INTENZE: Where are you from? When did you start tattooing? What were you doing before that?
Lee Dongkyu: I'm from a city called Pohang, South Korea. I have been drawing since middle school. Then I went to art high school and art university. Before I got into tattooing, I did music for several years, and then I joined the military service while I was at the end of pursuing my music career. While I was in the military, I was inspired by tattoos that I saw. When I was discharged from the military, I started tattooing. I think that was around the year 2012.
INTENZE: What tattoo styles do you do? Do you have any preference? Why did you choose your style?
Lee Dongkyu: I have focused on realism and surrealism in art since the early years of my life. I was educated in the fine arts and I wanted to be a painter like Rembrandt. Naturally, realistic tattoos caught my eye. For me, realism has been the most natural style.
INTENZE: What is your creative process? How do you break up the process in your mind?
Lee Dongkyu: Generally speaking, I first collect images in relation to the topic. From there, I pick the main image that is central to the topic, while arranging and composing various other topics surrounding the central topic to see how they all blend. But it is case by case. There is no fixed way to do it.
INTENZE: Does the process change depending on the tattoo?
Lee Dongkyu: Of course. For example, when working on photorealism, I do not require to have many designs. I only need to adjust the color tone or background color.
INTENZE: What are the most important things you consider when you start a piece?
Lee Dongkyu: In my opinion, the design and size are the most important things since a tattoo is not done on a canvas but on an actual human body. Depending on different body shapes, the effects and feelings of each piece will change as well.
INTENZE: How do you draw your stencil?
Lee Dongkyu: Before, I used to hand draw it, but now I use a stencil machine, like a stencil programming thing. It's very comfy.
INTENZE: What products do you use to apply the stencil to the skin? Why do you use those products?
Lee Dongkyu: I use stencil products by Electrum because even with a small amount it delivers enough effect for applying the stencil.
INTENZE: What is the key to really bright colors?
Lee Dongkyu: Achieving bright colors is about maximization, or contrast. Paying attention to the surrounding colors is needed. If the surrounding colors are darker or have a lower chroma, they will maximize the brightness of your target color.
INTENZE: How do you mix your colors?
Lee Dongkyu: Usually I mix colors by using the needles.
INTENZE: What's important to pay attention to when you're mixing your colors?
Lee Dongkyu: Depending on the saturation and the brightness of the colors, the mixing will be different.
INTENZE: How do you go from light to dark colors in a piece?
Lee Dongkyu: It's difficult to give a generalized answer, because depending on the reference picture or drawing, the color sensitivity or the shape will be very different. But if you're going from a very dark tone to a medium or brighter tone, you would make the color transition within the same color tone while maintaining the color density. Failing to maintain it will disrupt the natural smoothness between colors, and it will look disconnected and unnatural. For example, if you are working in a big space or with a bright tone, you would start with the middle tone first and then work your way into the darker and brighter tones through layering while working towards the contour of the space.
INTENZE: How do you make the color really pop?
Lee Dongkyu: The main objective should be color packing to the degree that the skin will be invisible, regardless of the brightness of the color.
INTENZE: What are some tips and tricks artists can use to improve their color packing?
Lee Dongkyu: It's quite hard to explain by word or speaking, it really depends on the skin condition and different skills.
INTENZE: What sort of machine are you using?
Lee Dongkyu: Personally, I'm all about trying out as many machines as possible. So far, I've tried Cheyenne Hawk Pen ink machines, like Dragonfly, Stingray, F.K. Irons and so on. Recently, I've been using a nanomachine by Inkjecta. I think each machine has its own strengths. So, I think you should choose the most suitable machine depending on your style.
INTENZE: What types of needles did you use? Did you use certain needles at certain parts of the tattoo?
Lee Dongkyu: I'm currently using needles by KWADRON. I think people should use the needle that suits the aspect of the tattoo they are doing best.
INTENZE: How do you adjust your machine speed throughout this tattoo? Do you have general rules of the thumb for the machine speed with pieces like this?
Lee Dongkyu: I think I set the power speed at 9.6 while working on the piece. The speed or power of the machine can be adjusted depending on each individual skin or muscle tension. For example, when you are working on an area where there is a higher tension, if the speed or power are set too high it can result in skin damage which will make the shading process difficult.
INTENZE: What was the hardest part of this piece to nail? How did you solve it?
Lee Dongkyu: First of all, there were too many details. It took a lot of time to finish the piece. There were many different backlights and color tones that I had to take extreme care to connect smoothly together. So, I carefully rendered each different section with a different brightness. Then I darkened the background color in order to give it contrast between the hand area and the back one.
INTENZE: Why do you use the aftercare products that you use?
Lee Dongkyu: I think the best aftercare for tattoo is natural healing. I try to avoid putting any chemical elements into the skin. On that note, Hustle Butter is a very good product that keeps the tattoo bright and protected. Above all, it also has a nice smell.
