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Yokai Ukiyo: Interview with Tattoo Artist Henbo Henning

Yokai Ukiyo: Interview with Tattoo Artist Henbo Henning

Tattoo Artists5 min Read

Henbo Henning talks about his inspirations, his tattoo heroes, and what advice he has for young artists.

A super down-to-earth and ultra-kind artist, Henbo Henning works out of Invisible Tattoo in the Lower East Side of NYC. His Japanese tattoos are bright, bold, and often depicted with a touch of humor that brings a unique aspect to his work. Pizza demons, Yokai vegetables, and Deviled Eggs riding snails; whether you want an old school Irezumi Hannya or a modern take on Asiatic favorites, Henbo is constantly evolving his style by diving deep into the mythological iconographic culture of the floating world.

Henbo Henning tattooing #HenboHenning

How did you get into tattooing and why was it something you were drawn to?  

I have drawn all my life and that led me to study illustration and animation at University/college in Manchester UK. At around the same time I was finishing sign school and started getting getting tattooed and I became obsessed with tattooing and tattoo related art immediately. I was especially drawn to the graphic nature of tattoos.

Can you talk about your inspirations, and how your style has evolved over the years?

Well, I always loved Japanese art and Japanese tattoos, however when I first started tattooing I was just doing walk ins, etc., but fairly quickly people started to ask for some of the drawings I had done, which were much more illustrative kind of like etching/ Black and Grey. The colour and Japanese/ Traditional style tattoos I do now developed over time and it took me a while to refine the style and make the designs more simple with more power. I think it’s due to being an illustrator: I automatically want to over-draw. Working at Invisible has definitely helped me refine my tattoos for sure.

Early inspirations in terms of illustrations I would say Steve Ditko, Rickey Beckett and Aaron Horkey and Jay Ryan. I’m currently also obsessed with Japanese Menko cards. I’ve recently started collecting them; the colours, the designs on the cards, are amazing perfect for tattoo flash. And of course I love all the mythology around Yokai. I can’t get enough of anything to do with Yokai. I love the way they are drawn, how they look, everything about them. Also fantasy is a huge Inspiration. I love wizards, orcs, and barbarians. All that wild stuff.

Who are the tattooers, or fine artists/movements, that have inspired you over the years?

This is a tough question! Tattooers I remember maybe 10 years ago just before I started tattooing. I saw a dragon that Chris Garver had done; I can’t remember where I saw it now but it was probably the first time I was truly aware of what a tattoo could be like. I grew up in a town called Warrington just outside of Manchester and Liverpool in the North West of England, and the only tattoos I was really exposed to were religious black and grey or tribal so seeing a Garver dragon was like woah! And of course that led me down a rabbit hole to artists like Grime, Thomas Hooper, Chris O’Donnell, Troy Denning, Mike Rubendall, Sneaky Mitch, Valerie Vargas. From there I just devoured as much information as I could. I would buy every magazine everything. I remember when I was tattooing in the UK and the first time I watched the Troy Denning Tattoo Age and I was like that looks like a great place to work! And that’s when I discovered RG , Kiku, Damien Rodriguez. So, when I got the opportunity to work at Invisible, I jumped at the chance. I would say the whole team at Invisible are my inspiration. We have such a strong team and everyone pushes each other to do better. The paintings and tattoos all the guys are putting out are incredible and very inspiring. I am a big fan of art in general. I absolutely love the work of John Michel Basquiat, Mark Rothko, Frank Auerbach, Ernst Haeckel to name a few.

Many artists have a philosophy or motivation behind their work...what would you say is yours? How do you define success?

My philosophy is just to work hard and enjoy it. I think I have the best job in the world so I’m just grateful that i get to draw for a living. I had so many bad jobs before tattooing so that’s my motivation: I never want to go back to any of those old jobs ever! One of my good friends once said to me that I have the best job because I get to make people happy everyday. I’d never really thought of my job like that before, but he is right. Tattooing is one of the rare jobs where you get to spend time with a client ,get to interact with them and collaborate with them and ultimately make them happy. I guess regulars and returning clients is a good way to measure that you're kind of doing something right at least.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received? What is the best advice you feel you can give?

Best advice I’ve ever received: Nothing gets given to you so work your ass off. Best advice I can give is to work really hard and don’t get distracted by stupid stuff. Hard work really pays off! Also be kind and respect people.

Beyond tattooing, what are you passionate about? How do you spend your free time, and what do you do on your vacations?

I love spending time with my family and friends. They are all in the UK so when I get to see them that is awesome. I also play soccer twice a week which I love! I’m also making quite a lot of merchandise and would like to expand on that also. Apart from that I just paint a lot! When I have vacations my wife and I like to go to new places every time. I absolutely love nature and animals and one of my favorite places I ever visited was New Zealand. I got to go to Hobbiton. I got pretty emotional when saw it ha ha ha ha! I’m a big fan of Lord of the Rings.

Any future plans you’d like to share?

Well I have been working on a surface design company with my wife so hopefully this year some point we can share that with you all it’s called Beyond The Wall design, buts still in it’s infancy. I recently designed a hot sauce label for the Heatonist which was fun it’s called the eye of the scorpion! And I’ve also just done some collaborations with Have a good time and GxBxT.

Check out more of Henbo Henning's work via his webstore!

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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