Yelselogy, Singapore’s Emerging Tattoo Artist

Dark art tattoo with skeleton on back by yelselogy from singapore

Yelselogy has a Bachelor of Arts in Visual Communication from the School of Art, Design, and Media at NTU in Singapore and an MA in Visual Sociology from Goldsmiths, University of London. Worked as a freelance illustrator and graphic designer for a few years, creating backgrounds and photo props for a photo-booth firm, but found she wasn’t satisfied with this work or additional academic degrees and had always desired to become a tattoo artist but didn’t know where to begin. Upon seeing an online application for an apprentice position at Shane Tan’s Feather Cloud Tattoo, Yelselogy submitted her application without any prior tattooing experience and was approved. Her artistic abilities wowed tattoo master Tan, and she has been a member of his crew since 2021.

This interview details Yelselogy’s beginnings in the tattoo industry, Shane Tan’s reasoning for choosing her over other candidates, how she has been streamlining her drawings to body art, and much more.

Above: Yelselogy’s dark art back piece.
stork tattoo flash, digital art
A digital sketch of storks that were later tattooed.

Why did you decide to become a tattoo artist?

I discovered tattoos on Instagram around 2012, when I was 19. I was fascinated by dotwork and stippled shading. I loved dark tattoos with animal and human skulls, geometry, and surreal images. At that time, I was intrigued by Chaim Machlev’s (aka DotsToLines) tattoos because geometric shapes and lines could flow across large body areas. I drew a tattoo-like style for years with black outlines and stippled shading. While reluctantly working toward becoming a graphic designer, I made tattoo-like drawings in my free time. I was too intimidated to think about becoming a tattooer at the time due to my lack of knowledge about tattooing (and my lack of tattoos). Tattoos and becoming a tattooer were always on my mind. Looking back, I wanted my older illustrations as tattoos. I’ve always thought it would be an honour to have someone wear my drawings forever.

stork, illustrative tattoos on legs by yelselogy
The tattooed version of Yelselogy’s delightful storks.

When did you apprentice under tattoo legend Shane Tan?

When I discovered that Feather Cloud Tattoo was looking for a new apprentice, I emailed my application in February 2021. I don’t think I told any people in my life that I applied until I received Shane’s reply. I’ve kept this first email thread with Shane in my inbox so I know the exact date. I started my apprenticeship with Shane in March 2021. I wrote down the dates I started and graduated from my apprenticeship—when I first tattooed on the skin, and when I bought my first machine. Shane mentioned that I might like to look back on these dates in the future, and I am happy they are recorded.

preliminary drawings
Drafts for an illustration project.

When you applied for an apprenticeship, Shane Tan recalls, “I saw her sketchbook, and it blew my mind. She presented some really impressive finished artworks, but that thick sketchbook got me interested.” What drawings are these?

These sketches are quick drafts for larger pencil drawings I made before my apprenticeship at Feather Cloud Tattoo. I also showed the final drawings to Shane, but he did mention finding the sketches even more interesting because it shows the thought process behind the finished work.

I learned to do “thumbnail” sketches quickly and loosely to overcome the feeling of uncertainty when I see a blank page. Usually, I will do multiple rough sketches until I arrive at a good composition. From there, I’ll make faint lines to mark out the final illustration as close to the shape of the sketch as I can and draw it in more cleanly. Because those sketches are background work for me, I don’t think I’ll bring that drawing style into the tattoos I do. They are not always legible in the way I would like my tattoos to be. Sketching is almost like a way of note-taking to me. However, sketching like this continues to be part of my process in drawing tattoos because I often work with loose drawings and clean them up to create the final tattoo designs.

beautiful pencil drawings by yelselogy
Yelselogy’s exquisite pencil sketch.

Tan also said you were chosen because “I see massive potential in Yelselogy. She’s a gentle human with a huge talent. She pushes herself too hard sometimes, but that’s a good thing. Intensity is always good for growth. She tolerates all our nonsense and does her own thing while the entire studio explodes in chaos.”

I push myself a lot because I want to improve, and I often feel conscious that there’s more to be discovered and more knowledge to gain. But I would also like to have a sustained career and not experience long periods of creative burnout or physical pain. So I’m learning to pace myself and alternate periods of pushing myself, sometimes resting a little.

