo artists and tattoo shops in the business, but also to educate and protect consumers, many of whom don’t know the first thing about tattoos, but have the impulsive nature that comes with youth.

Bob, what made you think there was a need for another Tattoo Shop Directory on the Internet?

I wanted to create a website that had the same high standards of quality and ethics as I established with Skin&Ink magazine over fifteen years. My first thought was to make it the best Directory by including every shop in the universe. That, I thought, would make it the best. Wrong! After poking around Google and Facebook for a couple of hours, I discovered that ninety percent of the tattoo shops in this world can’t draw. So, I changed course and decided forget about including ALL the shops and focused on listing only the BEST; shops and artists that we had featured in Skin&Ink, shops that I knew personally, were referred to me, were outstanding/contributing members of the community or had great reputations. However, it was not simply an art contest. While many of the shops are nines and tens, as far as their art was concerned, some are only sevens, but they, for example, sponsor monthly gallery shows and give the proceeds to charity.

How long have you been building the Directory?  How many shops are currently represented in it?

I started building the Directory about three years ago. Currently, there are listings in the United States, all the Canadian provinces and several foreign countries, including China, South America, Europe, Polynesia and Africa. Since the Directory is exclusive and only the best shops are included, people take it as a compliment that we include them and, because of that, we signed up six shops the first day.

What is the main benefit to consumers of the Directory?

Every shop on the Directory has been checked out, talked to, worked with or presented to me by happy customers, fellow artists and proud shop owners. The main benefit is that we personally recommend them. We only include shops that have been vetted. Other directories on the Internet accept anyone who buys their way on or simply sends in the contact information. We turn away far more shops than we post. To be included on our Directory is like receiving the Good House Keeping Seal of Approval.

How do you screen shops before they appear in the Directory?  Can you tell us a little bit about your process?

Primarily, it’s shops we know or have worked with. If we are not familiar with the shop, we check them out in a number of ways: We take a look at their website and Facebook listings. If the quality of the tattoos is not up to our standards or, for instance, the photos feature the staff flipping the finger, the site is full of trash talk or racist rants, etc., we reject their application. Some shops think they need to be “tough guys” to be a tattoo artist. They forget that tattoo art is about the art – not posing. We’re looking for artists not gangsters. We also call the shops and talk to the owners, to get a feel of their philosophy of art, their style, their customer service skills, (as Zeke Owens called it) their understanding of the Sterile Chain of Events, their enthusiasm and their interest in the history of tattooing.

Does it ever cause you any concern that your vetting process doesn’t include an actual onsite inspection?  Are you confident that you can provide consumers with good guidance without seeing the premises in person?

We have visited many of the shops firsthand or rely on people we know and trust, like customers, fellow artists, news reporters and such, to give us information and reviews. We also kick people off the list if we discover they are jerks, did something super stupid or are not what they appeared to be on first blush.

Are there any characteristics that good tattoo shops have in common?  What about the shops that don’t make your Directory?  Are there any common red flags?

The shops must understand what the Sterile Chain of Events is all about, turn out quality work and be professional in how they operate their shop. Customer service is very important.  If a customer contacts us with a complaint, we immediately check it out by calling the shop in question and hearing their version of the negative episode. In several cases, we arbitrated a disagreement, discovered it was another shop trying to smear their competition or simply found it was a misunderstanding. For the most part, the most consistent elements of a good shop is cleanliness and customer service. Some shops use apprentices to deal with customers, so, like Urban Art, in Arizona, have top-notch shop persons who are highly professional, exceedingly helpful, know how to corral a shop full of artist types and, basically, keep the engine on track. Dirty shops, arrogant artists, political rants, sexist or racist language… these are some of the red flags that signal for customers to run, not walk, to their cars and leave.

How often do you follow-up with tattoo shops?

