As a child, Zhuo Dan Ting found little of interest at school, except for the dry-erase markers—ingenious hand-held capsules of ink that turned out to work perfectly for illustrating the kitchen floor. Fortunately for Ting, her father—an art teacher—was quite impressed, and would bring round his artist friends late at night to teach Ting their favorite techniques.
Early the next morning, Ting would trudge back to class to put her new tricks to use, showing delighted classmates the legs of a baby on the body of a snail with the head of a geography teacher.
With most of her class time devoted to art, it wasn’t long before she surpassed her friends, and then her teachers as well.
After graduating from high school, Ting accepted a place in Harbin Normal University’s Art School. She became obsessive over her craft, depleting her family’s savings on sketch paper as she charged through draft after draft in fitful late-night sessions. But while her classmates seemed happy to wear their Hello Kitty t-shirts to the mall, Ting found herself pulled to the underground, where she fell in love with brutal death metal and DIY street punk fashion.
There, art was not done in pencil and paper, but in needle and flesh. Many of the characters in that world wore tattoos—and after seven hours, a pack of cigarettes, and a lot of blood, Ting did too.
Before long, Ting had made a name for herself doing tattoos for her friends in Harbin’s underground music scene. Ting had little interest copying standard tattoos from books; every work had to be original, developed over tireless discussions and drafts. While she flourished into a versatile artist, settling on her own signature style—the grotesque surrealism of the underworld, rendered with the geometric balance of an art school prodigy.
After one a particularly long session, a friend of a friend slipped Ting a ¥500 tip, and within a week, she had left university to study tattooing full time. After a couple of years under the tutelage of local Harbin and Guangzhou studios, Ting opened Harbin’s WenYi FuXing and became the first woman in China to run her own tattoo shop. Three years later, she had become something of a local celebrity, pulling in customers from all over China and beyond. But Harbin was beginning to feel small— it was time to test her mettle in Shanghai.
In January of 2007, Ting opened Shanghai Tattoo, which became an instant media sensation, outgrowing two locations in five years.
By September 2011, Ting had moved into a studio loft location at #1 Maoming NanLu, where Shanghai Tattoo is still based today.
The past five years have only cemented Ting’s status as China’s Queen of Tattoos, with customers flying from all corners of the globe to receive some of the most detailed realistic, portrait, and black-and-grey work to be found anywhere. But Ting never stays still, and is quickly becoming an accomplished oil painter and metal guitarist as well.
Likewise, Shanghai Tattoo has grown into a community hub, hosting barbecues and parties on the rooftop terrace. Next time you’re in town, stop by for a visit!