An Interview with Woohwa about her Remarkable Fine-Line Tattoos

engraving like tattoo on arm, fine line blackwork

Korean culture has significantly contributed to the world through cinema, music, and cuisine. Likely an element of the “Korean Wave,” which debuted in popular culture in the late 1990s, this “Wave” has now entered its third generation. Their diligence, abundance of talent, and consistency have earned them a stellar reputation. The same characteristics are exhibited by the emerging generation of South Korean tattoo artists who are progressively gaining international prominence, including the esteemed individuals Sol, Oozy, and Mr K. Today, we feature Woohwa, who is part of the “Wave” and will undoubtedly make a big name for herself if she continues tattooing at current caliber.

Woohwa, now 29 years old, once majored in art in college and started learning how to tattoo right after graduating. She became a professional in the craft in 2017 and has explored several different tattoo themes over time until defining a consistent black-ink floral and fauna style. A bit reminiscent of European engraving art, she is spot-on with the design placement on the body and enjoys large-scale projects.

Above: Woohwa inked delicate tulips in an engraving style.
fine line black ink floral tattoo on black
Elegant and painstaking floral work done on the client’s back.

What led to fine-line black ink?

Tattooing is mainly black because the richness between the thin lines of monochrome is attractive. But sometimes, I work on color tattoos when I have ideas for color work or when I think the color suggested by the customer is beautiful.

Snake and flower tattoo on back, fine line art
A traditional tattoo theme, snake and flowers in fine-line needles.

What needle sizes do you use?

Most black work uses 35/1 RLLT. As for color work, I use various needle sizes.

goldfish fine line tattoo, black ink
A portion of a larger leg piece embellished with goldfish and flowers.

Describe your nature themes and the scale of your work.

I depict various natural elements, including snakes and peonies, but my favorite things are tulips and irises. I work on them in different sizes, usually larger than 25 centimeters [9.8 inches].

The most attractive thing about tattoos is that they are drawn on human skin. The human body has various straight and curved lines. A person only has one body of skin with limits on how much can be added. Usually, each person can only put one picture to a body part. Working on a big tattoo is more fun than a smaller one because I’m making a special customized suit for that person. When I tattoo, I imagine designing clothing that can be worn for the rest of my life, and with this in mind, I begin making my tattoos larger.

flower tattoo on knee
Woohwa’s curlicues, flow and great placement of tattoo.

You mentioned that you “watch and take care of yours plants at home.” Does watching them grow help with the graphics and movement of your designs?

When I see plants growing in the house, I can see them grow the way they want—more than I thought. Depending on where I place it, the outer leaves get bigger or longer on the sides, depending on the season. These are very helpful guidelines when drawing them. Seeing natural plants, I had an idea and could draw more freely and creatively.

plant in pot
One of the plants at the tattoo studio where she works.

Is your home filled with many plants? What are your favorite?

I live in a small house, so I don’t grow many plants. I have eight pots of different types. My favorite plant is the dwarf umbrella tree. It was so cute that I took pictures of my pots at the studio (see above).

lily flower tattooed on chest
Standout, exquisitely positioned lilies on the body.

Are the designs typically applied freehand to the clients’ bodies?

I usually freehand, but I use elements that require a lot of detail in a small operation and may also use stencils.

flowers and snake fine line blackwork on back
Intricate integration of blossoms and serpent.

How important is having drawing skills for tattooing?

It is important to draw imagery continuously since the human body is curved; the higher the understanding of the artwork, the higher the level of completion to create a good tattoo composition.

octopus and flower tattoo on thigh
The octopus can symbolize intelligence, awareness, and regeneration.

I see Asian and European influences in your art. What are some of the artists or paintings that have inspired you?

Defining a particular artist or something that has influenced me is hard. If I have to find out what I’m most influenced by work, it’s just legends and myths that I saw and heard since I was young.

I’ve been tattooing for almost seven years. I liked antique elements for the first three years of my career—inspired by old European furniture and fairy tale books such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or Aesop’s Fables. Then, I became interested in Asian mythology. I was also interested in Japanese Ukiyoe and Korean traditional buildings and patterns, so I added them to the existing artwork. So, rather than expressing a country’s culture, I mix various elements without prejudice. I was interested in the story of the West and the East and worked on combining the two aspects.

Recently, my favorite theme is enjoying dismantling and recombining things in nature and representing them as new forms of flowers. I illustrate a whole new plant by bringing together different leaves and stem flower parts. It is based on existing plants, all created from imagination and combining elements.

korean tattooer woohwa
Tattoo artist Woohwa is originally from Daejeon, South Korea.

Are you planning on doing bodysuits?

I’m ready to do it whenever I have a chance.

How many sessions and hours would you need to complete a bodysuit?

It depends on the other person’s skin condition, the size of the person, and the design, but if you work on the design you’re pursuing now, it will take 7 hours a day, about ten days. 

Photos © Woohwa