Gettin Inked with Leaf Chang

Interview with NYC tattoo artist & shop owner
You are originally from Taiwan, is that where you first got into tattooing?
We left Taiwan when I was 6, so I had seen very few tattoos, and knew nothing about them except that they were associated with criminals and shady types, which fascinated me. My interest in doing tattoos came later as a teenager in college in the U.S. The moment I got my first tattoo, I realized this was something I wanted to do.

As a young kid what were some of the things that interested you in life?
When I was little I wanted to be a comic book or animation artist, because I figured that's how you got to draw for a living. I was always drawing, and if we're being honest, drawing boobs. I would include boobs in any drawing I could. I was always getting into trouble at school, for talking back to teachers, graffiti, truancy, being a bad influence on other students, that sort of thing. On the flipside of that, I'm a classically trained violinist, my parents started me very young, and I taught myself how to play guitar, so I was always immersed in music as well. 

What kind of environment was your home like, what type of feelings did it bring about?
My father is a conservative Christian preacher, and was in the military for a long time, so I was brought up in a very strict household. I was a rebellious son, and we clashed quite a bit. I grew up believing strongly in doing my own thing.
You spent a considerable amount of time living in Israel, what was this experience like?
I would consider Jerusalem home. Israel is a unique, beautiful place, with an undeniable vibration that many would equate with a spiritual/holy experience, myself included. I feel lucky to have been raised there; it is in actuality a very peaceful and safe place, contrary to media depiction. It certainly has its complications, which opened my eyes quite a bit to the true nature of the world, and shaped me to have an interesting perspective on life.

What was the biggest culture shock you had while living there?
I was very young when the move occurred, and adapted well. I didn't speak the languages, the diet was drastically different from Taiwan, as well as the culture, but I picked up on all of it quickly. I suppose one notable thing is the observation of the Sabbath in Jerusalem, which the lack-of was actually more of a culture shock when I moved away. I got used to having one day every weekend where the entire city shuts down, and you have no choice but to just relax. More places should observe this.

Your tattoo shop is fairly new, how did you practice your craft before having an official studio?
Living comfortably in New York requires a constant hustle, so for a long time I did other types of work during the day, and tattooed in my apartment at night, honing my craft until I was able to open the shop.
What made you want to settle down in Brooklyn? 
I had always planned to move to New York, ever since I was young, to seek out fortune and glory I suppose.  As a young starving artist I naturally sought out neighborhoods that were cheap, and coincidentally where other young starving artists lived. Williamsburg was this place in the early 2000's, and later it was Bushwick. 

Which artists do you look up to for inspiration?
I look up to and am inspired by tattooists like Filip Leu and Jondix, but I'm also inspired and influenced by my friends, tattooists like Oilburner, Han Shinko, and my apprentice Tessa BX. Lately I have been very interested in the work of Japanese illustrators like Suehiro Maruo and Toshio Saeki.

Your style is closely linked to esoteric and pagan images, how do these symbols relate to you and your beliefs?
I look at the world from a spiritual and esoteric perspective, so to me every tattoo is of spiritual significance to the wearer. I believe tattoos can empower a person, and so I do my best to embody that in the tattoo design. I prefer 'darker' images, because they invoke more of a visceral response from the viewer, and my personal spiritual practice (Kali worship) leans a little to the dark side.
Which tattoo that you have inked on a person has so far been your favorite?
I really like the first 'Lilith girl' I did, a pale demoness crouched and covered in blood from her feast, and the first shibari tattoo I did, both on the same person pictured here.

Do you create hidden meanings within your images or are they straightforward?
There are definitely hidden meanings and symbols in my work. Every tattoo is in effect sigil magic.

How do you see tattoo culture evolving in the next decades?
Tattoos are now tied in to fashion, which is making them more universal, which is positive. It's also now been elevated to a highbrow art form, which is also good for us. One of the negative aspects is how trend-based the industry is now, but that only serves to separate the wheat from the chaff, and inspire the true artists to rise above the trends. I see tattoos becoming more and more culturally important in the coming decades.
If you had the ability to draw on anyone in the world, whom would you like to make a tattoo for and why?
I would like to trade tattoos with someone from one of the old schools of the ancient tribal/spiritual methods of tattooing, such as an African or a South Pacific tribesman, or a monk from one of the Asian religious traditions, to try to understand or simply experience a little more of the ancient mystery that is tattooing. I do plan to make it happen in the near future.

The people you make art for are they just customers or are some of them friends and family?
I had expected to make it mostly for friends or people I had previous rapport with, but surprisingly, most of the requests come from new clients.

What advice would you give to people who want to become professional tattoo artists?

You should be really really good at drawing. You should get a lot of tattoos, from people whose work you respect. Become familiar with and gain an understanding and respect the world of tattooing. Then you should get an apprenticeship. If you do exceptional work, people will notice and give you a chance.