Based in Berlin, Lil Jeon originally grew up in Korea but was always drawn to the beauty of tattooing. In this interview, he talks about why he was attracted to the art form, the importance of high-standards, and his advice for becoming a successful artist with a unique visual voice.
How did you get into tattooing and why was it something you were drawn to?
I was always that “artsy” kid in school. During my quarter life crisis, not knowing what to do with my life, especially with art as a career path, a friend of mine who just started tattooing, reached out to me for a small piece for her portfolio. It was going to be my first tattoo, I was curious about it, so I went for it. The difference between drawing on a sheet of paper and on a human skin completely drew me into the world of tattoo. You know the variances and variables when it comes to expressing something on the skin, the techniques that you can only perform on the skin, that’s what interested me the most.
Can you talk about your inspirations, and how your style has evolved over the years?
I went to an “animation” high school, which is a type of art school in Korea, so in the beginning, I was mostly into New School. But the limitation of the sizes with new school tattoos, I was searching through many different styles that I could do some bigger projects with, and I really loved how each New Japanese Style tattoo had a story line and a number of features in one piece of work, so I was doing that for a while. Korea is super sensitive with trends and around that time, Japanese styles were quite on the extreme side, especially with colors, and I had a bigger clientele who wanted Black and Grey styles. I had no problem with the basic black and grey style techniques because I did a lot of classic art drawings in school, but I still had to put so much time and effort into it in order to make my own style. So now that’s my main thing. And with letterings, some people wanted “Chicano” gangster tattoos with letters in them, so I had to include it and in order to do that, I also had to study it. Now B&G 70% and Letterings 30% I would say.
Who are the tattooers, or fine artists/movements, that have inspired you over the years?
Lil B and Kiljun. I’ve been inspired by their B&G techniques a lot. And for Letterings, Norm (R.I.P.), Young Chavo and Brigante.
Many artists have a philosophy or motivation behind their work...what would you say is yours? How do you define success?
I always go for my own satisfaction, not just client’s… I mean of course they have to love my work on them but I have my own standard with my work and it’s pretty high and I try to reach that every single time. I would define success with tattoo as recognizability. When someone sees one of the pieces I did, they instantly say “Isn’t that Lil Jeon” something like that. You know some artists have their own identity in their work, for example Sam Taylor, Lil B, Ryan Ashley, Gara, etc. For short, success as a tattoo artist is a “recognizable identity” I would say.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received? What is the best advice you feel you can give?
To be honest, I was never in an inspiring environment during my apprenticeship or first years of my tattoo career where I received any good advice in terms of work and all that. But I can say people need to stick to basics for as long as possible and be detail-oriented as much as possible. Also as I said earlier, set a high standard for yourself and never negotiate with it.
Beyond tattooing, what are you passionate about? How do you spend your free time, and what do you do on your vacations?
I usually try to spend much time with my wife and our dog. We work out and go on food adventures. For vacations, Disneyland and theme parks. Whenever I travel with my wife, we try to visit a theme park there. Unfortunately, I haven’t been to any in Germany yet.
Any future plans you’d like to share?
Open my own studio someday.