Words by: Anni Irish
Pictures by: Jamie Meditz
On Monday afternoon I was greeted at the door of tattoo artist Rueben Kayden‘s studio.
Walking into Kayden’s space felt as if I had been transported to Asia.
The vibrant orange walls of the front room were covered with his art and many other Asian influenced pieces. Kayden, who has been tattooing within the greater Boston area since 1999, is also mastering the art of Tebori, traditional Japanese hand poked tattooing. Since 2008, Kayden has been traveling yearly to Japan to study under Tabori master Horimyo for a month at a time.
Over green tea Kayden and I discussed Tebori, American tattooing, and his double life as a Cambridge based tattoo artist at Chameleon Tattoo in Harvard Square and Tebori apprentice. Kayden’s love of both tattooing and Japanese culture became apparent over the course of the conversation. We discussed some of the of the main differences between American and Tebori style tattooing. Kayden pointed out that stylistically the approaches to American tattooing and Tebori tattooing are very different.
Within American tattooing there is extra movement that is created through the use of the machine, “wasted movements” Kayden referred to it as.
Because of the hand application of Tebori, this tries to eliminate some of the movement through the process. In general a Tebori artist has more control over their bamboo tool because they are physically applying pressure, while a tattoo machine pierces the skin hundreds of times a second.
Here is a video of Rueben Kayden doing Tebori
Another major difference between the two styles is how one becomes involved within it. Within Japanese tattoo culture, to be a master of Tebori, you are considered a very elite member of the tattoo community. Typically a person is either born into a family who has done it for generations or learns the skill through apprenticing. For Kayden, his introduction to his Japanese “tattoo family” came through correspondences between him and tattoo book shop owner Crystal Morey, owner of “Gomineko” in Tokyo, Japan. Morey organizes Japanese tattoo tours which include visits to various Tebori masters in addition to other tattoo artists. It was on one of these tours in 2008, where Kayden witnessed Tebori in person wanted to learn more. Kayden’s relationship with Tebori master Horimyo grew from this experience and his desire to learn this skill increased.
I had the pleasure of watching Kayden work recently at his studio and was able to see Tebori being done first hand. The process itself involves a hand made bamboo tool that is dipped into ink and rests on the artist’s thumb.
From here quick movements are made to insert the ink under the skin and this action is repeated thousands of times until the tattoo is complete.
Because this kind of tattooing is incredibly labor intensive, it often takes longer to complete than getting tattooed with a machine. Fellow tattoo enthusiast Nic Cartier, who has been tattooed by Kayden for several years happened to be getting Tebori done the day I visited Kayden’s studio. Cartier laid comfortably on the floor of the studio with a pillow under his head, while Kayden worked. Cartier was getting a chrysanthemum, which is a sign of change within Japanese culture.
When asked if it hurt more than the regular way of tattooing, Cartier said he preferred “this way more because it’s less painful.” Although Kayden is still mastering the art of Tebori it is something that he will go far with. Kayden is an incredibly talented tattoo artist which is apparent from his portfolio and those who know him well. His passion for Tebori and willingness to start from the beginning to learn this ancient trade will only aid in his future successes.
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