East Meets West: Younggi Jo Bridges Cultures Through Tattoos

The interview with Younggi Jo
InkMatch caught up with Korean tattoo artist Younggi Jo to explore his experience, artistic approach, and the problems that foreign artists face in the US.

Have you ever scrolled through Instagram and admired the incredible detail of Korean tattoo artists, particularly their fineline, micro-realism, and minimalist styles?

What if you could get a tattoo from one of these skilled artists without having to travel to South Korea? Many Korean tattoo artists, including Younggi Jo, have succeeded in the United States.

In this interview with Younggi Jo, we dived into the world of Korean tattoo artists in America. We learned what challenges they face, how they communicate with clients, and how their styles differ. In addition, aspiring Korean artists will get valuable tips from Younggi Jo on how to navigate the US tattoo industry and build a successful career.

Getting to Know Younggi Jo

Getting to Know Younggi Jo

Originally from Korea, Younggi Jo has carved out a niche for himself in Los Angeles, specializing in the complex black and gray micro-realism technique. For over eight years now, Younggi Jo has been creating stunning tattoos in this style.

In recent years, Korean tattoo artists have been gaining international recognition for their linework and innovative styles. The global influence of K-pop and a group like BTS has undoubtedly raised awareness of Korean culture. However, Younggi Jo believes there’s a deeper reason for this popularity in the US. The limited opportunities for Korean artists due to the illegality of tattooing in his home country have forced many talented individuals like him to seek new horizons.

Younggi Jo’s thirst for creative freedom has brought him to the United States. Here he sees a chance not only to develop his career but also to truly establish himself among the “big leagues” of the tattoo scene.

“I want to make a name for myself. To achieve this, I plan to participate in more conventions and cultivate connections within the industry. This is paramount to my goals, as I came here [Editor’s note — to LA] to develop my career and showcase my best work to the American people.”

— Younggi Jo to InkMatch

Younggi Jo’s Path to Tattoo Industry

Younggi Jo’s path to becoming a renowned tattoo artist didn’t start with an art education but through the world of music.

“Music was an artistic thing for me. I felt like I was in the center of the art world.”

— Younggi Jo

This artistic inclination was likely further fueled by his older brother, Seunghyun Jo, a renowned tattoo artist. The influence of Seunghyun Jo, who had already established himself in the industry, sparked Younggi Jo’s interest in art, fashion, design, and tattooing.

This eventually led him to pursue tattooing, a decision that highlights his artistic curiosity and willingness to explore different mediums. Seunghyun’s mentorship likely played a significant role in Younggi’s skill development as well.

“I had no drawing expertise at the time, so I asked my brother whether tattooing was an option for me. He didn’t sugarcoat it — he said it would be tough, but absolutely, I could give it a shot.”

— Younggi Jo to InkMatch

If you’re wondering how Younggi Jo came up with the micro-realism style, it’s simple. He just fell in love with these little tattoos and decided that they would be his primary area of expertise.

Life as a Korean Tattoo Artist in the US

Younggi Jo’s journey offers us a firsthand look into the exciting and sometimes demanding life and work of Korean tattoo artists in the United States.

Life as a Korean Tattoo Artist in the US

Younggi Jo’s Designs & Communication

Younggi Jo draws inspiration from a huge space, it can be anything from other artists and paintings to magazines, advertisements, and even fashion, all of which come up with ideas. He even finds inspiration from big brands like Louis Vuitton.

“Their designs are so bold and innovative that they make me think outside the box and produce something fresh for my clients.”

— Younggi Jo about LV

Unlike some Korean artists who prefer a more stylized approach, Younggi Jo leans toward photorealism. “I want the tattoos to look like real photographs,” he says. This meticulous attention to detail is evident in his stunning micro-realistic works.

But inspiration is only half the battle. Younggi Jo emphasizes the importance of translating those ideas into a cohesive design. That’s where his skills as a “master of mind maps” come in handy.

“Mind maps help me organize all my thoughts and references. It’s like a visual brainstorming session that allows me to develop a clear concept for a tattoo.”

— Younggi Jo states

Working with clients is another essential component of Younggi Jo’s creative process. He welcomes cross-cultural interaction and endeavors to understand the client’s vision. It takes time, of course, but he checks everything, gives suggestions for improvements, and ensures that the design fulfills the clients’ needs.

Challenges Younggi Jo Faced

Younggi Jo’s journey to success wasn’t without its hurdles. As a foreign tattoo artist working in the US, he identified two main challenges that tested his determination.

The first major obstacle was the language barrier.

“This was definitely the biggest challenge. Communicating with clients and understanding their vision perfectly can be difficult when there’s a language barrier.”

