Norigae Tattoos: How Sion Kwak Blends Culture & Stories

Norigae Tattoos
Do you want a truly unique tattoo? Read Sion Kwak's story about how she blends Korean culture and her clients' stories in tattoos.

Have you ever heard about the red string theory? According to this belief, all people are born with an invisible red thread. And since so many people are around, these threads get tangled in knots and tangles. However, at the other end of the thread, there’s someone destined for your destiny.

In Korea, this concept is called “인연” or “inyeon”, and our interview guest, Sion Kwan, embodies this motif in her delicate norigae tattoos to the best. Read on to find out how Sion adds color to the invisible threads of fate, where her inspiration for tattooing came from, and check out for yourself the characteristics of South Korea and United States tattoos.

Getting to Know Sion Kwak

Getting to Know Sion Kwak

Sion is a talented tattoo artist from Seoul, who currently resides in Los Angeles and works at Vism Studio. She was destined to become a famous tattoo artist since birth, with her bone as the stencil, norigae as a body, and ink as her soul. All thanks to her mother, who is one of the early female tattoo artists in South Korea!

My mother always taught me the importance of artistic freedom and expression. Thanks to her guidance and the environment she created for me, I was able to lay the foundation I needed to find and develop my style.

— Sion Kwak to InkMatch

Growing up in the tattoo culture from such a young age, Sion had the opportunity to experiment with different styles and techniques. Sion’s journey into tattooing began with the support of her mother, who provided her with a canvas to practice on by receiving work from her directly. One of the standout pieces from this collaboration is her representation of the eunjangdo, a type of silver knife or norigae historically worn in Korea.

Sion’s Approach at Work

For Sion, tattooing is a long-life journey of self-exploration and self-actualization. She didn’t have a very diverse portfolio at the beginning. Slowly, but surely, she built up her body of work and showed how beautiful and different her tattoos could be. 

Now we can say with confidence that Sion knows how to make beautiful and different tattoos in her style. Sion became known for her norigae tattoos, each of which is unique in its own way. Sometimes she uses different types of knots, sometimes she plays with colors or builds a masterpiece composition with symbols that are meaningful only to her client.

A graceful blend of cultures: eunjangdo and norigae in the Colorado landscape

A graceful blend of cultures: eunjangdo and norigae in the Colorado landscape

Sion is happy connecting deeply with her customers and helping them express their stories through this form of art. On a side note, her clients mentioned that her tattoos feel like kittens gently scratching them with love.

Here’s what Sion shared with us about her approach to clients:

“I believe that tattooing is more than just putting ink on the skin. It’s an artistic form of communication that reflects one’s life, experiences, and dreams. Every piece of my work holds personal meaning and emotion, and I hope to connect with my customers genuinely.”

Traditional Korean Motifs in Sion’s Tattoos

Our guest has always had a keen interest in art and creative fields, and this background naturally led her to the profession of a tattooist. Sion draws inspiration from traditional Korean knots used in the native attire. Her masterpieces speak for themselves: double knots, flower knots, butterfly knots, you name it, and Sion will tattoo it! 

“Many of my works include red strings that represent the flow of life and inyeon, the ties and bond between us. Beauty can be seen in all things, but these are the things that I value the most in life.”

According to Sion, she enjoys tattooing palms the most, even though it is one of the most difficult places to tattoo. Hand tattoos require a more delicate and careful approach than other placements. “I take into account the characteristics of the skin and work in a customized way and always share detailed guides with my clients,” says Sion. “The hand gets exposed to water and UV rays a lot, and the thin and delicate nature of the skin can cause the color to fade more than other areas.” 

Norigae tattoos are a stunning way to preserve a piece of Korean culture. The knots and threads of this accessory are marvelous on their own, especially in color, but Sion adds a pinch of her clients’ soul to each work. Small talk is just enough to transform any wish into various landscapes, illustrations, portraits, and so on.

