The Skin You Live In


A tattoo can either be a permanent art piece or an expensive mistake, and which category it falls under depends on who's tattooing you and how you wear it (e.g., Freja’s delicate ink compared to the girl with an indecipherable lower-back tat falling off her barstool in Cabo).

I first came across Canyon Castator’s work at Saturday’s last February, where his zine, an elegant, pocket-sized book containing 36 of his ink-on-skin drawings [1,2,3,4], was for sale amongst a bunch of surf magazines. (Note: It came with a temporary tattoo depicting a bull and toreador [5], which I promptly slapped on my bicep and felt very cool about, which hasn't happened with me and a temporary tattoo since the third grade.) A few weeks later, I attended a party where I saw him stationed at the end of a massive line of guests waiting to get tattooed on the spot (dear reader, I chickened out) [6], and I couldn’t decide if I was more impressed by his oil paintings [7], his impeccable free-hand drawings—some framed on the wall, some mid-completion under the tattoo gun, some already on bodies walking around the party, long-finished, or only just done, still red and slicked with protective balm—or his complete and utter calm under pressure. I’ve been following his career via his website and his tumblr, and his paintings (and tattoos) keep getting better. I recently asked him to tell me about the jump from fine art to skin art:

“I don't consider myself a tattoo artist," he said. (He thinks of himself as a painter, first and foremost.) "Like any medium, tattooing possesses its own visual language...I was drawn to the un-translatability of it. My early attempts [at tattooing] were trial and error. I was unfamiliar with the techniques and uninterested in the imagery. In experimenting, I found a correlation in techniques I had developed with pen-and-ink drawings. The shorter, nearly instinctual marks were easily reproduced with the machine, creating that weightless, sketch-like aesthetic.”

Positively painterly.

—Alessandra Codinha

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  • Lindsay Sue

    His work is beautiful. Reminds me of some of Picasso's line drawings.

    Also, is that painting of the girl who models for OC?

  • Alice

    I've never really wanted to get a tattoo that badly but wow...
    There's something so delicate and graceful about his work.
    It's so gentle and not in your face like a good deal of tattoos are.
    I like them!
    I want one of those temporary tattoos now :)

    The Ace of Hearts

  • Jessica

    Sorry mum. Tattoos are growing on me.
    (Who am I kidding, they'd grow on her too after seeing his work!)
    The Lovelorn

  • Adeola Naomi Aderemi

    His works are wonderful, I specifically love his tattoo, wish I can get inked by him.
    pffff wishful thinking

  • kate moss daily

    I respect tattoo artists, but I can't help but feel like a tattoo is always, at least in part, a sign of someone else's mark on your body. It's associated with them as much as the recipient. And when someone so famous does your ink, the tattoo really does signify them more than you. I wouldn't get a tattoo for that reason, but I appreciate the ones other people have, and the artistry that goes into the craft.

  • girl with real tattoos

    i have some old school tattoos. and because of the way this was written, now i feel like this site is written for a different target of people. feeling uncomfortable in my own skin is not what i'm looking for when i visit this site, on the contrary. so, thanks a lot.

    • Aboooorah

      i don't feel like they intended to offend any one.. and who's to say your tattoo is any more "real" than theirs.

      Anyway, I personally would never get a tattoo and yet on some people it looks amazing and makes them more attractive (adam levine hello!) and on others i just wish they'd get rid of it

    • Pixie

      As a person with a lot of so- called traditional tattoos, I can't find anything offensive about this post .I find this artist's style interesting but won't want it on my skin. I'm sure his clients won't feel uncomfortable in their skin because some people don't like it..