When Joseph Siow’s parents found out their son was tattooing strangers in their home, they were livid.
“I started practicing 20 years ago. Back then, tattoos were not mainstream. People tend to stigmatise you,” recounts the tattoo artist.
This didn’t stop Joseph from doing what he loves. Using needles, ink and dyes to create an intricate design on skin is an art form which spoke to him.
The self-taught artist cut his teeth into the tattoo industry by practising on himself and his friends about two decades ago. His parents finally came around when he set up his own studio in 2005.
Today, he is one of the most sought-after tattoo artist in Singapore and is the owner of Visual Orgasm, a tattoo studio in Haji Lane.
The prolific artist who specialises in realism, oriental and biomech tattoos is one of the stars in the new web series “Blood & Craft” that is produced by local independent film-maker Harry Chew and his collaborator, Michelle Loke.
It’s a heartfelt and intimate show that lacks a lot of the overproduction that characterises most reality/lifestyle channel television shows on tattoos. The show succeeds in telling the personal stories of its diverse and passionate characters – the tattoo artists, like veteran artist Joseph Siow and his mentee Kelvin Seow.
As Joseph rightly mentioned, tattoos have come a long way in Singapore. The practice of tattooing in Singapore began sometime before World War II. The art form was often seen on British and ANZAC soldiers who had their ships docked at Singapore Naval Base during the war, and was caught on among gang members decades later.
Today, the nation’s body ink industry has moved past its secret society heyday and is seen as a form of self-expression. The prejuce, while not having disappeared completely, is certainly greatly diminished.
Just ask Joseph’s protege, Kelvin Leow, who runs his own two-storey studio, The Standard Tattoo, in North Bridge Road.
The idea of entering the tattoo trade came to him because he wanted a neck tattoo and full sleeve but was afraid that getting inked would affect his chances of employment. He eventually joined the tattoo industry when Joseph agreed to take him under his wings.
“According to my mentor, I couldn’t even draw the difference between an apple and an orange in the beginning. Whenever I drew something wrong, he (Joseph) would just crush the paper and throw it at me.”
It took a while but his diligence and perseverance paid off. The 31-year-old was also able to leverage on the proliferation of social media and by posting his works online, he was able to amass an impressive following of over 8,000 followers.
Even Singapore Olympic champion swimmer Joseph Schooling engaged him when he wanted to commemorate his historic 100m butterfly victory in Rio 2016 with a tattoo of the Olympic rings on his arm.
Like father, like daughter
It’s no secret that it took years of dedication into their craft for both Joseph and Kelvin to get to where they are today.
Joseph’s 11-year-old daughter is getting a headstart in this gruelling but satisfying art form.
“My daughter loves to draw. I think she inherited the genes from me. I’ve been trying to get her to draw more tattoo designs and I’ve been teaching her the history and culture of tattoo,” said Joseph.
He added: “It’s not an easy apprenticeship. Tattooing involves a lot of patience and skills and you can’t make any wrong move. I’m pretty strict with what I teach them. Most of them can’t take the pressure.”
While most kids his daughter’s age might be sketching with a pencil on paper, Joseph’s daughter is already perfecting her work on fake skin.
She has even worked on an actual human canvas, a friend of her father who is a fellow tattoo artist in the Philippines.
It seems the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.
Tune in to Blood & Craft on YouTube to catch all the action.