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Oracle Ink on Paper Skin: Interview with Shantel Liao

Oracle Ink on Paper Skin: Interview with Shantel Liao

Tattoo Artists12 min Read

In this interview with photographer, painter, and tattoo artist Shantel Liao, she talks about the power of text & the calligraphic process.

Nestled in a quiet corner of Berlin, near the Landwehr Canal, is the private studio of Shantel Liao. Brimming with sunlight, books, and art supplies, Shantel is a multimedia artist whose work consistently bridges the gap between the ephemeral and the eternal. A believer in the dynamic efficacy of the written language, her calligraphy tattoos are much more than graceful lace-like poetry; they are symbols of inspiration, motivation, and the hidden worlds within us. Her process is poignant; the care and thought given to each subject is of a quiet and contemplative singularity.

Can you talk about why you decided to have a private studio, rather than work at a traditional shop?

How do you decide which city to settle in? Like, why Berlin?

How did the calligraphy project begin? 

Were you learning it from a tattooist?

Why do you think you’re so drawn to the graceful cursive of calligraphy, and what about it do you think works well as a tattoo?

I was actually going to ask about that...of course, a lot of people try not to appropriate culture, so as an Asian artist, how do you feel about people, say,  getting a Japanese tattoo? Are people getting calligraphy from you who are not Asian?

What is the process like in getting a tattoo from you?

Then, since I do freehand, I paint directly on their skin with a calligraphy brush and normal ink. Then I remark with a stencil, and then I tattoo it. So, I always tell people to take their time...no rush. Some people are okay with the first design, some people it will take them two hours to decide. But I tell them to take their time, because you’re going to wear it for quite a long while! It’s a beautiful process where we are talking to each other and we’re making a connection if we both agree, then that’s the moment. We’re choosing that moment. 

...you’re driving yourself as a boat, in life as an ocean.

Walking boat is a good example...Recently I had someone tell me she wanted a reminder that she is always in control, like in my own life, I’m always finding my own direction. So...I struggled a bit at first. Because, obviously, the direction you’re looking for is always changing...depending on how old you are, what your priority is in the moment. After some research, I gave up on looking through classic literature, and I found this visual: that you’re driving yourself as a boat, in life as an ocean. And you can turn the direction when you need it...so I suggested to her two characters: “walking”, or “to travel”, or in a very old classic term “to boat”, basically just moving some stuff...and the second one is “boat”...I think it’s interesting because it will go on the leg, and you’re turning yourself into the boat. Every time you take a step, you’re literally moving it, so you’re turning a boat in an abstract way, but physically as well. So, I try to do this for each person. I will show the choices, and then make an audio clip as well. 

I was actually going to ask about that...I could tell that you take your time with your tattoos, I could just feel that from your work. I assumed you may only do one a day...but what else do you do creatively or for work?

Who are the artists that you like?

...Berlin is an island within the country.

Can you maybe talk a bit about the art community here in Berlin?


Justine Morrow
Written byJustine Morrow

Social Producer, Journalist, Editor, and Curator for Tattoodo I am here to support you 🌻 IG: @lathe.of.heaven

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