— Younggi Jo admits

This highlights the importance of clear communication in tattoo artistry, where even slight misunderstandings can impact the final design.

The second challenge Younggi Jo faced was understanding the intricate US visa requirements for tattoo artists. Securing the right visa is a bureaucratic labyrinth that frequently necessitates artists to demonstrate their skills through live tattooing sessions and obtain sponsorships from licensed tattoo studios in the US.

Younggi Jo on Tattoo Culture in the US vs. Korea

Younggi Jo on Tattoo Culture in the US vs. Korea

Korean and U.S. cultures differ not only in legality, but also in customer preferences, artistic freedom, and even communication style.

One striking difference that Younggi Jo observes is the level of respect for tattoo artists.

“Tattoo artists are respected more in the US. People are positive when they hear what I do, and they want to learn more about me and my skills.”

— Younggi Jo to InkMatch

Another key difference lies in creative freedom. While Korean clients often have a small and specific sketch, American clients seem to come for the tattoo artist’s ideas, and the work size can vary widely.

Tattoo styles also reflect cultural preferences. Korean clients, according to Younggi Jo, prefer stylish and micro tattoos. This may be due to trends and Koreans’ interest in fashion.

“Every Korean has a passion for fashion. So I believe that tiny tattoos are sort of fashionable right now.

— Younggi Jo explains

Finally, Younggy Jo highlights some cultural differences in communicating with clients. Korean clients may have a specific idea in mind, while American clients are more open to suggestions and collaborative design.

Tips for Korean Tattoo Artists in the US

For Korean tattoo artists looking to establish themselves in the US, Younggi Jo’s story is a valuable experience. Here are a few key takeaways from his background:

🗣️ Master the language

As Younggi Jo himself emphasizes, communication is the cornerstone of a successful tattoo artist. Knowledge of the English language is essential. You will need to clearly understand your clients’ desires, explain your vision of tattooing, and navigate the tattooing process with ease.

✍️ Showcase your skills

There is stiff competition in the US tattoo industry. Prepare a strong portfolio that showcases your unique style and technical prowess. A strong online presence and social media endorsement can also go a long way in increasing your visibility.

👫 Connect with the community

The tattoo community is as much about competition as it is about collaboration. Network with renowned Korean and American tattoo artists. Learn from their experiences, share ideas, and gain insight into the US market.

🔝 Don’t stop growing

Striving for self-improvement is crucial to success. Younggi Jo emphasizes the importance of constantly improving your skills. Learn new techniques, keep up with industry trends, and strive to do exceptional work.

🤝 Be adaptable and collaborative

Korean clients often have specific design requirements, while American clients are more open to collaborative brainstorming. Be willing to adapt your communication style and embrace collaboration.

💡 Note:
We offer three comprehensive guidelines that can help you launch an enjoyable profession as a tattoo artist, whether you’re looking to start your own business or are just starting out:

1. How to become a tattoo artist in 7 steps

2. How to build a tattoo portfolio

3. How to get new tattoo clients

Summary

This was a glimpse inside the artistic life of Younggi Jo, a gifted tattoo artist from Korea who came to the US to pursue his craft. Younggi Jo’s introduction to the tattoo industry arose from his appreciation of the micro-realism style and his older brother.

By learning from Younggi Jo’s experiences, you’ve got valuable insights into the cultural differences between Korean and American tattooing, gained knowledge on what to concentrate on, and how to strengthen your areas of weakness by using Younggi Jo’s advice. His journey as a foreign tattoo artist is a great example of a person who proved that dedication and talent can overcome obstacles.

Remember that becoming a tattoo artist demands commitment, relentless hard work, and passion to push the frontiers of this always-changing art form, particularly in a foreign country.

FAQ

🎨 Why Are South Korean Tattoo Artists So Good?

Korean tattoo artists often come from a fine art background, giving them a strong foundation in drawing and design. This is reflected in their tattoos, known for their precision, intricate details, and fine lines.

🚫 Why Is Tattooing Illegal in Korea?

In South Korea, tattooing requires a medical license and artistic qualifications. This strict regulation makes it difficult to obtain a legal license, forcing many talented artists to work in underground studios.

😖 What Challenges Do Korean Tattoo Artists Face in the US?

One of the most typical challenges is the language barrier; they may also have to go through the US licensing process which varies by state; and they must build a new clientele in a new market, which takes a significant amount of time and work.

✨ Is It True That Korean Tattoo Artists Are Very Popular in the US?

Yes, Korean tattoo artists have gained popularity in the United States and around the world because of their amazing technique and distinct style. They frequently combine traditional Korean artistic techniques with current tattoo styles, resulting in striking and distinctive patterns that are popular with a wide range of people.

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