Sop, a native of Seoul, has been tattooing since 2016 and has a private studio in the South Korean city. His delicate line-art technique depicts his inner kid with whimsical, flowing lines. Sop aspires to be as proficient with line drawing as the renowned French cartoonist Jean-Jacques Sempé (1932–2022), known for many children’s books. Using black ink and a single needle, Sop consistently tattoos his customers with pleasant sketches of nature and self-affirming statements.
Over stretch marks, Sop’s flowery linework.
Musical notes in black ink.
What year did you start tattooing professionally?
After being discharged from the army in November 2015, I began learning how to make tattoos properly in 2016. I immediately opened my studio after three months of training. It was exciting and enjoyable, but paying the rent with only tattoo work was difficult at first. So I worked as a tattoo artist and did another six-month part-time job. However, I became financially stable relatively quickly and have done nothing but tattoos.
Sop’s minimalist and airy South Korean studio.
Are there painters and illustrators who have influenced your line art?
I’ve loved Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat since high school. Looking at their scribble or repetitive drawings, I could always feel the innocence of returning to my childhood. After I started tattooing, I was greatly influenced by the work of Jean-Jacques Sempé, an illustrator from France. His drawings are rough and smooth, and his lines have a distinct charm. Looking at Jean-Jacques Sempé’s drawings, I imagined myself with a similar line.
Elegant line art on the collarbone.
Do you provide micro tattoos, which are more inconspicuous in Korean culture?
Most of my clients are new to getting tattoos. Each has different reasons, but I believe the main reason for requesting me to make a “little tattoo” is because it is less scary [in terms of commitment]. I try to make small, pretty, accessory-looking tattoos so that no one feels uncomfortable. Also, I can have more clients daily because it takes less time to produce.
Sop’s portfolio is filled with numbers and letters.
You know that thin tattoos might become cover-ups with time, right?
Thin tattoos should be done with extreme caution. The flesh may burst, or the ink may spread as the needle penetrates deeper into the skin. I’m always nervous when working and keeping the proper depth. Thin lines don’t look as sharp as thick ones, which means the ink may fade over time, but it can always be retouched. Also, since each person has different skin characteristics, working with thin lines does not necessarily mean that the ink fades and disappears. And some people take these reasons as a particular advantage and attractiveness of thin tattoos. They like the unique feel that can only come from thin lines. For those worried about pigmentation fading, I am uploading an example of well-healed tattoo on my Instagram account.
A subtle bouquet is produced in fine lines.
You must have a stable hand and incredible sight; doing such lines is quite hard.
A small and thin line tattoo requires a lot of concentration. Of course, hand stability and visual ability are essential, but lighting is the most crucial thing personally. If the lighting is not bright enough and does not illuminate the desired area at the correct angle, even the needle cannot be seen, which causes major disruption to work. So I adjust the perfect angle of the lights before I start working. Another part of my process is finishing the task as quickly as possible with high concentration. Concentrating on a small area for a long time lowers my concentration, so I pay attention every moment to create a result through maximum concentration in a short time. It usually takes about 15-30 minutes to make a tattoo.
This arrangement of sky and terrain emphasizes simplicity.
Which tattoo designs do you like doing the most?
I love moon and star images, and I also love handwritten lettering tattoos. Although not for everyone, most lettering tattoos use an image of text written using fonts on the computer. But I do handwritten script tattoos. When a client tells me what they want, I write about 10-20 letters until I come up with handwriting that I am satisfied with. Even if it is the same word or the same sentence, I write custom handwriting every time. For a long time, I thought cursive typefaces and handwriting were cool, so I practiced and enjoyed calligraphy by self-study. Now, this has become my own identity.
Written in Portuguese is “Self Love.”
Your tattoos, such as “self love” in script and plenty of heart shapes, are uplifting. Do tattoos empower and assist your clients in their daily lives?
Many people put meaning into their tattoos. In particular, I think that lettering tattoos are one of the genres that can contain the purpose most intuitively. Each person engraves lettering about a situation, person, or object they want to remember. Among them, “Love Yourself” contains the meaning of accepting oneself as they are, so I think it can give sympathy and positive intention to many people. In addition, my clients engrave words and positive sentences into their bodies, which can give them strength. In making these sentences with my handwriting, the bond between the client and me seems to deepen.
Korean tattooer Sop prepping a stencil for a tattoo.
What are your future objectives?
Using my experience teaching students in high school, I want to teach people who want to be tattoo artists, especially those who want to work on thin tattoos like my work. Also, if there is an opportunity, I would like to give a lecture that introduces and informs students about the profession of a tattoo artist in a positive way.
Photos © Sop