Once a shop is on our Directory, they can send us any photos, notices, want ads, upcoming convention visits, change of contact information or staff changes and we publish them next day on our blog. It’s like having an extra website, except we reach thousands of times more people than a shop can on Facebook or other media outlets. We feature, for the most part, only stories involving our Directory members. It’s a privilege being on our listing and we hear from the shops quite often, whenever they have information they want to broadcast, artwork they want to show off or a convention they are going to attend. While we post next day, when I was with Skin&Ink, the best we could do was publish one or two photos or commentary and have it on the newsstand in three or four months, if ever. With our Internet magazine, we publish multiple photos next day and not just one or two. We often publish a couple dozen photos from shops. Plus, our audience is much, much bigger (on the order of tens of thousands) than with a newsstand magazine.

What benefits do you think you’re conferring on the tattoo shops that you have included in the Directory?

Shops on the Directory have won our approval. For consumers, it takes the guess work out of shopping for a tattoo artist or shop. It also provides readers with quick access to a particular shop’s contact information. If there is an article on our blog featuring a specific shop, we simply highlight the name of the shop in blue, and readers simply have to click on the blue listing to obtain the appropriate contact info. An other benefit is that, by becoming a Directory member, they are supporting the site and helping to maintain it as a voice not only for them but for the worldwide tattoo community. It’s making a statement that quality counts, history is important and tattoos are, in fact, fine art. It shows that they are givers and not just takers.

If I had a tattoo shop in Florida, how would I go about getting on your shop Directory?  And what about if I was in Canada? How about a foreign country overseas?   Is language ever a barrier?

To join the Directory, applicants from anywhere can go to www.tattooroadtrip.com, click on Find a Shop and fill out the application form. After we check them out, we may give the shop a call, contact nearby artists and ask their opinions of the shop, read their Internet reviews, Facebook posts and whatever we can use to determine whether or not they meet our standards. As I said, we refuse far more shops than we accept.

How big would you like to see the Directory become?

Although we currently list upwards of nine hundred top shops worldwide (remember, in the U.S. alone there are approximately 25,000 tattoo shops) , it’s not about numbers,  It’s about quality. In Calgary, Alberta, for example, there are nearly one hundred shops. We feature only twelve. Same with Albuquerque, New Mexico. They have over eighty shops; we featured only ten. In several cases, we used our Directory listings to determine who was going to be included in our Tattoo Road Trip “Best of” books (“Best of Oregon,” “Best of the Southwest,” “Best of Southern California,” etc.). The “Best of Oregon” book features forty-four shops, all from the Directory. The Southwest book (coming out next month) features thirty shops in Arizona and New Mexico. We selected the shops by making membership on our Directory a requirement. It was a necessary ingredient of the screening process.

Have you discovered any exciting new tattoo artists with the Directory?  Are there any favourite new tattoo shops that you discovered?

Too many to count, Vince. We found amazing talent in big cities and small, major population centers and out-of-the-way towns with less than 3,000 inhabitants. Working on the Directory has opened my eyes to the talent pool that is available thorough the U.S. and Canada, especially. Shop we never heard of before apply to us and, when we see their photos and talk to them, we can’t wait to introduce them to the world. As soon as a shop joins, we not only post their contact information, we also create and post a story about them, where they are situated, their artists’ names and photos and so forth, on our blog, to start promoting them and their shops. Yes, there are favorite shops… every shop we accept and post on the Directory is a “favorite” shop.

Having done this for the past 25 years, Bob is there any advice you’d offer to tattoo shop owners?  Any tips on how to put their best foot forward in building a website?  In marketing themselves online?

In over twenty-five years of involvement in the tattoo industry (I also have three tattoo artist sons), each shop has its own personality, so there’s not one answer or suggestion that applies to all. Perhaps the best advice is to remind artists and shops that they owe their livings to the artists that went before. Without them, the current crop of artists would be working at McDonalds. Maybe not, but they wouldn’t be tattoo artists for a living. Every day they should get on their knees and say, “Thank you, baby Jesus” for the gifts that have been handed to them on a silver platter. My only complaint, aside from tattoo artists who think they walk on water, is to remind artists to give something back to the community that supports them… and I don’t mean “our contribution is to give our customers good tattoos.” I’m talking about becoming involved in their communities and not forgetting about the media, the reporters, the writers, the editors that support them every day of their lives. I used to hear tattooists say that “without them, the magazines would have nothing to write about and we should shut up and be grateful.” Baloney. Without the press, the world would never have witnessed the growth of tattoo art or become familiar with the Who’s Who of Tattoo Art, people like Sailor Jerry Collins, Don Ed Hardy, Paul Booth, Filip Leu and so many others.

