A tattoo is more than just a picture or ornament slapped onto a random part of our bodies—it’s an element of identity, a social announcement that explains who we are, what we stand for, and many other things about us.
Tattooist Sion Kwak from South Korea uses this very form of art to tell these very stories of identity, beliefs, tradition, culture, and values. She creates delicate tattoo designs of knots and tassels that are like no other, displaying traditional Korean motifs in tattoo form.
Bored Panda got in touch with Sion for an exclusive interview, which you can find below along with a list of her best works throughout the years. Vote and comment on the ones you loved the most!
Sion Kwak is a tattoo artist from South Korea who uses knots, tassels, string, beads, and traditional Korean motifs to tell people’s stories. For her, tattoos are a unique form of expression that may look like a piece of decoration or an ornament to some, but is more of a way of self-expression of one’s creativity, values, passions, and whatnot.
“As I was expressing what I love and value on the skin, people started to show interest and love towards it, which is what kept me going!” elaborated Sion. “This is why I also spend a lot of time studying the symbols and significance included in my work, so the stories of my clients can be best expressed through a specific design. I’m very thankful for everyone showing support and love to my work.”
“There’s an old story that I’ve liked since I was a kid about red strings,” Sion told the story of what inspired her unique, delicate, and intricate tattoo style. “Specifically, the story tells how people who are connected by red strings will continue to stay connected, no matter what hardships and obstacles they may face in life.”
“This is what inspired me at first, and what became the starting point of the works that I focus on now. Since then, the knots, strings and their flow in my work have been linked to one’s life and ‘Yin-Yeon,’ which is a Korean word meaning the ‘ties’ between us—the life we live, the small to major events we go through every day in life, all sorts of people that we meet, etc.”
“So, now, my inspiration is stories of life that I hear and my clients that I meet, who are also the ones sharing those stories. By listening to their stories and communicating thoroughly, I can get creative and come up with different ideas that would later be put into my drawings.”
In Sion’s case, the process of creating a tattoo is reminiscent of reading one’s aura or life force and then interpreting that essence in tattoo form:
“As mentioned before, since my knots and strings are closely linked to life, stories of different individuals and the ties between people, I like to listen to my client’s story first. For example, the flow of strings, shape of the knots, and the elements included inside a pendant all hold different meanings. For this reason, I tend to create designs after listening to what they value or want to express.”
“Then, I prepare a rough sketch for the design that would later be adjusted to the client’s body on the day we meet. This is because a lot of my designs have strings in them, where the flow could differ by different individuals, considering the shape of one’s body.”
“So, I begin the work after checking the placement once more on that day and making changes to the design. The rest of the process is similar to any other tattoo processes! As for the duration, it depends on the placement, size, and design. In my case, it takes around 4-7 hours on average, including the preparation time.”
As you might have guessed already, tattoos aren’t easy. Not just because it requires artistic skill and talent, but also because whatever you ink into somebody’s body pretty much stays there forever, unless they can both afford and want to go through laser removal procedures.
Sion highlights some of her challenges when doing tattoos
“The part that I’m mostly focused on, along with creating the design, is ‘interpreting the placement’ (creating the design in consideration of the placement and placing it accordingly). This is the part that requires the most attention since most of my designs have the ‘flow,’ which can go onto individuals’ bodies differently considering the specific placement, the design’s composition, flow, shape of the muscles, body movement, etc. This is why I focus heavily on selection of placement and modifying designs accordingly. I think this is a very important process, which is also why I spend a lot of time on this process on the day I meet with the client.”
When it comes to picking out a favorite tattoo, Sion says it’s hard to say. The attachment she has to all of these unique stories told through tattoos is strong, and she cherishes these creations as well as the relationships she has formed with the people she worked with throughout the years.
“But if I must pick one, though it’s difficult, it’d be the ‘Eunjangdo’ work that I did for my mother. ‘Eunjangdo’ is a type of silver knife or norigae historically worn in Korea, and the specific Eunjangdo that I drew on my mother’s leg is placed in a sheath decorated with two dragons on the back. Although the actual knife is not shown (since it’s placed inside a sheath), this design represents ‘inner strength’ and I also wanted this design to be a token of ‘protection,’ just like a charm.”
If you enjoyed this, why not drop Sion a follow on her Instagram, or if you’re ever in South Korea and are thinking of getting a delicate tattoo, drop her a line. She seems to have gone international after some of her artwork was featured in various online media outlets and foreigners started requesting tattoos to be done by her. But before you go, let us know what you think about this in the comment section below!
Note: this post originally had 50 images. It’s been shortened to the top 30 images based on user votes.