Becoming a tattoo artist

2015-03-15 15:00

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During his 15 years as a tattoo artist, Angelo Pillay has done work on many South Africans, from Durban to Johannesburg.These include soccer players, musicians and celebrities like award-winning R&B crooner Lloyd Cele.

Pillay is the owner of Rising Dragon Tattoo, a specialist tattoo studio based in Fourways View, Sandton.The 34-year-old, who was born in Durban, is proud to help his customers with their favourite works of skin art, which he normally posts on his Facebook page once completed.

“Drawing and tattooing excites me. From when I was young, I knew I wanted to pursue a career as a tattoo artist,” he says.Incidentally, Pillay was born into a creative family, so art and drawing was – and still is – a family thing.But it was a chance encounter with scalp micropigmentation (SMP), also known as hair tattooing, on the internet last year that saw the veteran tattoo artist venture into this unchartered local terrain.

SMP is virtually unheard of in South Africa, although it is practised by medical professionals elsewhere.It is defined as a cosmetic, medical-grade tattoo that reduces the contrast between the colour of the scalp and the colour of the hair so the scalp cannot easily be seen through the hair.

This is done through the construction of very small dots along the balding scalp and sometimes between the hairs.After the initial drawing of dots on the balding part of the head, a tattoo simulating the hairline and hair colour is then tattooed on using a rotary machine.This gives the head a simulated version of shortened hair – hiding the balding part and making it appear as the hairline.

Pillay, who studied tattooing in his home town, says SMP is very effective in treating thinning hair, balding scalps and camouflaging scalp scars caused by surgery or skin diseases.“Anyone who has hair issues is able to do SMP.“No matter the type of hair or colour, it can still be done to tighten the hair as it is still possible to draw on already existing hair,” he explains.According to Pillay, people with long hair can still have SMP, although it is far more effective on short hair.

After the initial tattooing, which takes between six and eight hours, clients are advised to return for a two-hour “touch-up session” to fortify the work done. After that, it is a permanent part of the person’s hairline.During the interview, Pillay gets up from his seat and points to the prized tattoo artist awards he has received.

He has won more than two industry awards as a portrait tattoo artist and a Black & Grey Tattoo Award. They are his pride and joy.After finishing school in 2000, Pillay worked as a goods clerk in Durban while studying tattooing for two years.

Thereafter, he joined a tattoo studio as an intern.“It is important for any aspiring tattoo artist to get an apprenticeship with a tattoo studio before starting a business,” Pillay advises.Sadly those without a flair for drawing are not suited for this kind of work, acknowledges Pillay when quizzed about the traits needed to succeed as a tattoo artist.

“First, you have to be able to draw, otherwise you cannot succeed in this industry.“Another thing you need is passion and tons of patience to be able to deal with people’s feelings and different personalities,” he notes.After gaining experience as a tattoo artist, Pillay founded Rising Dragon in Durban.

He ran this for four years before moving his trade to Johannesburg in 2008. Pillay says Rising Dragon Tattoos is the only SMP studio in South Africa.“A procedure like this [SMP] not only boosts one’s confidence, but it helps those experiencing balding and thinning hair to look far more attractive than they were pretattooing,” he says.Medical and surgical hair restoration procedures like hair transplants are far more expensive than hair tattooing.

Pillay also highlights the fact that SMP is less painful and medically complicated with no side effects, as it is nonsurgical and easy to perform.Those seeking to restore their crowning glory using this relatively new procedure in South Africa will have to set aside between R15?000 and R30?000.

In comparison, surgical transplants can cost up to R60?000. Pillay prides himself on being a consummate professional who ensures the health of his clients. He believes medical sterilisation of all equipment and single-use needles are non-negotiable.Pillay also runs tattoo and piercing classes for those interested in learning the tricks of the trade.

Side Bar: A Happy Customer Allan Farah (43) is one happy client who after consulting Pillay has found his “mojo” and the ladies are cerntainly pleased with Farah after having “grown his hair back”. Farah spoke to City Press and shared his story on how at his mid 20s his hair started to thin up, and now that he was approaching mid- life, his hair had become a sore thumb often eating up on his overall self esteem.

“I paid R18 000 for the procedure, which might have cost me anything between R35 000 to R50 000 had I undergone a hair transplant. This after Farah had spent years trying different lotions and tablets to try and get his hair back to no avail. “If you can withstand a normal tattoo pain, this process is as pain free, quick, is side effect and complaint free. It only took a mere five hours and luckily for me, there was no need ofr a follow up touch up session as things were done perfectly the first time around, says Farah of his new lease on life

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