Any final words about the Directory, Bob?

To become a member of the Tattoo Road Trip Tattoo Shop Directory, go to www.tattooroadtrip.com/find-a-shop and submit your shop. If you are accepted, we will give you a call, interview you and determine whether or not you are right for us. If you are, we ask for a sponsorship fee to help keep our site afloat, pay for posting your new Directory listing and introductory story on the blog and, most importantly, help us produce a quality site that presents the full spectrum of tattoo art throughout the world.


Vintage CH Fellowes flash

Carmen (Forquer) Nyssen, loves nothing better than digging into the rich history of tattooing and seeing if she can’t unearth an old mystery or two, especially if it will help shed some light and information on the tattoo artists who helped make tattooing what it is today.  The latest nugget she has unearthed is information on obscure tattoo artist C. H. Fellowes.  Fellowes was hand-tattooing at the turn of the century and his tattoo kit and sketch book ended up in the Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic, Connecticut after being discovered in 1966 in Providence, Rhode island by an antique dealer.  The old tattooing implements created quite a stir in their day, but Fellowes identity remained a mystery until Nyssen’s recent sleuthing.  For more on the story, and a glimpse at the amazing old hand-tools that Fellowes used (that are in the Mystic Seaport Museum permanent collection), read Nyssen’s account of her search.  Tattoo artists and lovers of original maritime tattooing will love the images from Fellowes sketch book.

Read Nyssen's account

Buzzfeed’s 40-Top-Models-With-Fashionable-Tattoos article ‘illustrates’ just how far the fashion world has come in terms of embracing body art as an expression of mainstream popular culture in the past two decades.  It was in the early 90’s that supermodels first began to sport tattoos, small and discrete at first, sported by the likes of Christy Turlington, Stephanie Seymour and Kate Moss.  One can’t help but surmise that these lovely ladies might have been influenced to embrace body art as a result of their exposure to the ‘bad boys’ they were dating at the time, Vince Neil of Motley Crue for Turlington, Seymour snuggling up to Axl Rose of Guns and Roses, and of course Kate Moss and Johnny Depp were the original Brangelina.

Miles Langford Lavin tattooNow, twenty years on, the tattoos are big and bold, and in the case of male models, they wouldn’t look out of place if they were fronting rock bands in the biggest stadiums in the world.  This is not body art that is tucked away, but tattoos meant to be seen.  It doesn’t hurt that the artwork is displayed on some of the most genetically blessed canvas to ever adorn the human race.  Enjoy!


It doesn’t seem like four years ago, but come May of this year, a full four years will have passed since the Tattoo Project: body. art. image. event took place in Vancouver.  The Tattoo Project sequestered 11 fine art photographers with a wide variety of personal styles in the VPW (Vancouver Photo Workshop) studios along with over 100 heavily tattooed individuals for a hectic and action-packed three day long-weekend.

Vince Hemingson Tattoo ProjectThousands of portraits were produced that aimed to explore the identity of each of these subjects through the portrayal of their body art and the photographic process.  Two documentary film crews prowled the crowded hallways, eves-dropped on photographers  as they shot in the studios, and interviewed dozens of models and all of the photographers.  Never before had an event like this been organized, let alone filmed, as photographers created fine art out of tattoo art on a human canvas. The weekend was an extraordinary experience that is still talked about with great affection by many of the participants.

Read Skin & Ink Editor, Bob Baxter’s gripping account.

