I’m Zhuo Dan Ting. I’m from the north of China -- Harbin -- and I’m a tattoo artist. I’ve liked drawing since I was born. When I was a baby I would draw on the floor everywhere. My dad and my grandma were always big on drawing, just like me.
I started tattooing in 2001 in Harbin. When I began there were not many professional tattoo shops -- now there are a lot. Right after I learned it was possible, I got my first tattoo. I was about seventeen. When I saw the process it seemed just like drawing an image on paper; it actually seemed pretty easy. So right after I got that first tattoo I started trying. I practiced on two pieces of pigskin but a friend was asking me to tattoo them and was impatient. It was a couple, actually, who loved motorbikes. They got matching tattoos. A tribal eagle, really big on the guy’s back, really small on the woman. I started with no fear. It felt really natural.
I came to Shanghai in 2006 because I was bored of Harbin. It was time to breathe some new air. I opened Shanghai Tattoo
a year later. Since a lot of people knew who I was, they started contacting me, asking if I was doing tattoos in Shanghai, so I started tattooing in my apartment. But after I started getting a line I thought, why not open a shop?
Right now, tattoos are really popular in Shanghai, kind of too popular—they really blew up. But obviously it’s a good thing for us and as more people have tattoos, the more acceptable they become. And that’s really cool. One problem I’ve noticed is that now it’s too easy to learn. A lot of shops are opening up in Shanghai run by people who have only been doing tattoos for a year or a couple of months. You see places popping up and then shutting down.
But a cool thing is now there’s all kinds of styles. My style is more photo-realism. I do a lot in black and white but I’m trying to get more into color. I do about one tattoo a day, to make sure I have good energy and focus. A lot of customers come in with a vague idea and give me a lot of freedom to get creative. We design it together. But with the photo-realism, if they show me a photo, I can just tattoo the photo in one session depending on the size. The waiting list depends on the season: sometimes it’s one month, sometimes three months.
I also started hosting parties here since Shanghai Tattoo opened in this location. It’s not just a shop -- people can come in hang out and feel comfortable. If I’m not at the shop, I like to go see a show if there’s a good band. I usually go to MAO Livehouse
. Also Hitobashira is a really good band. It's my husband’s band. If I’m hanging out a bar it would be Inferno
, because that’s the kind of music I’m into. But at the new venue they can’t play live music, so it’s actually hard in Shanghai to see the kind of music I like. I’m not sure if metal is really a Shanghai thing.
I really like food in Shanghai. Spicy food. South Memory
used to be my favorite but now I go to Guyi
on Fumin and Julu Lu that’s really good. And really clean too. I like to get the fish head and frog legs. Also, Dongbei Ren. It’s comfort food for me.
in Jing’an Park-— I think their steamed fish is really good. Everything there is really good. I love all kinds of food. This is part of the reason I like to travel — everywhere — I love Thailand, I love Europe. I travel a lot for tattoo conventions. Last year we went to about six. There are two conventions in Shanghai coming up: one at the end of August, one in September.
I really like to swim in my free time at Mr. and Mrs. Fitness
. It’s good to swim and move after hunching over a tattoo all day. When I started, I was working like crazy, morning to night. Sometimes when I would stand up my legs were really sore, but I was younger so I would stretch and feel alright. Now I’m realizing I’m getting more back pain, so I try to stay active out of the shop. I also like to make sculptures and mess around with the guitar.
Shanghai is a really cool dynamic city with a lot of opportunities. But I don’t have a yard here, which I don’t like, and the environment isn’t good enough to have a dog.
I’ll probably end up moving so I can get myself a pit bull.