A day at Feather Cloud Tattoo is often full of jokes and positive chaos! It’s work, but a lot of the time, it’s fun too. I’m a quiet person by nature, so I don’t always have jokes to contribute, but I’ll be doing my own thing and laughing to myself. It’s a positive environment, and I am delighted to be here.

A tribute to Phantom Limb s album Pig Destroyer
A tribute to Phantom Limb’s album “Pig Destroyer.”

What are some of the critical aspects you have learned from your mentor?

I learned from Shane that a tattooer must love tattooing. I can see how much Shane loves his craft and how this love translates into learning as much as possible and giving it time, effort, and energy. It’s inspiring to see his passion. Growing my love for tattooing and seeing how Shane dedicates himself to it helped me through my apprenticeship’s technical and creative challenges. I want to keep learning about tattooing because of this love. It keeps the fire burning and inspires me to enjoy all aspects of work. Shane has also taught me the importance of having a solid point of view about your work. He once said to me that others could copy what you do but not how you think. This sounds simple, but it’s incisive! Many tattooed subjects are universal, but translating these shared themes through one’s distinct perspective is special to each individual. Shane shared with me that he made a major transition from his older tattoo work to what he does today, prioritising simplicity, boldness, and longevity. He has strong reasoning behind changing his work in this way. I am a very young tattooer, but I hope my work will always contain a kernel of my unique perspective, no matter how it changes over the years.

I was stressed while learning to tattoo on the skin. I felt ashamed that after years of drawing, I couldn’t make a good tattoo that someone would have to wear forever. I know tattooing and drawing skills are not necessarily transferable, but my mind was weighed down by this constantly. Shane would always remind me that tattooing should be a joyful craft, and even though it’s good to take it seriously, there has to be some fun. He is my mentor, and I’m grateful!

Intricate sleeves made with black ink, album tribute
Intricate sleeves made with black ink.

Looking at your drawings and illustrative work, you already were doing black outlines and stippling shading, which transfers quite well to art on the skin.

I illustrated with Micron pens and black outlines and stippling. Until 2017 or 2018, I did this. I was inspired by Instagram posts of dark and surreal dotwork tattoos. Stippling by hand hurt my wrist, so I stopped doing it around 2020. It is uncomfortable to work with the vibrations and weight of a tattoo machine. Even though I rarely do illustrations in this style anymore, I appreciate the time I spent doing it because it helped me improve my tattooing hand!

In my brief, I wanted to focus on the tension between beautiful and grotesque. Visually, I love Romantic, Baroque, Rococo, and Renaissance paintings. When drawing with pencils, I do a lot of rough “thumbnails” in pen to force myself to commit to shapes, and I’ll create the final drawing on paper by doing a light sketch to place all the elements and then slowly draw the details in. I don’t think my colour sense is very good, so I colour my scanned sketches on my iPad to allow me to choose colours that go together slowly.

My tattoo work is not the same as my pencil work because I love to cram my pencil drawings with small details, and I’ve learned that this is unsuitable for tattooing. It took some time for me to figure out how to bring my style to tattooing because the way I draw and tattoo is different. I “line” my drawings in a slow colouring motion with the pencil.

At the moment, my favorite thing to include in my tattoos, regardless of the subject matter, is skin breaks. Depending on what my client has asked for, not everything I do for work can be entirely in my wheelhouse (and I also feel that it’s good for me at this stage to take on many different types of projects). Still, I hope that how I create tattoos carries the essence of how I think and interpret things visually.

snake and flower tattoo flash
Yelselogy’s fun and creative tattoo flash.

Do you plan on maintaining an illustrative tattoo style or facing significant changes with time?

My work will evolve as I gain more knowledge and experience. I will always enjoy doing illustrative tattoos because illustration is a lifelong passion of mine. However, I would also like to keep the door open to many styles of tattooing. For example, exposure to Japanese tattooing through working with Shane has also given me a much wider appreciation of the craft than when I was looking at Instagram. I’m still at a stage where I think I should try to broaden my visual and technical repertoire and learn as much as I can. The possibilities are a bit overwhelming, but not in a bad way—there’s a lot to discover still, and that’s exciting. The voice behind the work being genuine is what I would like to hold on to, no matter how my work evolves!

death related tattoo by yelselogy
A depiction of death inked in lines and dots.

Your art has various literary inspirations, including Anne Rice and Stephen King. Tell a little about your book inspirations and how you translate a quote/story into visuals.