In November of 2010, a Gallery Exhibition was held at Performance Works on Granville Island and more than 750 people attended the opening night.  The innovative and brilliant curation by Pennylane Shen showcased almost two hundred images and special guests included tattoo legend, Lyle Tuttle, famed tattoo photographer Bill deMichele, and Skin & Ink Editor Bob Baxter, among others.  Hundreds of copies of the Tattoo Project calendar were sold and all of the proceeds were donated to the Ray Cam Centre in the Downtown Eastside.

Read Skin & Ink Editor, Bob Baxter’s Gallery Exhibition Review.

Tattoo Project BookIn August of 2012, Schiffer Books published the Tattoo Project: body. art. image. book and it has been a critical and commercial success.  The volume features more than 200 images and truly reflects not only who the subjects are, but the photographers as well.  From differing approaches to lighting, mood, and colour to different methods for engaging the subjects, each of the artists clearly has a unique vision and personal style. The book has become a must have for both tattoo collectors and  photography enthusiasts.

And what does the Tattoo Project have in store next?  This Summer we’re going to be asking the tattoo and photography communities help us in finishing the post production on what we think is an amazing and important documentary film through a Kickstarter.com crowd funding campaign.  So stay tuned as we will reveal and roll out what we think are a really extraordinary list of rewards for our supporters.

And just to give you a taste, here’s a quick trailer from our talented Editor, Alec McNeil:

By Bob Baxter

Ever since I saw the photos of a young woman who removed her ex-boyfriend’s name from her forearm with a scalpel, I decided to make a concerted effort to educate our readers about professional laser tattoo removal. Enlisting two of the country’s foremost experts in the field, Robert Pho of Skin Design Tattoo in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Dr. Steven B. Snyder, Owings Mills, Maryland, we proceeded to find and publish the names of others throughout America and Canada who specialize in laser removal of tattoos, both to remove ink their patients no longer want as well as taking off tattoos to make room for newer, more current designs. Well, surprise, surprise. 

Tattoo removal

Once again, companies eager to make a buck off the popularity of tattoos, see yet another way to make money off an industry they know practically nothing about. Sure, dermatologists have expensive laser equipment to remove port wine birthmarks, even hair follicles, but a tattoo, as those of us know, is a whole different breed of cat. To remove a tattoo successfully, the technician should know everything possible about how it got there in the first place, including, being tattooed themselves. Without that, it’s like taking a rare Renoir painting to be cleaned by the local car wash. READ MORE on Tattoo Road Trip – Baxter’s Tattoo Blog.

A great round up of the best tattoo artists from around the globe who are still finding new and interesting things to do with ink was  posted on Buzzfeed. Exciting to see that graphic mash ups, watercolor effects and geometric designs are all still on the rise. Read the full article

Here’s a direct look at the artists leading the new wave.

Chaim Machlev

Chaim Machlev

Ondrash tattoo


Xoil tattoo

Peter Aurisch aka Xoil


Peter Aurisch tattoo

Peter Aurisch

Amanda Wachob

Amanda Wachob

Dawn Cooke has summed it up perfectly in her recent article for the Huffington Post on the 10 Reasons the Tattoo Community Doesn’t Respect Tattoo Reality TV Shows

#1. These shows and people who make them are missing the point altogether. Tattooing is counter culture not consumer culture. It’s theorized that all counter culture eventually becomes consumer culture. But tattoos aren’t like dollar store trinkets that you throw away in a year, made in some Chinese factory. Tattoos are permanent and what makes a tattoo good is it’s longevity as the skin is aging.

Read the other 9 reasons on the full article


The “reality” is that it takes immense dedication, fortitude, time and money to be a tattoo artist or a serious tattoo collector. Most of this is lost in the flashy bullshit you see on these shows. How about a no bullshit TV show?

bad ink reality tv show

What surprises us it that with the plethora of terrible reality tv shows now available Dawn was able to stop at just 10 reasons why the tattoo community can’t abide these portrayals of our industry. Just to pick one example – if it really is “Bad Ink” then I for one don’t want to see it!