Leaving a mark

5 tattoo artists in Cebu whose works leave a lasting impression

Text: Deneb R. Batucan
Images: Seph Aparante
HMUA: Carlo Damolo and Jerwin Batastas
Locale: UVNS

THE human skin is a perfect canvas. The art of tattooing has so many forms and shapes, yet it always comes down to personal influence, depth and uniqueness in each individual design.

Tattoos tell a story. It’s not just a piece of art but a distinctive expression of the human canvas, leaving a lasting impression on a person’s life.

SunStar Weekend rounds up five of Cebu’s best young tattoo artists who have created countless memorable art for many of their clients. In a way, they have implanted themselves on so many people through their designs, creating an intricately designed story that passes on and always leave onlookers profoundly impressed and wanting more.

Ann Savage and Joe Black

Joe Black and Ann Savage

Partners in life, Ann and Joe describe themselves as yin and yang — balancing each other out and always motivating each other’s art.

The pair started their tattoo studio in 2011, but Joe got into the craft two years prior. “Since we started, we never stopped. We’re very happy. It has been our routine since then,” Joe said.

Ann is inclined to realism tattoo art—colored portraits and all kinds of living things, she draws them onto the skin. Joe likes creating watercolor tattoos and other kinds of colored tattoos.

Over the years since they started, the couple is proud to say that they never fought about their craft. “There is no competition between us,” Ann said. “It never came to a point nga magselos siya kay mas ni-improve ko or nagselos ko niya.”

“Among tan-aw man gud kay as one mi. Kung na’y usa mu namo mu-improve, it’s both our success,” Joe said. “We’re a couple and we also have our own family so we shouldn’t compete with each other. Dapat magtinabangay.”

Both Ann and Joe have found happiness in tattooing. To them, it doesn’t feel like a job at all. “Bisan sa pag-start namo dili insakto ang bayad, kana lang nga naa kay ma-achieve, ma-happy ka sa outcome, sa output, nindot na kaayo,” Ann said.

Joeman Abad

Joeman Abad

A true-blue artist, Joeman is a mural painter and furniture designer who has touched on different art mediums over the years. He focused on the art of tattoo in 2007, influenced by fellow Cebuano artists.

“It wasn’t a hard transition for me because I’ve been painting for years. I just observed how tattoo artists work,” he said.

From being a mere spectator, he challenged himself to actually try the medium on skin. He bought a tattoo machine and practiced to learn different techniques.

“Actually, it’s very hard because unlike painting, when you make a mistake, you can easily cover it up or start over. With tattoo, it’s challenging because you’re creating designs on the skin. Kinahanglan ig tira nimo, sure na gyud na,” he said.

Joeman is known for his freehand masterpieces on skin. He makes his designs direct on skin, relaying on his imagination alone. “Mas maayo man gud nga wa’y kapareha,” he said. His unabashed and unapologetic style makes him create very unique pieces of art, a reason his clients always go back for more.

Carlo Gabiana

Carlo Gabiana

Carlo, or Crol to most people, started very young. He got his first tattoo when he was in first year high school and that was how he got hooked.

At first, it was a hobby. He bought machines and honed his craft. In 2007, he joined his first ever tattoo competition and won. After that, he moved to Boracay to work as a tattoo artist there.

After saving up some money from working in Boracay, he opened his first studio just inside his home. “I noticed that a lot of my clients come back. Mauwaw na gani ko kay ghetto kaayo akong place — gamay ug dan, lisud parking. So I decided to open a shop in the city,” he said.

Crol is personally drawn to Japanese art and black and gray scribble stippling or pointillism. Most of his fine works are drawn from these techniques.

Crol always finds fulfillment every time he completes a tattoo session. “Aside from that, while you work on the design, for sure you’ll become friends with your clients. After a while, you won’t even notice that you have so many friends from being able to design a tattoo for different people,” he said.

Ralph San Ramon

Ralph San Ramon

Ralph started his career in Boracay in 2002 where he used to make and sell fashion accessories and customized jewelry. “Most of my friends there were tattoo artists, so naturally I got influenced,” he said.

Coming home to Cebu, Ralph decided to open up his own tattoo shop. Needlepoint Tattoo Studio was opened in 2005, and since then, Ralph improved his craft and had countless clients as his canvas.

For Ralph, tattoos are the most personal art form. “There’s something about the individuality of tattoos that I was naturally drawn to,” he said. “It’s a very unique way of showcasing my artwork rather than to just hang it on the wall.”

Ralph loves the Japanese traditional art but he is most fond of making custom pieces for his clients. He makes it a point to collaborate with his clients to make unique works of art that are beautiful aesthetically and at the same time a statement piece of the client’s truth. Either they commemorate a person, place or a state of mind, tattoos for Ralph will always be an expression of veracity.

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