Art and writing are both forms of creative expression that can be cathartic and help articulate and process different emotions. I wanted to draw my love of reading. I sometimes look through my notebooks or phone for quotes from books I like to get ideas for my next drawing. I also use lyrics from my favorite songs as inspiration. Here is an example of a flash illustration I made with a book quote in mind.  I find this quote whimsical but also dark and more realistic, and less flowery in its depiction of love (the part about how the iceberg loves the ship gets me because that brings to mind the sinking of the Titanic, which was a terrible disaster—it makes me think about how some types of love and some relationships can be self-destructive). I wanted to create a whimsical illustration incorporating these nautical images and the idea of desperate love. The female figure’s head includes hands, which I hope conveys a pining feeling. I placed the ship sinking in the middle of the head to symbolize love’s “sinking.” I want to create more literature-inspired tattoos after sharing this piece!

animals and eyes tattoo flash
More tattoo flash of creatures and human eyes.

What are the five best novels (or series) you have read?

This question is difficult because I’ve enjoyed many books and series. But, if forced to choose only five, one of the five has to be “A Series of Unfortunate Events” by Lemony Snicket. It’s a children’s series about three orphaned siblings. Many of the allusions to literature, writers, and poets can be enjoyed by adults, which is why I still love this series a lot. I feel that the series paints a more realistic picture of what the world can be like, where things are not necessarily fair, adults aren’t necessarily helpful, and sometimes there is no right decision to be discovered. The illustrations by Brett Helquist are also so distinct and enchanting.

I also enjoyed “The Scar” by China Miéville and “The Lord of the Rings” by JRR Tolkien. Both are epics but in different ways, and I’ve re-read both many times. “The Scar” is a bit more sci-fi and dystopic, and I enjoy how it’s written. The language used is very evocative. “The Lord of the Rings” is a series I re-read almost every year, and I notice different things about it. I feel that it’s written with great economy of language, but I still find it beautiful. It’s something I like to read, especially during times in which I feel like I’m unsure of the direction I’m going in.

“The Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Záfon has to be included. Unfortunately, I can’t read the Spanish original, but the English translation is beautifully conveyed. It was a book I discovered accidentally because I misheard the title of a book recommendation I received! I’ve saved many quotes from it, but I often wonder if reading the English translation is not quite the experience the author intended.

The last book to round off my top 5 is “House of Leaves” by Mark Z Danielewski. It’s difficult to classify, and I like it mostly for its strange construction. Reading it was an experience because it contains narratives within narratives, and some of its page layouts are utterly strange and disorienting. One of the main stories in “House of Leaves” is about a house that is larger on the inside compared to its measurements on the outside, which is reflected in how the book is constructed (with its odd page layouts and multiple narratives).

hot rod flame tattoo by yelselogy
A flame in hot-rod style.

What other interests do you have?

I used to do rock climbing a lot, both indoors and outdoors. One of my best memories is climbing outdoors in the Isle of Portland, England, with friends. We climbed several routes near the coast and in a quarry, and the time spent hiking to the crag and being out in nature was lovely. I’ve since stopped climbing regularly because I’m wary of injuring my fingers and wrists. But I’ll go to the climbing gym with friends once in a blue moon for fun.

Since I started tattooing, I’ve taken to running. I didn’t enjoy it initially, but it was one of the more time-efficient exercise methods after work. After going for a run became routine, I began to enjoy running to different places and running for longer distances. The act of running helps me to organise my thoughts. I recently managed to lengthen my longest runs to 10km. This is a big achievement because I could never do more than 3km in my teens and early twenties! Running also helps with mental stamina, which is useful for work. I’ve taken up Barre lately to improve my posture, which is beneficial when tattooing for long periods of time.

I’ve also been working on knitting garments for the past few months—I am new to it, but it’s been very therapeutic to have another creative hobby that has nothing to do with drawing.

tattooer yelselogy in paris, france
Yelselogy in Paris, preparing to attend Tattoo Planetarium 2022.

What is something the public doesn’t know about you?

I like instant ramen. I do instant ramen night at home every week and add many ingredients. Whenever I say it’s instant ramen night, people assume it’s just ramen, seasoning, and water, but I’ll put in tofu, vegetables, and other ingredients. It’s almost a ritual at this point!

Photos © Yelselogy