Dressed in a comfortable sweater with cartoon animal prints, Yeaji Lim sets to work tattooing her first customer of the day, inking tiny mermaid scales into her arm. The Korean tattooist sees customers by appointment only in a cozy studio filled with cheery collectibles that she shares with her sister and a friend. Lim’s tattoos feature thin black linework with restrained splashes of bright color and a revolving cast of cats and manga-style schoolgirls.
韩国文身师 Yeaji Lim 穿着舒适的卡通动物图案毛衣，准备给今天的第一位顾客文身，在她的手臂上文上精致的美人鱼图案。Yeaji 只在工作室里与预约好的顾客碰面，这间工作室是她和姐姐、朋友一起开的，里面摆满了各种有趣的收藏品。她的文身是黑色细线勾勒的图案，偶尔点缀几抹明亮色彩，猫和漫画风格的女学生都是会经常出现的角色。
Lim was raised in a creative household—one parent was an art teacher and the other a comic book store manager—so she’s been drawing for most of her life and as a child read manga every day. Tattoos were an unexpected passion. After a friend of hers started inking, Lim was drawn into the world, eventually tattooing her first piece onto a stranger in 2017. Despite the stigma that tattoos have with older generations in Korea, her family is supportive. “My parents trust me because I’ve got a job that I really like.” She’s even inspired her older sister to follow in her footsteps.
Yeaji 自小在充满创意的家庭长大，她的父母分别是艺术老师和漫画书店经理，所以她很早就开始画画，小时候每天都会看漫画。喜欢上文身也是出于偶然。她的一个朋友开始文身后，Yeaji 也对此开始产生了兴趣，2017 年，她第一次为陌生人文身。尽管大多数老一辈的韩国人对文身还持有偏见，但她的家人却很支持。“我父母信任我，因为我做着自己真正喜欢的工作。”如此影响下，她姐姐也加入了文身的工作。
Lim’s tattoos are all custom-made. When customers approach her, she asks them what type of design they’re looking for, and together they discuss options. She sets about drawing, and three days before their booking, she shows them a sketch for their approval and adjusts the design as necessary.
Like many of her peers in the country, Lim specializes in smaller tattoos, something that Korea is globally renowned for. “Most Korean tattoo artists have delicate hands,” she laughs, trying to explain why they’re so popular. She adds that the style is fitting for female tattooists, who are very prominent in the scene. “Korean women have talented fairy hands, so they’re suitable for tattooing!” she says.“I also think female emotions are very strong and complicated. When I work, I’m always inspired by my feelings.” Her delicate lines and cute style appeal mainly to women, who make up 90 percent of her clients. Fellow artists like Zihwa think these effeminate pieces can help break the stigma against tattoos.
和许多当地同行一样，Yeaji 比较擅长精致小巧的文身，这也是韩国最受欢迎的文身风格。在解释为什么这种风格的文身这么红时，她笑着说：“大多数韩国文身师都有一双细腻的手。”她补充道，这种风格比较适合女性文身师，而她们是当地文身行业很重要的一个群体。“韩国女性双手比较灵巧，所以很适合文身！” 她说，“除此之外，女性的情感一般比较强烈而复杂。譬如我在工作时，总是会受到内心情感的触动。”她细腻的线条和可爱的风格比较吸引女性客户，她 90% 的客户也都是女性。另一名韩国文身师 Zihwa 就认为，这些充满活力的作品可以帮助打破人们对文身的偏见。
Despite Korea’s growing reputation for talented tattoo artists, tattooing is still illegal there. Many of the country’s top celebrities have plenty of tattoos but still cover them when appearing on television. Song Gang-seop, head of the Korea Tattoo Association, says that enforcement is arbitrary, and you can never tell when police will crackdown. After his shop was shuttered by authorities last year, he started the Instagram campaign “Does this look illegal?” to advocate changing the law. Hundreds of Korean tattoo artists joined in.
Luckily, neither Lim nor any of her friends have encountered any legal troubles yet, but they keep their guard up just in case. “I’m always worried I might be arrested,” Lim says. “It’s a big problem in my life, because it’s constant. Every tattoo artist is treated as a potential criminal. It’s sad.”