INTENZE: What is your favorite thing about INTENZE ink?
Lee Dongkyu: In my opinion, the natural color tone. INTENZE has the variety of skin tone colors which is hard to find in other brands. I think it is great to try to use each different artist set since color mixing is one of the fundamental aspects of realistic tattoos and INTENZE products has the desirable viscosity for color mixing.
INTENZE: How did you come to create your new stencil with INTENZE? What do you do to avoid wiping away the stencil?
Lee Dongkyu: I carefully apply the aftercare cream and in the early stage I pat the towel on the skin to absorb it rather than wipe with it.
INTENZE: How long do you work before your first break?
Lee Dongkyu: About two hours.
INTENZE: Do you start with the light or darker colors?
Lee Dongkyu: I start with dark color first.
INTENZE: Do you listen to music while you tattoo? How does that help you?
Lee Dongkyu: I prefer keeping my space quiet. But recently, I've been listening to Jazz, R&B, and hip hop.
INTENZE: How much do you stretch the skin during the tattoo?
Lee Dongkyu: I don't stretch too much.
INTENZE: Do you go for one pass or do you layer the color?
Lee Dongkyu: It really differs case by case.
INTENZE: What do you watch out for when you layer color?
Lee Dongkyu: Connecting the middle tone or the outline brightness of the color to the piece are the ones I watch out for carefully.
INTENZE: Are those special color tones you use?
Lee Dongkyu: I use Coral.
INTENZE: How many times can you pass over the same area without overworking the skin?
Lee Dongkyu: It really depends on the depth of needles, but usually up to three times are the most recommended.
INTENZE: Do you recommend coil or rotary machines?
Lee Dongkyu: Coil machines have many advantages but for realism work they are too much time and stress. So, I recommend using rotary machines if you are doing work that requires a longer amount of time.
INTENZE: Do you prefer to put white in during the process of the tattooing or at the end?
Lee Dongkyu: I do it at the end.
INTENZE: Do you recommend touching up the tattoo?
Lee Dongkyu: I like to touch up if it improves longevity of the tattoo or brings out small details. But when it comes to black and gray, it might break the smooth, natural feeling, so sometimes it is not recommended.
INTENZE: Do you work in one session or more and what to do you prefer?
Lee Dongkyu: Before I was obsessed with finishing in one session but these days I think working in more sessions usually brings better results.
INTENZE: How do you replace a stencil if you have to break up the session?
Lee Dongkyu: I partition work according to the boundary I set for each session. Then I cut around the stencil according to the boundary, then reapply. It is useful to set up boundaries between simpler and more detailed areas.
INTENZE: Do you use the same needle depth for lining, shading, and coloring?
Lee Dongkyu: No.
INTENZE: Do you mix the color with the mixing solution or straight?
Lee Dongkyu: I mix with straight.
INTENZE: Do you mix the color in the cap or the tube or not at all?
Lee Dongkyu: Usually I mix the color just on my needle. But when it is necessary, I mix in the cap with the right amount needed for the work.
INTENZE: Do you still practice drawing or are you only tattooing?
Lee Dongkyu: Drawing is fundamental to all arts. You should always practice your drawing.
INTENZE: When do you think is the best time to take a picture of your work?
Lee Dongkyu: It is best to take it a day after.
INTENZE: Do you assist in picking out the design?
Lee Dongkyu: I always tend to make the design with my client. I try my best to take my client's taste into consideration as much as possible.
INTENZE: What is the best way to approach your shading?
Lee Dongkyu: It is rather hard to explain in words because it really depends on the situation.
INTENZE: Are you still nervous when you start a new tattoo?
Lee Dongkyu: I am excited now rather than nervous.
INTENZE: Do you change machines during the tattoo for different needles?
Lee Dongkyu: I mostly use the same machine, except when I am testing the machine.
INTENZE: What can you tell an aspiring tattoo artist before starting realism?
Lee Dongkyu: Keep practicing your drawing skills because it is the foundation of all art. It is even more important in realism.
INTENZE: What do you watch for when you observe other artists' work?
Lee Dongkyu: I look at their work from different angles, such as their shading skills, use of color variation within a certain amount of space or within a certain tattooing style, and so on.
INTENZE: What is your view of the tattooing industry?
Lee Dongkyu: The tattoo industry has become increasingly popular. There are different genres emerging that can appeal to a broader population, such as the mini tattoo. This means that the market for tattoos is getting larger and larger. And I feel with both excitement and concern that tattoos are becoming a commercial market. Tattoo is a popular art, and popular arts can go with the flow of the public, but it can also go with the flow of influential artists too. In this sense I hope our influential artists lead the tattoo industry in the right direction. And I hope to be one of these influential artists that can help lead others in the tattoo industry.
INTENZE: What's your final message for all tattoo artists?
Lee Dongkyu: People who are relentless and follow through to the end will find what they want.