Woojin Choi is a South Korean tattooist who currently works in Seoul. Choi’s fusion of fine line black and gray techniques with methods taken from the study of animation has quickly placed him as a singular referent within Korea’s tattoo community.
What is your name, birthplace, and year of birth?
My name is Woojin Choi. I was born in 1990, in South Korea.
Where did you grow up? Please describe your upbringing and sociocultural background.
I was born and grew up in South Korea. Usually I spent my time alone drawing when I was young. As time passed and I grew older, this passion became difficult because drawing isn’t particularly helpful in earning money. Money is much more important than cultural value in Korea.
Where do you currently work? Prior to that, where have you worked?
I’ve moved a lot. At first I worked in an empty room in my university, then moved between Suwon and Seoul. Right now my studio is located in Seoul.
How long have you been tattooing?
About three years.
What inspired you to learn tattooing, and what did you initially learn how to tattoo?
I became interested in tattooing while studying animation in university. At first I wanted to get a tattoo—not learn how to tattoo—but I couldn’t afford one at that time. Instead, I bought a very cheap tattoo machine and did it by myself through YouTube tutorials. That was the first step.
I started getting tattooed after seeing the work of Alexander Grim. I think he tried to develop new and interesting tattoos. In turn I tried to collect many interesting pieces. I thought it was funny how it affected some people—as if I was dissecting a person or mixing foods.
Were you trained through a formal apprenticeship? Describe the circumstances of learning.
I didn't have enough money for an apprenticeship. I taught myself.
"At first I wanted to get a tattoo—not learn how to tattoo—but I couldn’t afford one at that time. Instead, I bought a very cheap tattoo machine and did it by myself through YouTube tutorials. That was the first step."
Have you previously studied art in an institutional setting? If so, what level of training did you reach and in what disciplines?
I learned arts for my university’s entrance examination at an art institution. This might sound strange, but in Korea there are many art institutions where one can study for university entrance exams. I dropped out of university after starting to tattoo.
Did that training help as you learned the mechanics of tattooing?
I drew with pen a lot before, so I work as if I am lining with a pen. Prior to tattooing, the style of my drawings was very strong, more sexual and grotesque than it is now. Since I began tattooing it has become quite refined.
What do you look for in a shop?
The studio is like not a group of friends: I just look for a shop where everyone can share the space and do what they want.
Do you have any hobbies outside of tattooing?
I play online games occasionally.
What inspires you generally?
I like documentary films about nature, anatomy books, and finding images on online.
Are any other forms of media, traditional or digital, important to your work?
When I was drawing the media were analog, but all of my current animation is done on digital media.
Is traveling important to you? If so, where do you usually travel? Do you have any interesting experiences abroad that you can share?
Actually traveling isn't that important for me—it’s just how I’ll sometimes spend my holidays.
What is the main challenge of tattooing today?
I just want to focus on myself. I don't like competitive circumstances.
Ideally, how would you like to see tattooing evolve? How do you think it will evolve realistically?
I think the evolution will be tied to the customers’ choices. For example, if there are many tattoo artists who are tattooing realism it is because many customers want tattoos in that style. That’s it I think: the market just follows the consumers.