Monday, June 10, 2013

Fudo Myo-o

Well I think I might finally be ready to get back to this blog. It's been a very non stop last year with a new baby, moving to a temporary space for six months then setting up the brand new studio (which I couldn't be happier with...), and travel and reoccurring hand and back issues and basically just trying to keep up with life...
I've definitely still been maintaining a full tattoo schedule through it all and getting to focus on some really fun and interesting new projects.  Near the top of the list is this new backpiece of Mr. Fudo Myo-o.  This has definitely been the heaviest piece I've done in a long time.  Fudo has certainly been a popular Japanese tattoo motif for a long time (especially for a full back) and the more I started my preparations for the piece, and the more of a connection and understanding I formed around him, the more I can see why.  And as a side note I have to say...I really do admire and appreciate it when a client wanting a large "traditional" style Japanese piece goes with one of the "classics".  I think that a a lot of times people can have a desire to try and modernize some of these traditional themes, either by throwing several of them together to form more of a collage, or some how tweaking out or adding their own spin on it to make it more literally symbolic of their personal life.  Not that there is necessarily anything wrong with this at all, just realizing more and more that I'm straying away from wanting to blend themes and genres.  I think it's better to approach the image selection in a slightly more abstract way, understanding that no one picture can sum up your whole being.  It generally serves to water down the overall impact and strength of the tattoo.  I think this is truest of a backpiece, which has the most visual impact of any tattoo on the body.
I've always hoped to do a Fudo backpiece, and it's been a  fun, but fairly intense process getting it all together.  Firstly, he's a Buddhist icon, a protector deity in esoteric Japanese Buddhism, which lends a pretty serious air to it right up front.  Neither the recipient nor myself is a practicing Buddhist, so on one level I am fairly sensitive to wanting to do the image justice (not to mention in it's on a fellow tattooer).  I do believe though that it is possible to tap into the energy of the image and deity itself during the drawing and tattooing...and being respectful to its origins and importance to a lot of people, it's entirely appropriate to wear this kind of image as a Westerner, as it is a visual metaphor of some core human values that many of us strive for.  There is a very long and rich history of the origins of Fudo Myo-o iconography that I won't even bother getting into here, but I'd highly recommend checking out the book Immoveable by Horitomo.  It is by far the most comprehensive book on Fudo in English you can find (not to mentioned it's packed with beautiful art work by Horitomo).  Or check out for quite a good deal more information.
Basically deity images and symbols are a focal point of esoteric Buddhism, and there can be many rules and guidelines as to what needs to be included in the design (everything from number of knots in the hair, to which way the teeth are facing and many many more, each with a specific symbolic reason)...that, as well as just trying to make it a good drawing that will work well on this specific body and there's plenty to wrap your head around.  
Fudo is a particularly interesting image as he is total balance of ferocity and compassion (again, I highly recommend doing some more reading on the subject).  One thing I've really been realizing that I'm trying to achieve in my own tattooing is a balance between power and subtlety.  Something that has immediate visual impact and strong composition, but isn't too heavy handed and has a bit of finesse and detail as well.I feel like this piece is aesthetically and symbolically a real opportunity to try and find this balance and I'm really honored to be able to try my hand at this powerful ancient image...
P.S.  The above photos are the first three sessions in order.  
1.  Outline the main figure minus the rope in his left hand (just didn't look right in the stencil).
2.  Draw on flames and begin to outline them as well as new and improved rope hand.
3.  Finish drawing and outlining the flames on the right side and line in the pattern (8 pointed wheel) on the lower robes.

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