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Tuesday, Jan 17, 2012 - CityBeat Podcasts

Hand-tap tattooing in San Diego

Sulu'ape Angela Bolson at Big City Tattoo practices the traditional technique

By Kinsee Morlan
handtaptattoosandiego Sulu'ape Angela (left) with one of her clients

When most people picture getting a tattoo, they envision a pierced-up, heavily inked dude with a tattoo gun.

Sulu'ape Angela Bolson shatters that stereotype. You can find Bolson in a small room at Big City Tattoo in North Park, kneeling on a mat with her clients, strange-looking tools in-hand, with a team of female "stretchers" helping her pull a client's skin taught so she can employ the hand-tap tattoo technique. She learned the traditional art form by apprenticing for a year and a half under a hand-tap master in Western Samoa.

In Samoa, tattoo artists use bone tools for their trade. The process is painful and can take a significant amount of time. In the United States, where sterilization and time are on everyone's minds, Bolson uses specially made stainless-steel tools that mimic their organic counterparts. She says she's learned how to speed up the process over the years and most of her clients describe the hand-tap tattoo as less painful than getting inked with a gun; Bolson says she's even had a few folks fall asleep while getting a hand-tap tattoo.

Bolson is one of the only women in the world trained in the traditional hand-tap technique. Press play and learn more about hand-tap tattoos, why and how Bolson learned the technique, what some of the traditional tribal tattoo patterns mean and more. 


Sulu'ape Angela Bolson with her team of stretchers

 

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