When designing tattoos, I love to follow the shapes and curves of each individual’s body. In the beginning, I spent a lot of time thinking about the best ways to create tattoos that would complement the flow of the body. I also spent a lot of time exploring and thinking about what I liked and what would best express my style. I think this process has shaped my style today.

— Sion to InkMatch

Aside from norigae, Sion is also talented with miniatures and lettering. No more words to add, just look at these gorgeous tattoos! And if you want to see more small and fineline works, check out a selected collection from InkMatch tattoo gallery, or feel free to explore it on your own.

Sion Explains Tattoo Trends Between the US and South Korea

Unique characteristics can be observed among tattoos in the US and Korea, but we’ll talk about the latter in more detail later. After moving to the States, Sion was amazed at how tattoos are widely accepted and have evolved into a variety of styles and forms, with clear regulations in each state.

Nowadays, you can distinguish Korean tattoos by their restrained and delicate nature. In photos with tattoos made by Koreans, the lighting is often very well-chosen, and you can often notice the use of gradients, harmonizing colors, and subtle strokes

However, the Korean tattoo industry is gradually developing, and even Sion herself notes that over time it becomes more and more difficult to distinguish tattoo styles between countries.

As Sion mentioned, “From my perspective, Korea tends to favor delicate designs with small, thin lines, while more diverse and larger styles seem to be popular in the US. But these days, I feel like there are few boundaries when it comes to tattoo styles.”

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The Hardships of Korean Tattoo Artists

Sion was fortunate enough to learn the art of tattoos from her mother, but unfortunately, the situation for artists in South Korea is not that great. Although tattoos are popular among young people in Korea, the industry remains largely unrecognized by the government, creating significant challenges for aspiring artists.

Rather than fostering a supportive environment for tattoo artists to grow, the Korean government has chosen to strictly regulate the industry. To become a legal tattooist in South Korea, one needs to obtain a medical degree, which is not something many artists can afford. As a result, many artists face challenges in pursuing their creative activities freely due to restrictive environments.

Summary

That concludes our short story about a talented Korean tattoo artist, Sion Kwak. Her specialty lies in transforming norigae, the decorative knots steeped in symbolism, and other Korean motifs into stunning tattoo designs. Each piece becomes a personalized talisman, visually expressing the wearer’s hopes and aspirations.

Today, Sion is promoting Korean culture in the US while the industry itself is waiting for free development in her homeland. We hope you found her story inspiring. Maybe you’ve even become curious about Korean culture. Be sure to visit Sion if you ever want to create your own unique ink mascot.

“I’m very inspired by expressing the beauty of Korean and Asian cultures in modern tattoos, and I’m also inspired by meeting people with different backgrounds and incorporating their stories into my work. These experiences make me grow and continue to create relatable work. I aim to continue connecting with people through tattoos that capture our stories.”

— Sion Kwak to InkMatch

FAQ

❓ What Are Norigae Tattoos?

Norigae tattoos draw inspiration from traditional Korean accessories called “norigae.” Such tattoos feature colorful tassels, beads, and pendants. They can be designed in various styles, and Sion Kwak goes above and beyond with her style. She shares a part of the culture and etches the unique character of each of her clients in the form of tattoo art.

🔍 What Does a Norigae Symbolize?

Norigae (노리개) are ornamental knots traditionally worn in Korean female attire, Hanbok. They’re like talismans luck, prosperity, and protection. Wearing a norigae tattoo means wearing a piece of Korean heritage.

📜 What Is the Inyeon Theory?

The inyeon theory reflects the belief in destiny and interconnectedness. It’s a beautiful Korean concept about the invisible thread that binds us to others and the events that write our fate. You may find it similar to the popular red string theory.

👑 Why Are Korean Tattoo Artists So Good?

Modern Korean tattooists are esteemed for their meticulous attention to detail and tend to combine their heritage with fresh influences, creating a blend of tradition and contemporary style.

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